The Federal Constitutional Court’s decision relaxes the rules for domestic military operations imposed to ensure no return to the militarism of the past. Previously, the government could mobilise the army to support law enforcement authorities, but the use of military force inside Germany was forbidden.
The court ruled, in a majority decision, that the army can use force but “only in exceptional situation of catastrophic proportions”. It said: “The deployment of armed forces and the use specifically of military means are also only permissible as a last resort in such a situation.”
The judges excluded demonstrations as a possible reason for military force. Adolf Hitler used his stormtroopers to wipe out dissent during his 12-year dictatorship from 1933 to 1945.
The decision lets stand a 2006 ruling that shooting down a hijacked plane would be illegal after the government argued it might be necessary in the event of a 9/11-style attack.