Military Aid to the Civil Power

Military Aid to the Civil Power

Military aid to the civil power (MACP) (sometimes to the Civil Authorities) is assistance by the armed forces to the police in maintaining law and order. It is used in many countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.

United Kingdom

MACP is one of the fundamental military tasks of the British Army. As with all deployments of the armed forces, its use must be specifically authorised by a defence minister. It is always applied at the request and under control of the police. The legal basis is the common law duty of every subject to maintain the Queen's peace.

Examples of military aid to the civil power include:
* Security forces in Northern Ireland
* Army patrols around Heathrow Airport and other sites in early 2003, in response to perceived terrorist threat
* The Special Air Service intervention in the Iranian Embassy Siege

United States

The Posse Comitatus Act, passed in 1878, generally prohibits Federal military personnel (except the United States Coast Guard) and units of the United States National Guard under Federal authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within the United States, except where expressly authorized by the Constitution or Congress. The original act only referred to the Army, but the Air Force was added in 1956 and the Navy and Marine Corps have been included by a regulation of the Department of Defense. This law is mentioned whenever it appears that the Department of Defense is interfering in domestic disturbances.

However, the National Guard may still be used for police-like duties if still under control of the state, as with the 1967 Detroit race riots.

The law has been essentially repealed in October 2006 by The John Warner Defense Authorization Act, signed October 17, 2006, (Section 1076). [ [ Toward Freedom - Bush Moves Toward Martial Law ] ]


Canada has similar provisions for military aid to the civil power inscribed in its National Defence Act, a historical inheritance from its days as a British dominion. However, the application is significantly different due to the federal nature of Canada, where the maintenance of "law and order" is the exclusive right and responsibility of the provinces.

The political authority empowered to requisition military aid is therefore the Solicitor General of the affected province, which was provided for under the War Measures Act and currently the Emergencies Act. This request is forwarded directly to the Chief of the Defence Staff (NOT to the federal government of Canada) who is obliged by law to execute the request. However, the Chief of the Defence Staff alone can determine the nature and level of forces to be committed.

The requesting province may subsequently be billed to pay the cost of the military aid, although the federal government, which does not want to appear "cheap" after a major crisis affecting a province, most often waives it. One exception in recent years resulted from Toronto mayor Mel Lastman's request for military assistance following a snow storm in 1999, whereby 300 reservists were activated to assist in snow removal after the Ontario government acceded; this deployment was deemed by the Canadian government to be a trivialization of the military's emergency response role and the requesting authority was billed accordingly.

While the military is legally free to decide how to deal with an issue in regard to which it has been called out, in practice it works under the direction of the police forces or government of the province that has requested its aid. Such requests are made relatively often for specialized resources such as armoured vehicles (e.g. hostage situations) and technical capabilities not possessed by police forces. They are also called out in the case of police strikes in those provinces that have unionised provincial police forces. Quebec has not hesitated to call on the Army for such help because the Army is the only other agency with French speaking members able to replace striking police; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has few reserves able to provide a "surge" capability, and its French-speaking capability is more limited.

Significant use of the Canadian Forces in aid of the Québec civil power includes two relatively recent major civil crises:
* the October crisis of 1970
* the Oka crisis of 1990

The federal government can and does use the military in aid of its own responsibilities, such as guarding federal buildings and facilities. Since 1993, the Canadian Forces have also provided the country's federal antiterrorist forces, replacing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in that function. (See JTF2 for details of request and control of this capability).


The post-war constitution of Germany strictly forbids the use of military force in police functions. The functions that MACP has in other countries are carried out by special police forces, which are basically under the control of the state governments, not of the federal government. For some actions, federal police forces can be used either by orders of the federal administration and federal judiciary or by request of the state government. The counter-terrorist unit GSG 9 is part of the Bundespolizei (until 2005 known as the Bundesgrenzschutz) and is well known in Germany for its antiterrorist missions. However, several state police corps have similar units. The Bundesgrenzschutz and the GSG 9 were historically combatants and they had military ranks, but have always been under the control of the Ministry of the Interior.

This strict separation between civil and military power was enacted to prevent the army from becoming a political power again in internal affairs and to secure its subordination to the civil power. Since the 1990s, a number of conservative politicians has called for an abolition of this rule, but there seems to be no majority for such a change.

But a new law was passed in September 2004, the Air Security Act (German: Luftsicherheitsgesetz). From September 24, 2004 until February 2005 there was an exception from the use of military force regarding air security: In a case of imminent danger, the Bundeswehr and its air force branch, the Luftwaffe was authorised to use force against an aircraft. As ultima ratio, the Minister of Defense was empowered to give the order to shoot down an aircraft if the aircraft was used as a weapon against humans and there was no other way to repel the attack. (Air policing is a traditional task of the Luftwaffe). However, the Luftsicherheitsgesetz was declared unconstitutional on February 15, 2006, by the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany (Bundesverfassungsgericht). The court held that no civil aircraft may be shot down, even if the aircraft is used as a weapon by terrorist. The court held that the passengers' dignity and right to life would be violated if the aircraft was shot down.

See also

* Civilian control of the military
* Military Aid to the Civil Community
* Gendarmerie
* German Federal Police
* Vigipirate


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