Germany Plans To Arm Drones Under Cover Of COVID-19 Crisis

May 4, 2020

Peace groups in Germany are alarmed that the German defense ministry is planning to arm drones while the legally-required debate can't be held under the COVID-19 shutdown.

Peace groups in Germany are alarmed that the German defense ministry is planning to arm drones while the legally-required debate can't be held under the COVID-19 shutdown.


24 August 2018, Germany, Berlin: A cardboard drone with the inscription "I love to kill" can be seen at a demonstration against military killing robots. Jörg Carstensen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Story Transcript

This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Marc Steiner:

Welcome to the Real News. I’m Marc Steiner, great to have you all with us. In the midst of this Covid pandemic, hidden under the radar, no pun intended, is a question: Why is Germany determined to weaponize their drones? I think there’s too many German drones being deployed. Germany has no real enemies. In 2018, the German parliament’s three ruling parties agreed to acquire drones capable of carrying weapons. Strong popular resistance in Germany against armed drones stopped all that. For a moment anyway. Saying they can only use them now for gathering information. This time, neither the German Heron TP drones, that are leased from the Israeli company IAI, or the Eurodrone, which Germany is developing in a joint venture with other European Union countries for NATO, can carry missiles. The agreement mandated that before any vote in the German parliament to arm drones, there has to be a, “broad public debate,” to carefully evaluate “issues of international [inaudible 00:00:59] to law and ethical implications.” So, they can’t do armed drones.

Marc Steiner:

But, according to correspondence news received from the German minister of defense, or members of the German parliament, that ministry plans to sidestep all of that. By having broad open debates, as they call them. On their own premises, with a restricted group of parliamentarians, journalists and experts. That they will invite of course, someone else will. The debate is taking place now, in the lockdown. But in a lockdown, how can you have a public debate? It’s a tradition in Germany to hold peace rallies over the Easter weekend. But this year the rally is a ritual. So, Peter [inaudible 00:01:34] from the peace group, Attack. Send this recorded Easter message.

Speaker 3:

[foreign language 00:17:23].

Speaker 4:

The consequence of this irresponsible escalation can only be to close US military bases in Germany. The drones, with which the US kills, in violation of international law, are controlled from Ramstein. Europe was cut loose from the murderous US imperialism, and developed its own foreign policy. And not just in Germany, and not just because of the drones. Therefore, dear friends, our struggle against Defender 2020, Defender 2022, and 2024 must be joined with the struggle against the US air base in Ramstein, and vice versa.

Marc Steiner:

So where does this all take us and Germany, and world peace? We are joined by Elsa Rossbach who’s a filmmaker and a journalist. Joining us from Berlin in Germany. She’s co-founder all the national anti-drone campaign, in Germany. It’s a working group against armed drones in Germany, affiliate [inaudible 00:02:43] international. She’s active in an attack [inaudible 00:02:46] of the Ramstein campaign. And her documentary short on Iraq war veterans; We Were Soldiers In The War On Terror, is going on Amazon. And her dramatic film; The Killing Fields… 1985 award-winning dramatic film. About the struggle between black and white workers, in justice in the [inaudible 00:03:03], in 1919; was just released. And she joins us now. Elsa, good to have you with us.

Elsa:

Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Marc Steiner:

Let me take a step backwards in this; from all the [inaudible 00:03:17] understandings I’ve read and I’ve covered before; Germany is not supposed to be allowed to develop these kinds of weapons. Correct? Since World War II. What are we all missing here?

Elsa:

It’s true that Germany, After world War II, the German basic law, which is the German Constitution that was signed in 1948, I believe. It has a provision in it, Article 26, that there may be no aggressive war from German soil. So, everything they’re doing, with regard to military, they do not define it as aggressive war. Contradiction is that the drone was developed as a weapon, specifically, for aggression. It’s not a defensive weapon, it’s just for aggression. And it’s been used in ways by the US and also some other NATO partners. But particularly the US, as well as Israel, in ways that German basic law and in fact international law and most of European law, disagrees with. So this is the contradiction.

Marc Steiner:

Germany already has troops in number of countries, [inaudible 00:04:34] in Mali and in Afghanistan. The US is on Ramstein air base, [inaudible 00:04:42] is in Germany. Where illegal drone strikes are being called. What about the struggle going on in Germany between peace movements, the demands their making, how it’s related to drones, and how public is this?

Elsa:

Oh, the issue of drones and whether or not to have drones has been… On weaponized drones at least. Has been an ongoing issue since 2012, when the CDU defense; that’s Christian Democratic Union, party of Angela Merkel. The ruling party or the largest party. Went publicly and said he wanted weaponized drones. And the same thing happened again when von der Leyen became the defense minister. And we say every time there’s a new German defense minister, which up till now, the last years; at least going back to 2012, has been CDU. So, the new defense minister is called Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, which is even too difficult with the Germans to pronounce so they call her AKK. So that’s even in the news. She decided, “Well, I’m now here, I’m going to get these drones through.” So there has been resistance to this weapon going back to 2012, when it was first considered. And a lot of this has been based on sharp criticism of how the US is using the weapon, which is not in line with German law, since the defeat of the Nazis.

Marc Steiner:

To get to the heart of this; let’s talk a bit about how they’re used by the US here and why the ruling parties really want to have these restrictions lifted. Why does Germany need armed drones? What’s the logic they’re using to create armed drones? And how do you stop it?

Elsa:

We argue that they don’t need this weapon and that this weapon, even if the current government swears they will not use it in ways that violate international law and constitutional law and ethics; there will be future German governments. We don’t want the German government to have this weapon, we think it, first of all, shouldn’t even be paid for out of the resources. But secondly, this weapon is designed for targeted killing. Let’s face it. It was designed to be used by the CIA, and by other the secret services. It was designed to take decisions about aggressive strikes out of the hands of the parliaments or the US Congress. So, this is what this weapon is for when it’s weaponized.

Elsa:

And going back, surveillance drones were used by the US during the Vietnam war. Germany had to use surveillance drones since 1960. Surveillance drones were used also in the Yugoslavian war. But the issue is once the US put weapons on the drones and did their first strike, I believe in 2001, in Afghanistan; which was all secret from us in the US. I say that as a US citizen. And was secret for a good eight years, pretty much, as far as public debate was concerned. You know, once that started, the issue here is whether drones… Not whether they should exist, although many disagree with the surveillance purposes, but it’s whether they may carry weapons. And there’s not something really new because of Corona. What has happened is that this same deadlock… A deadlock between not only the peace movement but broad forces in German society are members of the social democratic party. Even some members of the conservative parties are against weaponizing the drones.

Elsa:

So the result of that is that there has never been a sufficient majority in the German parliament since 2012, to weaponize these drones. And this is very unusual and it goes back to the deep consideration of the importance of international law, that Germans came to recognize, after the Nazi regime. A huge reflection, has been going on process, German guilt, all of that. And you know that there are great monuments here in commemoration of the victims of the Holocaust. And this has been a fairly deep process in Germany. It’s not been totaled. There’s a Right Wing movement in Germany, but interestingly enough, this is across Europe. And Germany is only 13th in the list. Germany has about 10% that would vote for the Right Wing. And in other countries it goes up to 27% and so forth. Even Sweden and Switzerland are ahead of Germany. So, there is this deep passivism care about international law. And these are the issues that are supposed to be discussed thoroughly. That’s mandated in the ruling coalitions’ agreement. Discussed thoroughly, broadly, publicly; before drones may be weaponized. This has been a demand since 2012.

Marc Steiner:

So, two quick questions here. One is, I’m very curious if you can talk about it, how you found out that the ministry of defense was wanting to arm their drones or were starting to arm their drones? What’s the political plan moving forward?

Elsa:

The way that we found out is that, as I said, many parliamentarians; including the Social Democratic Party to a large extent, the Left Party, the Green Party, they all oppose weaponizing the drones. So, one of the parliamentarians with whom are friendly, in the SPD, who’ve spoken out with us and with the [inaudible 00:10:55] movement against arming the drones; gave us the correspondence, the letters they had received from the defense ministry, stating that they wanted… It wasn’t because of Corona. They originally wrote a letter on February 2nd, saying they want to start the broad public debate in the defense ministry. And it was supposed to be the 24th of March. And then they were going to have all these different experts and so forth. But a limited number. And they were going to try to have a vote regarding a discussion paper and get all the parties aligned with their vision, and then present it to the German Parliament.

Elsa:

So we’re against that altogether. What really surprised us is that despite Corona and the lockdown, they have written in early April… And we received this also from the German military, in answer to correspondence. They’re planning to go ahead with this. And say that they’ve had this public debate, but it would be like having a broad public debate sitting in the Pentagon. I mean it’s not really possible. You know, with the Pentagon inviting the witnesses and all. So this is going to be protested by many in the German parliament, as well as outside. As they say, we have a very different situation here in the US, that is called the parliamentarian army. That is to say every use of weapons has to be authorized by the parliament. And the parliament has a fairly broad, diverse, array of political opinion. You know, we have six parties in our parliament rather than two. Yeah.

Marc Steiner:

And finally, just to conclude. It seems to me that this particular question, begs a lot of other questions about; A, the Trump administration pushing Germany and other countries to pay more for the military. Germany now has the largest military acting out of states, inside of NATO. And the world’s going to be increasingly arming themselves to the teeth, across the globe and in Europe, especially. So, what does this portend about where you think this could take the struggle around that?

Elsa:

Well, in addition to the forces that want to uphold international law in Germany, it’s clear that they’re not strong enough. Otherwise, once it was revealed, starting around 2013, 2014 through US whistle blowers; that Ramstein is essential for the US drone strikes. Germany could have taken strong action to prevent that. So, there are lots of militarists here in above all there’s weapons industries. Germany was the leading developer of the precursor of drone technology during the Nazi era. And all their technological info was taken by the US and the Soviet Union, basically, once Germany was defeated.

Elsa:

So many have the ambition to compete internationally. They also fear the US, they want to be able to have an independent foreign policy from the US. An independent foreign policy, however, could be a pacifist foreign policy. It could also be a weaponized foreign policy. It could be that they would say, “Hey, we’re going to head up the European Military and we’re going to compete with the US militarily. And we’ll be able to say no to the US.” So there’s that going on as well. And so it’s interesting that Germany is the only European country that decided not to go with the weaponizedable US, MALE drone from General Atomics; Preditor and the Reaper. But to go with the Israeli drone. And the reason is that they don’t trust whether the US would look into their intelligence, that they gathered from the US drones. And Israel will collaborate with Germany, which is leading the effort to have a Eurodrone.

Elsa:

But it’s still a big issue here in Germany, whether, also the Eurodrone could be weaponized. If they decide now, if they ever managed to have this public debate and debate in the Bundestag, the German Parliament, about weaponizing the drones, which they have not had yet. And it’s a requirement of some of the parliamentary parties that they do have it. If they do have it, it will be precedent setting. It will mean that the Eurodrone would not be weaponized in Germany. Even if it is elsewhere. It would mean that autonomous weapons could not be weaponized. You know, until something like that was overturned, maybe, in a later parliament. But that will be the consequence of it. So it’s very diverse sources.

Marc Steiner:

This is fascinating. Elsa, I appreciate you taking the time with this today. This is a really important subject that it’s flying under the radar, I said at the very beginning. And it needs to see the light of day and thank you so much for your work as filmmaker. But also you’re work in the peace movement. Thank you for joining us today.

Elsa:

Now we’re going to be reaching out. You asked what we’re doing. We are doing a big letter writing campaign in the Corona. And we’ve done it in 2017 and the majority in the parliament turned down getting even weaponized double drones. And we did it in 2018 and got this binding agreement; there has to be this discussion. Very important were letters from us activists, and people around the world who said, “We never got a chance in our societies to really discuss this drone issue. And we’re grateful that Germany is doing this, as the only NATO country that has this.” So I just wanted to let you know that there will be a link, I believe on this story, and you’ll have information. If you would like to write a brief letter to the German parliamentarians, this could be very effective.

Marc Steiner:

Elsa, thank you very much. And that will be up there and people will be responding, I’m sure. And good to have you with us and thank you for your work and appreciate the time you’re taking today with us.

Elsa:

Thank you for having me. Okay, good.

Marc Steiner:

And I’m Marc Steiner here of The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. And please stay safe, stay home, take care.