German battle about arming drones: Unmanned cardboard characters

The German Social Democratic Party sets conditions for the procurement of Israeli armed drones, which are fulfilled anyway

Now the Bundestag’s Commissioner for the Armed Forces, Eva Högl, has also expressed her views on the arming of Bundeswehr drones. The topic is „ready for decision“, Högl explained to the German broadcaster ARD in an interview and at the same time mentioned conditions for unmanned operations with the „Heron TP“ leased from Israel. According to these conditions, the drones in the Bundeswehr’s mandate areas should „not be controlled from Berlin“. Technically, this would be possible, but in the draft leasing contract with the arms manufacturer Airbus, the Ministry of Defence has omitted the necessary ground stations. Högl is therefore making a demand which is being met by the military in advance. The matter is somewhat different for the mission control of the drones, i.e. the observation of missions in real time with the cameras and sensors installed in the „Heron TP“. It is carried out by the air force in Jagel, Schleswig-Holstein. The Commissioner for the Armed Forces does not say a word about this spatial dissolution of boundaries in drone warfare.

The wish that there should be „no missions in violation of international law“ with Bundeswehr drones is absurd. Hopefully a matter of course for all weapon systems, manned or unmanned. In the same way, the stipulation mentioned by Högl that the rules of engagement for armed drones should be „clearly defined and then also controlled“ by the Bundestag is useless. The Bundestag may draft scenarios for the use of the new weapons on a one-off basis. The members of parliament are also asked beforehand whether combat drones are allowed to fly in Afghanistan or Mali. However, the military on site or the Operations Command in Potsdam, which is supplied with video data from the Jagel airbase, then decides on the actual deployment. It can therefore be considered certain that the finger on the trigger of an armed drone is looser than on a combat aircraft. Massacres, such as the one the US Air Force carried out in Kunduz, Afghanistan, eleven years ago at the request of the Bundeswehr, are thus becoming more likely.

The real explosive power of the statements of the Commissioner for the Armed Forces lies in her membership in the SPD. For the last two legislative periods of the current coalition with the Christian Democrats, the party has been holding the reins of power around the question of arming the „Heron TP“. While the party’s base tends to reject armed drones, the leadership is flying ahead at full speed. The Ministry of Defence is already working on a draft for a Bundestag resolution, and according to the conservative Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Fritz Felgentreu, the SPD’s chairman of the Defence Committee, has also been pushing for it.

The draft for the decision is expected to be available before the end of this year. At the request of the ARD, the deputy leader of the SPD parliamentary group, Gabriela Heinrich, declares that she will „examine closely“ whether it meets the „strict requirements“ of the Social Democrats. However, these key points are anything but „strict“, as Heinrich mentions exactly the same arguments which Högl used. In addition, the SPD deputy faction leader is against „fully automated weapons systems“. This too is a cardboard dummy, because although the „Heron TP“ has assistance systems for trouble-free flight, only soldiers can make the decision about releasing missiles and guided bombs.

Image: Israeli-German drone squadron „Red Baron“ (IAF).

Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.