Commentary 01 July 2014

No Need for Germany to Rush Acquisition of Armed Drones

by Mirko Hohmann               Atlantic Community

It has been almost two years since former Defense Minister de Maizière initiated a debate on the possible purchase of armed drones for the Bundeswehr. On June 30, however, the debate entered its next stage. That was when the Bundestag's Defense Committee met for a public hearing to discuss – as was agreed in the coalition treaty last fall – "questions posed by unmanned aerial systems (UAVs) relating to public and constitutional law as well as security politics and ethics."

Even though the debate is likely to proceed during the summer months, it is already time to suspect that at the end of it, the German government will proceed to purchase a weapons system, whose precise application has yet to be disclosed, and, much worse, which could lastingly damage the reputation of the "civilian power" Germany.

At first sight, the proponents of the procurement have a convincing argument. They point to the government's responsibility to guarantee its soldiers the best possible protection and argue that close air support through armed drones is just the logical next step following the positive experience with (unarmed) surveillance drones in Afghanistan. Furthermore, armed drones – with their long loitering times and small weaponry – are supposedly more precise and can better distinguish between civilians and combatants. In any way, be it with or without drones, the parliament would never deploy German troops easily and the use of such weapons would always be controlled by strict rules of engagement. Finally, Germany should not fall behind in technological developments, or must "not say: 'We stay with the stagecoach,' while everybody else uses the railway" as de Maizière put it at a hearing in the Bundestag.

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