Leading national and local peace and justice organizations in Germany
have launched a major campaign to oppose the German government's recently
revealed plan to acquire combat drones (weaponized drones).
The organizations met together in Hannover earlier this month to begin the
joint campaign. As a first step, they drafted an appeal—"No
Combat Drones"—which was made public this past Sunday. Close to one
hundred German organizations and hundreds of individuals have already
endorsed the Appeal, signaling a very strong interest in this issue.
The Appeal will be circulated throughout Germany during the annual Easter
weekend peace marches. The German activists plan to continue the campaign
until the German government and military agree to abandon the plan to make
use of combat drones.
Among the NATO member countries, so far only the U.K. and Italy have
weaponized drones, in both cases acquired from the U.S. The drones in use
by the German military up to now have been unarmed, for example, the Heron
I that Germany leases from Israel for reconnaissance in Afghanistan. The
German military has turned to the U.S. forces to request occasional drone
strikes in Afghanistan. Some time ago the German government announced
plans to work together with France to produce a European combat drone that
is to be ready by 2020 -- but that seemed a long while off.
But in August 2012, Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière, a member of
Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU),
told several leading German newspapers that he would like to obtain an
Israeli or U.S. combat drone for the German military (Bundeswehr) almost
immediately. "The new weapons have a huge advantage: They are more
targeted," he told the German daily Die Welt. "And the better one can
target, the less damage there will be."
The announcement by de Mazière that the Bundeswehr wanted to obtain combat
drones was met by hefty criticism in leading German media. For example,
in October the prestigious German daily Süddeutsche published an article
with the title "Drones are Terror" by a renowned German specialist in
international criminal law, Professor Kai Ambos.
Then in January, in answer to an official inquiry by the Left Party of the
German Parliament, Merkel's government admitted that the planning for
combat drones had advanced well beyond just being a wish of the Defense
Minister. Indeed, her government had already made the decision to acquire
them in the near future.
Many parliamentarians were outraged. Both the Left Party and the Green
Party submitted formal motions against the German government's plan to
obtain combat drones. The motions have not yet been scheduled for
Even members of the SPD and the FDP expressed strong reservations. For
example, the senior SPD parliamentarian Thomas Opperman told Spiegel
Online: "I'm opposed to a hasty decision because this brings a new quality
to warfare. We need a broad societal and parliamentary debate about the
ethical and legal boundaries of the deployment of combat drones and not
some backroom decision. It is entirely inappropriate that the public and
parliament have learned of these plans more or less by accident."
The German media has been following the recent debates in the U.S. on
targeted killings and has even reported on some of the U.S. anti-drone
actions, such as the visit of 32 U.S. and U.K. activists to Pakistan last
October and the disturbance of the confirmation hearing of John Brennan as
Defense Minister Mazière has tried to reassure the opposition and the
public by saying that -- unlike in the U.S. -- the German constitution
would not allow the German military to use drone strikes against people in
countries against which war has not been declared.
But most Germans are not convinced. According to a survey of 20 countries
conducted by Pew Research Center in February 2013, 59% in Germany
disapprove of drone strikes (whereas in the U.S. 62% approve of them). And
a recent by ARD television in Germany shows even higher numbers of Germans
To Germans it is clear that the combat drones would in any case be used by
the Bundeswehr in foreign countries, and since the end of World War II, a
majority of Germans have opposed German military intervention in other
countries. Nor do most Germans find credible the claim that using
weaponized drones is a more "humanitarian" form of warfare. (After all,
even Hitler said “I ordered the German Air Force to conduct humanitarian
warfare" in his speech in Gdansk/Danzig just after the brutal Nazi
invasion of Poland in September 1939 that launched World War II, a war in
which more than 60 million people were killed.)
With a broad social movement gathering, with the churches also against
combat drones, and with political opposition in the German Parliament
growing, Merkel's government last week seemed to back off of the plan to
purchase combat zones this year. The German newspaper Handelsblatt
reported that the German decision on whether to acquire combat drones will
be postponed until 2014 -- i.e. until after the parliamentary elections in
September 2013. "This issue could trip us up in the election," said one
CDU Member of Parliament, because the discussions about the human rights
issues surrounding combat drones are "much too emotional at the moment."
The German government may have postponed, but clearly has not abandoned,
its plans to soon acquire and later produce combat drones. Could a loud
NEIN! ("No!") from the German people slow the pace of international
proliferation of combat drones and help lead to a much-needed
Elsa Rassbach is US citizen, filmmaker and journalist, who
often lives and works in Berlin, Germany. She heads the "GIs & US
Bases" working group in DFG-VK (the German affiliate of
War Resisters International, WRI) and is active in Code Pink,
No to NATO, and the anti-drone campaign in Germany. Her film
short "We Were Soldiers in the 'War on Terror'" has just been
released in the U.S., and "The Killing Floor," her award-winning
film set in the Chicago Stockyards, will be re-released next year.