COLOGNE, Germany – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says he supports the use of armed drones to protect soldiers’ lives, wading through a heated debate in Germany about purchasing such technology for future operations.
Stoltenberg told the German press office of the DPA that the alliance would use unmanned aircraft armed in accordance with international law and to support deployed forces. “These drones can support troops on the ground and reduce the number of pilots we send in a dangerous way,” he was quoted as saying.
His comments came because the question of arming drones had caused a huge commotion between the CDU and SPD parties, which form Germany’s coalition government. In particular, the disagreement is over whether the Bundeswehr should be allowed to lease Israeli-made Heron TP drones armed with missiles. More broadly, however, the debate is about different visions of Germany as a participant in Western military structures.
Earlier this month, the SPD leadership decided to reject the acquisition of armed drones in principle, arguing that the broad debate here about the ethical aspects of their use had not yet occurred, as stipulated in the government coalition agreement.
The party’s surprise move comes after defense department officials formally studied the matter for much of the year as part of a public campaign, holding hearings with experts from a variety of backgrounds and sending final reports to lawmakers.
The SPD parliamentary spokesman for defense issues, Fritz Felgentreu, who supports the use of armed drones in limited conditions, resigned from his job in protest, arguing the party leadership’s claims about a lackluster drone debate were dishonest.
Following Stoltenberg’s statement to the DPA on Wednesday, Felgentreu joked on Twitter that the secretary general would make a “smart Social Democrat”, a reference to his own party.
Stoltenberg’s stance is unlikely to sway any opinion here, as those who reject armed drones for the Bundeswehr are unlikely to support NATO supporters from starting.
It remains to be seen how the seven-year German drone debate further develops before it reaches the relevant decision-making stage for Franco-German. Eurodrone. One of the roles of the drone apart from spying and surveillance is firing weapons in combat under certain conditions. Likewise with Future Combat Air Systems, a Franco-German-Spanish project, is slated to include a series of so-called “long-distance operators”, some of which will have a kinetic effect.
The US administration’s counterterrorism drone wars since the Bush administration, often fought somewhere in the gray zone between military and paramilitary operations, still overshadow the collective conscience of Germany’s anti-war left.
Supporters of drones for the Bundeswehr accuse SPD skeptics of distrusting the government, and their own parliament, in using those weapons more responsibly.
Airbus Defense and Space CEO Dirk Hoke, whose company manages the Heron TP lease and co-leads the Eurodrone and FCAS programs, told reporters earlier this month that he is relying on a “shift” in German public opinion to support the idea of an armed drone in the end. “Our population realizes that we are seeing higher volatility, more crises, and that Europe’s largest economy cannot escape the accountability and responsibility that comes with that role,” he said.