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Nazi Past, NSA Uproar: Activist Sheds Light on Germany’s Opposition to Drones

© AP Photo / Ariel Schalit / FILE - In this March 7, 2007, file photo, the Israeli army Heron TP drone, also known locally as the Eitan, flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Palmahim, Israel
FILE - In this March 7, 2007, file photo, the Israeli army Heron TP drone, also known locally as the Eitan, flies during a display at the Palmahim Air Force Base in Palmahim, Israel - Sputnik International
Germany may soon join the growing list of countries operating armed drones after years of striving to stay out of the global military limelight. Radio Sputnik discussed with activist Elsa Rassbach why the move can face strong opposition in the country.

According to Defense News, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen is preparing to ask German lawmakers to authorize a €1 billion ($1.22 billion) program to lease a handful of armed Heron-TP drones from Israel. The minister will likely make the request "within days or weeks."

The report states that Berlin would not actually take delivery of the aircraft, but instead would deploy the drones in Israel and bring Airbus into the fold to manage the program. While the drones would start by providing deployed German forces with surveillance capabilities, the program would evolve to include a precision strike capability as well.

READ MORE: German MoD to Request Approval for Armed Combat Drone Program

The policy measure is expected to receive support from legislators as long as there is a strong emphasis that the drones won't be used for extra-territorial strikes, which have been made infamous by the United States. Defense News noted that focusing the program on protecting German forces can essentially sidestep the ethical debate around combat drones, which has been a debatable issue for Germany.

Elsa Rassbach, a member of CODEPINK and the German organizations Attac, DFG-VK and Peace network drone campaign, explained how the troubled history of her country makes Germans so unsure about the drones.

Sputnik: What is the attitude of the German public towards the use of drones, and how would the country react if the Parliament approves the acquisition?

Elsa Rassbach: Not just the German public, leading newspapers, stallers and NGOs have been very critical of the US drone use since 2011-2012 and even before then. There’s been a large majority in opposition in particular to armed drones, and even greater opposition to how the US uses armed drones. There’s been a little less opposition to surveillance drones, but there’s still widespread opposition. So the German population and also the base of many political parties, including the SPD, have been fighting against these drones since 2013 in all sorts of ways with petitions and demonstrations, demonstrating against the use of US drones at Rammstein, at Africom, and also by writing letters to legislators and meeting with them. I think that you’ll find, there will be an ongoing campaign to try to hold off these decisions, prevent or delay these decisions in Germany as long as possible, both considering the  armed drone project within the Heron-TP and another armed drone project, Eurodrone, which is developed together with Italy, France and Spain, and also against a surveillance drone.

However, we didn’t fight surveillance drones earlier. Germany already has least surveillance drones, also Herons, called Heron 1, cannot be weaponized for many years. And Germany has approved this in that part of the NATO, Global Hawk Program, where the Global Hawks are stationed at the base in Sigonella, Italy. And they have been spying long at the coast of Russia for years.
That course about surveillance, it’s a little bit harder to argue that there should be no surveillance drones. They would argue that we want some which Germany controls because we don’t trust what the US tells us about, or how they want to use their intelligence. We want our own control. It would be harder to argue about this…

READ MORE: Swarming & Smart: Aquatic Drones and Their Potential Military Applications

Sputnik: I understand that people can be against the armed drones, because there is always a high risk of hitting civilians. But what is the problem with surveillance drones?

Elsa Rassbach: Before I get to that, there’s an additional problem with armed drones. I don’t like to talk about innocents and terrorists, we don’t know in any drone strike whether the person they are trying to kill should be killed for any reason. This person should be brought to trial. It’s just what the CIA thinks, “we want to kill this person.” We think that they sometimes have the policy of killing young people; every man between 16 and 50 in villages that they think might be in opposition to the US policy.

It’s a terrible thing to use them, and I have to say also there’s a background, why Germany is particularly pushing back. This has been the result of World War II, it’s been a result of a huge grappling in Germany about German guilt, German war crimes, which is to  have a government that has no regard for international law. Therefore as a result of this, Germany has become a largely pacifist country, very concerned about upholding international law. So that’s part of the background why Germany maybe more than some other countries, has been pushing back and why the German people have been pushing back. They feel very strongly about it.

But also surveillance drones have a lot to do with the NSA surveillance, about the British intelligence surveillance, about either stealing information from Germany, or German intelligence services secretly cooperating with all that. This is also strongly opposed. Don’t forget we had huge hearings about the NSA surveillance. And among the things that happened was a call to bring Edward Snowden, to give him asylum in Germany and also we had 5 hours of testimony by a drone whistleblower Brandon Bryant which has never happened in the US or anywhere else. So there will also be strong objection to surveillance drones. And there’s a lot of concern about the security of data. It’s also the result of the history with the Nazis.

But the problem is we didn’t oppose surveillance drones when they first started to be used by Germany 5 or 6 years ago in the Afghanistan war. So it’s harder, people aren’t directly been murdered by these drones, they will be murdered though by the intelligence that the drones gather.

The views and opinions expressed by Elsa Rassbach are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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