In the wake of the German elections – the all-too-soon forgotten Euro Hawk drone scandal
Tue 1st Oct 2013
Was it not
‘Drones’ evoke recent American military campaigns, rather than the dusty Ministerial offices in the German capital. Thus, in the summer of 2013, the news of the ‘rise and fall’ of a German surveillance drone caught the German and European public by surprise. As the long silence of the German government on the acquisition of this new military capability was suddenly broken, the public learnt with astonishment that for 13 years the programme has been lurching on, even though the surveillance drone’s flying problems have long been ‘ a fact universally acknowledged.’ Years have gone by, but the technological problems have remained unresolved and the aviation authorities would not certify the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) due to its lack of an anti-collision system. In 2013,
Of course, the most troubling question remained: How did the Euro Hawk programme escape the public gaze for so long?
Back in 2001, during Chancellor Schroeder’s time, a Social Democrat-Green Party coalition government put their heads (and money) together to embark upon procuring the Euro Hawk, a variant of the US-developed Global Hawk, a spy drone, built by the American company Northrop Grumman . The result of the cooperation between Northrop Grumman and
In 2004, the Bundeswehr asked EADS and Northrop Grumman to present an offer for the development, production and delivery of a Euro Hawk. In the following year EADS and Northrop Grumman founded the 'Euro Hawk GmbH'. The two founders presented their bid in December of the same year, although public announcements about the project appear not to have been made. In 2007, with the conservative government of chancellor Angela Merkel already in office, the contracts were signed. Two years later German military inspectors voiced concerns about potential flight permit issues. However, under pressure from the Defense Ministry, with Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (Christian Social Union ) as minister, a military inspector eventually carried out the necessary tests allowing for a temporary flight permission  .
The Euro Hawk finally made a cross-Atlantic, 22 hour, trip from
A fresh military surveillance drone scandal – this is not what
The German Bundestag launched a formal inquiry , and in June, 2013 the Defence Minister de Maizière faced the music. However, during the Bundestag hearings the Defence Minister repeatedly made false statements about a key question. Thus, he bid farewell not only to the Euro Hawk programme, but also to his reputation for being a capable and unpartisan bureaucrat. Calls for de Maizière’s resignation were made, but no resignation was tabled  . He managed to cling to his post until the elections.
In this story of ‘heroic defence’ there are no heroes, and what started as a promising flight of the super-drone has finished as a super-scandal. But it has been a scandal in the making of three consecutive governments, which have managed to keep the German public in the dark for 13 consecutive years. Clausewitz famously decreed that ‘war is the continuation of politics by other means.’ Politics does entail the slow and messy business of public debate; however if we take ‘politics’ out of the famous old maxim, we are left only with ‘war.’
Now that the super-drone has been super-grounded, some day it can maybe take its place in a future German Military Museum of Technology, if such a place is ever created. Delivering foreign aid worth half a billion euros would have been the most powerful weapon, obliterating the need for the drone. It was for the German public to make this choice, demanding not ‘How much?’ but ‘Why?’
But now the Christian-Democrats celebrate victory, and it is not the time for such troubling thoughts. The German public has given strong public support to CDU/CSU for a third consecutive term, in spite of the fresh drone scandal. Maybe now even the former Defence Minister de Meziere will be able to get back his old job. Lucky him!