The public debate concerning the ethical and legal implications of a potential armament of Heron TP drones leased from Israel for the German armed forces continued on Monday, October 5th 2020.

Six experts with either legal or military backgrounds were heard during the highly anticipated hearing in the German Parliament’s Defence Committee. Each expert delivered a ten-minute statement. Still, the hearing lasted more than three hours, the main reason being the numerous follow-up questions from the Committee’s Members.

Four experts – André Wuestner (Deutscher Bundeswehr-Verband), Joachim Wundrak (former lieutenant general), Andreas Zimmermann (University of Potsdam), and Carlo Masala (Universität der Bundeswehr) – argued in favour of arming the Heron TP drones. The other two – Andreas Schueller (European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights) and Christian Marxsen (Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law) – plead against.

Arguments in favour focused mostly on and around the armed forces vested interest in the best possible equipment and protection. Another point made was the supposed absence of any difference between deadly attacks performed by pilots of fighter jets and pilots of (unmanned) drones. One expert stressed that extrajudicial killings and strikes which violated public international law, especially those carried out by US and British forces (so called ‘signature strikes’), were not supposed to be subject of this debate.

Another, almost self-imposing question was only addressed by the two speakers opposing the armament: How will the German legislator ensure that such drone strikes, violating international law, will not be carried out by German military forces once these become an available option? From what can be observed from the US and British experiences, the threshold and legal scrutiny for carrying out strikes decreases significantly once armed drones become available. This is important in light of the UN Charter’s prohibition of the use of force (Article 2 para. 4). And what is sometimes forgotten is that Germany in the past has already participated in controversial missions among them those in Kosovo and Syria (counter Daesh).

Last but not least, it was criticised that the German debate lacks contextualisation as civilian casualties caused by previous US and British strikes are not taken into account. As a result, the government has neglected to put in place an adequate judicial review mechanism to control drone strikes and allow access to justice for persons affected by them.

It is now expected that the German Ministry of Defense will present a re-worked concept on the use of armed drones to Parliament later this year before a final debate will take place, and ultimately a decision will be taken.


Written by Helena Krueger, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR)

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