‘Thomas, we love you!’

IssueJune 2013
News by Gabriel Carlyle

As European countries step up their lobbying of the US to sell them armed drones, German activists have been leading the charge against the ‘competitive rush of governments in Europe and elsewhere to acquire and use’ the robotic killing machines.

On 30 April, during a visit to Washington by the German defence minister Thomas de Mazière to meet his US counterpart Chuck Hagel, Der Spiegel reported that the US was ready to approve a German request for three armed Reaper drones. Germany is also known to have been in talks with Israel to purchase armed drones.

Meanwhile, DefenceNews.com reports that: ‘France expects the US will soon approve the speedy shipment of two Reaper surveillance drones after sending a formal request in early May’, and Italy is reported to be looking into joining a secret European armed drone project after becoming frustrated with its lack of progress in getting US permission to ‘weaponise’ its existing fleet of US drones.

Nonetheless, drones remain deeply unpopular on the continent, and, in March, German activists launched a campaign opposing their government’s plans ‘to use drone technology for purposes of combat, surveillance and oppression’.

According to Elsa Rassbach of the Berlin Peace Co-ordination, a ‘No Combat Drones’ appeal circulated by the Drohnen-Kampagne (Drone Campaign) has received at least 125 endorsements from ‘key national and local peace and civil rights organisations’, including two political parties (the Green Party and The Left) who together hold more than 20% of the seats in the German parliament.

According to Rassbach, the purchase of either US or Israeli drones would require parliamentary approval, and de Mazière has therefoe been waging an ‘energetic pro-drone public relations campaign’.

However, when he tried to speak at Humboldt university in Berlin in April, anti-war activists in the audience chanted: ‘Thomas, we love you!’ They caused so much disruption that he was forced to leave.

On 25 April, after delivering an open letter to the British ambassador condemning Britain’s ‘unilateral decision’ to establish ‘what will likely be the first European-based control centre for drone warfare’ at RAF Waddington, German activists took their protests to the Bundestag itself, where five people were arrested after standing up in the public gallery, raising their blood-red-painted palms and shouting ‘Ban combat drones, sir!’ at de Mazière.

Rassbach, who was one of the those arrested, has since written: ‘Europeans and Americans urgently need to work together to create an international movement to stop drone proliferation and end drone warfare’, not least because ‘a consensus in Europe against weaponised drones may well prove to be strategically essential to achieve the much-needed international ban.’