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Defense

De Maiziere fails to clarify drone debate, expert says

German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere claimed he was informed too late about the failed Euro Hawk drone project. Political scientist Christian Hacke tells DW why the minister's resignation may be appropriate.

DW: There has been considerable pressure on the defense minister in recent weeks for not having stopped the drone program sooner. He's testified before a parliamentary committee that he had hardly been involved in the project and was only later informed about the cancellation. Do you find this statement surprising?

Christian Hacke: Yes, I find the statement tremendously surprising. Since this debacle has gone public, de Maiziere has indicated that such glitches could occur. But he didn't say that this should be considered standard. What he said was that with such large projects over such long time periods, one could pretty much count on problems. I already found that to be playing down reality.

Prof. Dr. Christian Hacke
Photo: Bonn University

Hacke said calls for de Maiziere's resignation would likely get louder

But now he's made a 180-degree turn in saying that he had no idea, implying that he considers the whole process to have been problematic. That's a skewed argument. Whether or not this is actually the case, both situations would be equally bad. At this point the question has to be asked if he's got a handle on his ministry at all. The situation for him has by no means improved.

How can a minister involved in projects of such magnitude not be better informed, and how can deputy ministers be in a position to cancel the Euro Hawk project practically on their own?

This project has been running for some time now, de Maiziere's predecessors had already dealt with it. But with regard to projects of this magnitude, I cannot see how deputies could make such decisions by themselves, without involving the head of the ministry. If that was really the case, with deputy ministers allowed to do whatever they pleased, then de Maiziere didn't have the department under his control.

Do you believe this is a failure on the part of de Maiziere's? Should he have actively sought out more information?

I've had a certain understanding for his position, in the sense that he does not find out about everything, or does not find out in a timely manner. But now that he's made a point of describing how the ministerial deputies went around him to cancel the project without his approval - I find that very vexing. He should really take responsibility. That's the case if he did know beforehand, which he now denies, as well as if while he is running a ministry and decisions get made without him.

De Maiziere has ruled out resigning, but is reserving the option of personnel consequences in the ministry. Do you think it would be fair if he lets go his deputies?

Indeed, the question is whether the opposition and his own party would be satisfied with this. They may say that people are just being sacrificed here. I cannot judge the competency of the ministerial deputies. I also don't know if maybe they are in some kind of bureaucratic fight with the minister. But to be honest, one can't rule out the consequence that demands for de Maiziere's resignation will become louder.

Are the explanations that de Maiziere provided adequate? What still remains to be clarified, in your opinion?

Until now, merely the technical, bureaucratic and financial aspects of this affair have been discussed. Which is important, and correct. But beyond that, there are so many other important questions that have not been addressed at all. What are the effects of the Euro Hawk on Germany's national security? Do drones fit into our defense strategy? And the ethical questions, summarized by the idea of death by joystick: Who is allowed to kill, and who will be killed? Not to mention the global dimension: How do these drones contribute to an arms race? At this point the West has a monopoly on drones, but that doesn't mean that authoritarian states won't someday also have drones.

All of these topics have been completely left out, and also received short shrift in de Maiziere's appearance before the parliamentary committee. That's why I say that the debate taking place for years in Berlin has been provincial, and the minister has in no way brought clarity to these issues.

Christian Hacke is professor emeritus at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the University of Bonn.

DW.DE