Why is Europe obsessed with drones?

David Cronin, “Why is Europe obsessed with drones?,” Al Jazeera, 19 December 2013

Despite the economic crisis, the EU is facing serious lobbying to boost its defence spending.

Every time the West contemplates going to war, it’s a safe bet that “defence analysts” will pop up in the press bemoaning how Europe is militarily weaker than the United States. …

The 28-country bloc is under pressure from the arms industry to boost investment in drones.  If this doesn’t occur “it’s quite inevitable that the defence base will further deteriorate,” Tom Enders, head of the Franco-German weapons producer EADS has warned. …

Rather than giving a plausible reason to covet these killing machines, the EU’s decision-makers have tried to offer a distraction.  A report, drawn up for the EU summit by Catherine Ashton, the Union’s foreign policy chief, emphasises that drones can have constructive, as well as destructive, applications.  Drones can be used for disaster management, environmental protection and border surveillance, the paper suggests. …

Israel’s war industry is taking part in various other EU initiatives. In the spring, an IAI-made drone – known as the Heron – was flown in Spain during experiments held by the European Defence Agency (EDA) on launching military planes into civilian airspace.  The EDA has been formally tasked with bolstering Europe’s arms industry.

IAI and another Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit have also proven adept at soaking up grants from the EU’s multi-annual programme for scientific research.  A number of the projects involving those firms are focused on drones.

The future participation of Israeli weapons companies in the EU’s research programme has not been threatened by a row over a four-page document which received a hostile response in Israel this summer.  While that official EU document stated that firms and institutions active in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank were not eligible to receive subsidies, it did not deal with the Union’s support for Israel’s arms industry.

A deal thrashed out between Ashton and Tzipi Livni, the Israeli justice minister, will allow Israeli arms manufacturers to draw down funds from Horizon 2020, as the EU’s next research programme is called.

“Security” will be a major theme of that programme, which has been allocated €80bn ($110bn) between 2014 and the end of the decade.  Whenever they are quizzed about the real purpose of “security research”, EU representatives insist that it is entirely peaceful.

With many big players in the arms industry enjoying this largesse, the demarcation lines between “military” and “civilian” appear extremely fuzzy.  Moreover, the idea of funding hardcore weapons development directly from the Union’s budget may be gathering momentum. Michel Barnier, France’s European commissioner, has explicitly called for such a step to be taken from 2020 onwards. …

Not so long ago, arms dealers could only dream that the Union would finance drone projects. Now, that step has become a reality – without, it should be added, giving ordinary citizens any say in the matter.

Arms dealers and their lackeys are not renowned for being scrupulous.  Yet portraying the war industry as essential to the economy is contemptible, even by their low standards. The latest issue of NATO Review – the alliance’s in-house magazine – moans about how that falling military budgets means fewer jobs.

Far from being a victim of austerity, the arms industry devours resources that could be better spent. Several countries that are now in crisis increased their military expenditure dramatically during the first decade of this century: Greece by 50 percent between 2002 and 2009; Spain by 29 percent between 2000 and 2008.

Nor is the arms industry a reliable source of employment.  Official data indicates that the EU has more people working in organic agriculture than in making weapons.

Read the full article here.