German politicians are discussing the need to build a missile defense system against enemies that Germany doesn't have and with money it needs elsewhere. The main reason: the US would be their main partner.
Germany's other big-budget air force project: the A400
The Medium Extended Air Defense System will guarantee that any foreign object -- be it a plane, a missile or something else -- launched toward Germany from within 1,000 km (621 miles) of its borders will face an early demise.
The project, which has the full support of the German military, is spearheaded by American defense contractor Lockheed Martin and also has on board an Italian defense contractor. It is an opportunity for the German defense industry to once again get involved with a lucrative and high-profile project. But the €2.85 billion ($3.6 billion) it will cost for the German division of the European arms company EADS to participate has raised some eyebrows in the German parliament.
Green parliamentarian Winfried Nachtwei doubted "the military urgency" of the project. His colleague Hans Christian Ströbele, one of the parliament's bedrock pacifists, said he "had the impression that the push to develop the system isn't really being made on military grounds."
Where's the urgency?
Security expert Bernd Kubbig, who works for the Frankfurt Peace Research Institute, agreed. Though the danger of terrorism always lurks, Germany has no known enemies within the 1,000 km range, he said. Like other security specialists he figures there are other motives behind the plan.
"One reason is that they want to make money available to the German armaments industry so that they can continue on," said Kubbig. The second reason is that the German Air Force is eager to replace aging systems like "Roland" and "Hawk," he said.
Some politicians prefer to use the jobs argument, no small one at a time when Germany's growth rates are sputtering and where more than 10 percent of the population is unemployed.
Jobs and friends
"A good amount of the radar development will take place in Germany," said Hans-Peter Bartels, a parliamentarian from Chancellor Schröder's Social Democratic Party. German industry, he continued, would benefit from the project as would "possibly other areas."
But perhaps the biggest reason may be Germany's eagerness to get back on Washington's good side. After transatlantic relations froze over the Iraq war, both sides have been working hard on improving ties.
Struck called the project "essential for Germany's image in NATO, but also with respect to its relationship with the USA."
Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder sits in the cockpit of a new multi-role military helicopter NH 90 at the opening day of the International Aerospace Exibition in Berlin Monday, May 10, 2004.
The Finance Ministry is wondering at what price. Experts like Kubbig assume that the project will cost from three to four times current estimates. The Ministry's military allowance is already maxed out with projects like the EU-developed Eurofighter, the Airbus 400 transport plane and the new NH 90 helicopter (photo).A decision will have to be made soon. Deadline for Germany to sign the contract is the end of March. The first missiles should be in service by 2012.