Foto: BMLV Herbert Scheibner


Foto: BMLV

Interview with the new Austrian Minister of Defence, Herbert SCHEIBNER, 21st February 2000


Georg Mader for

The constant European low of defence expenditures and the sanctuary-status of the neutrality from 1955 has for the last decades characterised Austrias approach to security and national-defence. "With Viennas new government, those enshrined cornerstones will move over the next period", says Herbert Scheibner, the 36ys. young new defence-minister by the controversal Freedom-party.

Asked upon his age and competence, Min. Scheibner explains that "I know this army very well, since I am on the one hand in the rank of a sergeant in the army-reserve, where I like to state that I wear this uniform with pride ! On the other hand I was chairman of the Defence-Committee of the Austrian Parliament since 1993 and since 1996 I was member of the parlamentary-assembly to the WEU."

As Europe currently tries to keep clear of what is called a extrimist right-wing part of Viennas coalition, "the situation is complicated for Austria but also offers the chances of change, after the country was somtimes a kind of obstacle for a true common European defence-policy under the former gorvernments. When there will be the possibilty for personal contacts and work, it will be possible to dismiss reservations, which are existing on the political level. In military-relation there is business-as-usual and no discharges or suspenses were reported to me since Feb. 4th."

Min. Scheibner says that he is therefore "thankful to have been invited to the Informal Meeting of the Defence Ministers of the EU by his Portugese colleague Dr. Castro-Caldas, which is held at Sintra on the February 28th. The first such Meeting was initiated by the Austrian EU-presidency and I welcome that the Portugese presidency is continuing that successful establishment. As the Meeting will focus on the aspects of the Common Defence and Security Policy of Europe and having in consideration the conclusions of the Helsinki European Council, I specially welcome the creation and availability of an important working-paper by my British colleague.

As true changes in some typically Austrian security-positions of the past cannot be overlooked, "it is important for me, to point out that there are significant items to that matters to report, out of our new governmental-programme ! For the first time, it there is a clear and undiminished confession to a European solidarity in defence and security in an Austrian declaration. Altough we have not marked a sudden drop of neutrality - which is still a factor of national-consciousness of parts of our population - we have a clearly dedication to aim at a mutual-assitance under the EU-nations. It is true that the new coalition is also approaching NATO in an unprejudiced way for the first time, but any official drop of the neutral-status and a possible entry into any alliance is only facing us if European mutual-assitance would not become reality in a mid-term future. But any such steps must obviously be subjects to a referendum. I also want to explain to the joint defence-ministers, that improvements in the field of transits and overflights of troops and equipment of NATO- and other european-states are included in our declaration. Some embarassing experiences of hair-splitting desicions of the past should be overcome today ! And - in the light of weekly demonstrations against our democratically legimitated government - I want to mention that I rule out any use of military forces in the role of internal-securitry !"

Confronted by Austrias need of financial-consolidation of around 47 bill. ATS for FY's 00/01, he says that "I am aware that there is a complicated budgetary situation and that my party-colleague as a finance-minister has the same experience than me. It is much harder to solve shortcomings when in power, than to point on them when in opposition like I have been during the long-term lead of the Defence-Comittee. But when you order certain demands to our forces, there also have to be the necessary funding. Otherwise tasks would have to be reduced. There will be hard negotiations because of the finances, but we will see a useable solution.

But - despite the political scenario in the past - the military has also some fault on the 0,87% low GNP budget. Contrary to the forces-of-interior, the Federal-Army always tried to field-in that extra tasks - assistance-duties, transport expenses etc. - somehow, when units called to the eastern-border in assitance to the interior-gendarmerie, when sent to Albania, Bosnia, Turkey or abroad elsewhere. They did not ask for an extra return of funds, so it was always supposed that there were enough ressources. But there weren't," Min. Scheibner calls and explains that a return of all the extra tasks the Bundesheer will take-on in the future, was fixed in the coalition-agreement. "We will have to set-up priorities in international-missions abroad, Austria will not automatically take part in absolutley all the UN- and disaster-relief missions."

After the governmental plans there will be a budgetary-consideration within the next two years "and then we will see an actual rise of military-spending up to a little more than 1% GNP. This is also unavoidable internationally, as the French already have announced a move towards a joint-European minimum-spending in defence during their presidency in the 2nd half of 2000. These convergencial-criterias are a remarkable step for the EU and they are clearly to foresee for me in a few years. We must improve our part in that direction ! The Austrian Bundesheer had to digest over 40 savings-cuts over the last deacdes, that is how many budgets were made since 1955 !"

Pointing towards overdue decisions on equipment and structure, "due - but also in the light - of the all-European low defence-budget and the disassociated and ideologically cool-relation to the Bundesheer by the former majority Social-Democrats, my friend and predecessor Werner Fasslabend (OEVP) has was not able to solve some shortcomings and imminent desicions are necessary. They must be prepared and taken by my administration now, because we are supported by an ideologically-freed approach to things !" Min. Scheibner points out.

> Two important and overdue questions of equipment were fixed in the coalition-treaty. New helicopters and the desperate need of a replacement of the Draken's as the sole noteworthy jet. As there are already new avalanches in western Austria and no desicion or ranking on the acquisition of up to 12 mutli-role helicopters was made public so far, Min. Scheibner "notes the imminent need of acting in that case and I have now asked for the finishing of the military-tactical ranking (between the S-70 Blackhawk and the Cougar Mk. 1) within the next few weeks. Talks and negotiations have grown far and we are dedicated to the steps begun by the old cabinet, we even have earmarked the partial-ammounts over the whole legislation-period. The Draken is long over its useful service-life and a replacement is absolute necessary! Contrary to the helicopters, the financing of the interceptors will not affect the next two or even three FY's, so a type decision and a lead-in contract must be achieved within this year. Altough all the five contenders (F/A-18, F-16 - both new or used -, Mirage 2000-5, JAS-39 Gripen and MiG-29 SMT) were tested and flown, any prejustical favorisation or expell of one of them would be unwise at the moment and I will not interfere into the Air-Staffs preparations. Me personally would prefer new equipment, but this conclusions are in the same class as if we would use this multi-role types in their full spectrum. It depends in which way Austrias security policy will be able and allowed to develop, therefore if they would be used only for peacetime air-policing or if they would be deployed to any multinational engagements. But there must be two-seat combat-trainers this time !"

As he was always good for showing deficiencies in public in an unusual way, Min. Scheibner still knows what shortcomings he critisized in parlament. "Beside all what was mentioned concerning the air-force, we still lack the IR-visory for the HOT-Jaguar, the majority of the Pandur-APC's, improvements in personal infantry-equipment and more guided air-defence assets. Internal savings in a leaner provincial-command structure and the revenues from sold barracks and properities should first be lead into the cover of the so called "Mech.-Package" of 1996. In all, there is a lot of effort to make good but success will depend on the dedication of our parlamentarians and of common Europe. We are now open for that moves - for the first time...", Min. Scheibner concludes in earnest.

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