Two Weeks in Austrian Defence | June 26

In Blog, English by Chiara Libiseller

TWIAD is your bi-weekly, English-language briefing on national security and defence affairs in the alpine republic. The most relevant news reports, press releases, articles and announcements are recapped and, where necessary, put into context for greater accessibility. Feel free to get in touch and leave us your feedback and thoughts, ask questions in the comments or join the #TWIAD raucity on Twitter!

Groundhog Day: Starlinger bemoans low defence budget

The Bundesheer’s continued tight financial situation prompted newly-appointed Minister of Defence Thomas Starlinger to join the ranks of those speaking out. An active general in a long row of civilians to occupy the post, his request for more funding does not come as a surprise. His claim that the Bundesheer will soon be forced to withdraw personnel from international peace support operations adds urgency to the issue as one infantry company is currently being withdrawn from Kosovo, where the Bundesheer is deploying between 400 and 500 troops as part of NATO’s KFOR mission. Minister in an interim government, Starlinger however stated that he will leave the decision to end the engagement in Kosovo to the next government.

Severe financial constraints will likely not only affect international missions, but also overall force readiness, disaster relief missions and the ability to bring Austrians back from abroad in crisis situations, maintains the minister. Aiming to manage this fallout, Starlinger has tasked the general staff to draft (yet another) assessment on the necessary framework to guarantee the protection of Austrian citizens into the future until September.

While the air show AirPower19 is slotted to go ahead in September, the minister on Tuesday slashed the annual 26 Oct public display, a measure he claims saves €2m. This is relevant because the public display has been rather popular despite the Armed Forces’ controversial public image.

Background: Austrian defence budget

Since the end of the Cold War, Austria’s defence budget has shrunk in all but four years, averaging at 57% that of Western Europe combined. Since 1999, it consistently stands at below 1% of GDP.

Over the last few years, different ministers have tried to make the Bundesheer ‘more efficient’ and/or have promised a higher budget; but due to frequent turnover at the top, reforms have had little effect. Successors would often halt or even reverse them, preferring to put in place their own schemes. More recently, high-ranking  Bundesheer soldiers and officials, ministers of defence and even the Federal President, himself commander-in-chief, have drawn attention to the meager defence budget. Whether political parties share their assessment remains unclear – save for a few encouraging tones during election campaigns, they have adopted a non-committal attitude towards national defence. Hence, there is no public debate on the very tasks the Bundesheer should be able to carry out and the equipment and training it needs to do so. As long as the Bundesheer remains the main voice in that discussion, little will change as calls for a larger budget will be understood only as self-interested.

Security-focused high school reemerges

Despite Starlinger’s decision to the contrary of two weeks ago, the military high school, focus of much debate in the last few weeks, is now scheduled to open in September. Upon his appointment, Starlinger decided to halt the project after reviewing its cost effectiveness, thriftiness and usefulness – constructing a new home for the school will amount to around € 30 million, to which furnishings, teaching and learning equipment and fixed expenses have yet to be added. Starlinger’s cancellation of the project sparked major criticism – especially by the former governing partners ÖVP and FPÖ -, backed up by a parliamentary vote in favour of going through with the project. While not legally bound by that vote, Starlinger gave in in what is seen as a nod to the current government’s interim character. Nevertheless, Starlinger himself remains opposed to the project, arguing that there will be little demand for its graduates – the ministries of defence, the interior and justice, all named as possible takers, were interested in applicants from diverse educational backgrounds rather than recruiting from one institution.

Update: Parliamentary Inquiry on the Eurofighter Deal

In a leaked draft of the third inquiry’s final report, its head states that no evidence could be established that any individual decision makers in the run-up to procuring the jets were bribed. Judge Rohrer criticised, however, that Eurofighter/EADS in their dealings omitted the fact that offsetting transactions, a major argument in favour of the procurement decision, had been assigned to a third party; this rendered monitoring compliance all but impossible. Furthermore, the report singles out then-ministers of Finance and Defence, Messrs Grasser and Scheibler, for acting counter the principles of expedience and thriftiness in pushing a decision for the airplane type. Grasser furthermore stands accused of overstepping the boundaries of his portfolio.

 


Header image: Flickr/Anthony Quintano

Share this Post

About the Author

Bernhard Völkl

Twitter

Bernhard is a reserve officer in the Austrian Armed Forces and works in the technology industry.

About the Author
Chiara Libiseller

Chiara Libiseller

Twitter

Chiara Libiseller is a doctoral student at the Defence Studies Department of King’s College London and a Teaching Assistant at King’s War Studies Department. Her research traces the evolution of contemporary military concepts to understand broader patterns and fashions in the ways Anglo-American scholars and military professionals study and understand war. Her broad interests include military strategy, military history as well as Austrian and European defence.