Austria's Defense Minister Guenther Platter: "European Solidarity replaced our autonomous Security Policy"

Posted in Europe | 07-May-05 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Austria's Defense Minister Platter: "We have close bilateral ties with Germany and Switzerland"
Austria's Defense Minister Platter: "We have close bilateral ties with Germany and Switzerland"
WSN: In May, Austria celebrates the 50th anniversary of the so-called “Staatsvertrag”. What is the historic significance of this treaty?

Guenther Platter: The historic significance of the Austrian State Treaty, signed on May the 15th 1955 in Belvedere Castle by Austria and by the governments of the major allies that fought the Nazi Regime, is the restoration of Austria as an independent and sovereign state. On the basis of this Treaty, Austria became a legal member of the international community of nations. And last but not least, by doing so, the State Treaty gave way to the foundation of the Austrian Armed Forces.

WSN: What are, in your view, the major risks and challenges for Austria today and in the future?

Guenther Platter: There is no conventional military threat to Austrian territory in the foreseeable future.

The major security risks and challenges for Austria today are non-conventional threats such as strategic terrorist attacks, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as well as instability, crises and conflicts in the periphery of the European Union. Other challenges for the country’s security policy include organised crime, uncontrolled migration and the manipulation of information and communication technologies. And there are the so-called civilisation risks, mainly connected with natural disasters and environmental catastrophes.

WSN: What are Austria’s vital interests in security policy?

Guenther Platter: Keeping the new challenges in mind, Austria’s vital security interests must be seen in the broader European context. They were put forth and defined in the Security and Defence Doctrine which was adopted by the National Assembly on December the 12th 2001.

Austria's security policy is guided by the principle of comprehensive security which attributes appropriate importance to both military and non-military security aspects.

The principle of preventive security has replaced the concept of threat response. Active participation in international measures of conflict prevention and crisis management is an integral part of Austria's security policy.

Equally, the principle of European solidarity has replaced the concept of autonomous security policy. The security of Austria and that of the European Union are inseparably linked. The new challenges and risks in the field of security policy cannot be met on one’s own, but only within the framework of international co-operation in the spirit of solidarity.

WSN: What kind of an impact does Austria’s EU membership in the European Security and Defence Program and its membership in the NATO Partnership for Peace Program have on Austria’s “ever-lasting” neutrality? Is there a difference between neutrality inside and outside of Europe as was declared by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Benita Ferrero-Waldner, while in office?

Guenther Platter: In 1955, Austria freely declared its neutrality as a sovereign state. In accordance with international law, Austria has the sovereign right to interpret its status of neutrality in light of its own interests. With this in mind, Austria became a member of the United Nations in 1955. As stated before, Austria’s future interests have to be seen in the broader context of European security.

With its EU membership and in view of the challenges mentioned above, Austria’s active contribution to the ESDP has become crucial in Austria’s own national interest as well as that of the EU. For that reason, Austria amended its constitution in 1998, in order to make contributions to measures of international crisis management and conflict prevention possible, particularly with regard to the Petersberg tasks. This includes the option of contributing forces to missions of other organisations. Austrian soldiers are, for instance, currently serving with NATO-led KFOR in Kosovo.

Can Austria afford the "Eurofighter light" ?
Can Austria afford the "Eurofighter light" ?
WSN: What are the main tasks of Austria’s military forces?

Guenther Platter: The main tasks of the Austrian Armed Forces (AAF) are the following:

With regard to national defence, the AAF will continue to concentrate on guaranteeing Austria‘s national sovereignty and on conducting assistance operations on request of civil authorities. The latter includes providing assistance to the border police at the EU-Schengen-border as well as assistance in case of natural or man-made disasters and terrorist attacks.

In terms of contributing to international security, the main task of the Austrian Armed Forces will be to participate in operations of multinational conflict prevention and crisis management, across the entire spectrum of the Petersberg tasks.

WSN: Your plan to restructure Austria’s military by 2010 is very ambitious. How can Austrian military forces accomplish their missions with a defence budget that is less than 1% of the GDP, which cuts the numbers of troops in half, reduces the length of conscript service from 8 to 6 months and includes personnel costs of about 70%, although experts believe that 40% should be the limit?


Are you sure that a reduced 6-month conscript service is sufficient to train and recruit an adequate number of qualified young men and women to become officers and non-commissioned officers? Is a reduction of service time the beginning of the end of conscription?

Guenther Platter: The security-political changes we have seen over the last decades have necessitated fundamental changes in the tasks of the AAF and consequently of their structure.

The reduction of the mobilization strength by 50 percent and the reduction of locations are to be seen in connection with these changes and will eventually help save money. The forces will become slimmer and more efficient. In the intermediate term the running costs will be significantly reduced. The proceeds from the real-estate sales (of up to 40 percent) will finance a substantial part of the on-coming reform of the AAF.

While national service will remain indispensable for Austria, the reduction of the conscript service time to 6 months is justified on the basis of the changed threat scenario. It will, however, make a reform of conscript service necessary, in order to make it more efficient.

All countries with a social standard comparable to that of Austria will be facing the problem of relatively high personnel costs. It will therefore be necessary to make targeted use of the personnel resources. What will be needed is a shift of priority from the administration to the troops.

WSN: What is the rationale of buying a „Eurofighter light“ without the combat-vital „Identification Friend-Foe“ system and for an „Eight –hours-day?”

Guenther Platter: Contrary to what is occasionally brought up in the political discussion in Austria, there will be no “Eurofighter Light”. The Austrian Eurofighters will be equipped appropriately to meet Austria’s needs in securing Austrian airspace 24 hours a day, seven days a week, if necessary.

Austrian tanks - to be discontinued ?
Austrian tanks - to be discontinued ?
WSN: Germany and Switzerland face similar problems in keeping a balance between investment in modern equipment and armory, training troops and offering attractive financial conditions to young people. Is there a room for more international cooperation with your neighbors? Can you envision the common usage of training facilities and training areas?

Guenther Platter: We have very close bilateral ties with Germany and Switzerland and, like Austria, both of these countries are thinking about further developments in this respect.

We closely co-operate with Switzerland, for instance, during the implementation phase of the F5E TIGER, which is an interim solution for Austria’s Air Surveillance. At the beginning of this year, we participated in an exercise in Switzerland together with the Swiss Air Force.

We also participate in exercises and training programs with the German Armed Forces. Recently, some units of our new “High Readiness Forces“ took part in the highly successful Field Training Exercise “European Challenge”, closely cooperating with Germany.

Austria has gained comprehensive experience in co-operating with its neighbours, both on the tactical and the security-political level. We have conducted several international exercises und training programs with neighbouring countries, using Austrian training facilities and training areas. To develop the common utilization of training facilities and training areas further is an interesting consideration.

WSN: Austria could and would be an important and strong member of NATO as a strategic link between Central Europe and Southeast Europe – especially the Balkans. Is there a political will to join NATO? What are the major stumbling blocks? Austria already has a battalion under NATO command and control in Kosovo. Would a membership in NATO give Austria more influence in the very first phases of a NATO-led support operation?

Guenther Platter: Austria is a very reliable and active member within the framework of NATO PfP and, in this sense, is substantially contributing to NATO-led operations, as for instance in Kosovo. Also, through the Partnership for Peace program, Austrian force development is oriented toward NATO standards, aiming at establishing interoperability. Notwithstanding, full membership in NATO is a foreign and security-political issue which, for the time being, is not under discussion.

WSN: Austria has a lot experience and skill in peace-support operations. Can you sustain this commitment with smaller military forces over a longer period of time? Especially with respect to your subsidiary mission – like border control?

Guenther Platter: The reduction of the Austrian Armed Forces does by no means entail a reduction of their capabilities. On the contrary! It will lead to a concentration of the active cadre personnel and of the know-how coming from the Militia component. We will, therefore, not have to start setting up forces for multinational peace operations, as we did in the past, but will have the structures in place that are needed to lead a Framework-Brigade for the duration of one year, covering the entire spectrum of the Petersberg tasks.

In addition, we will continue to conduct our operation in assistance of the law enforcement agencies along the border, with approximately 2,000 soldiers. Likewise, we will continue to provide forces for disaster relief operations at home and abroad, if needed.