BERLIN (Reuters) - The German military has the authority to respond with “offensive measures” if its computer networks are attacked, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday, amid growing concerns among German lawmakers about control of such actions.
Von der Leyen, speaking at the opening ceremony for Germany’s new cyber command in Bonn, gave no details of what kind of retaliation she had in mind.
“If the German military’s networks are attacked, then we can defend ourselves. As soon as an attack endangers the functional and operational readiness of combat forces, we can respond with offensive measures,” she said.
She added that the German military could be called in to help in the event of cyber attacks on other governmental institutions. During foreign missions, its actions would be governed and bounded by the underlying parliamentary mandate.
Any legal questions would be addressed by the military in close cooperation with other government agencies, she added.
The new Bonn-based command has an initial staff of 260 that will grow to around 13,500 in July.
Von der Leyen’s decision to sanction offensive cyber actions in principle has caused some concerns among German lawmakers, including Agnieszka Brugger, a member of the pro-environment Greens and member of the defence committee.
Military ombudsman Hans-Peter Bartels, who fields complaints from soldiers for parliament, told the Neue Osnabrueckner Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday that every offensive measure required explicit approval by the parliament since Germany’s military is a so-called “parliamentary army”.
German officials told reporters earlier this week that the government was scrambling to respond to serious and growing cyber threats, but civilian officials said they lacked the legal framework to retaliate with cyber attacks of their own.
However, von der Leyen made clear on Wednesday that she was convinced the authorities were clear in the military realm.
Deputy Defence Minister Katrin Suder told reporters on Monday that existing laws applied, even in cyberspace.
Von der Leyen said Berlin was increasing expenditure to keep up with technical innovations.
Germany’s current military budget included 1.6 billion euros for information technology-related items, ranging from new radios and hardware to service contracts, and spending was slated to increase significantly in 2018, she said.
The military also spent around 1 billion euros a year on personnel.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Stephen Powell