German public ‘misled’ on weapon exports

Sales of Eurofighter Typhoons to Saudi Arabia is one of the agreements that has been criticised. [Archangel12/Flickr]

Germany recently released its report on arms exports, which showed that sales have nearly doubled, despite promises to scale back the number and value of weapons being sent abroad. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Jürgen Grässlin is a spokesperson for a German anti-arms trade group, Aktion Aufschrei – Stoppt den Waffenhandel!

Grässlin spoke to’s Daniel Mützel.

The German Cabinet has signed off on the country’s 2015 arms exports report, which has seen a doubling of weapon sales abroad. Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, whose ministry was responsible for the report, had repeatedly made calls in the past for German exports to be scaled back. How do these two factors fit together?

Individual licences have doubled from €3.9 billion in 2014 to €7.8 billion in 2015. Collective exports have also doubled to €5 billion. Altogether, we are talking about exports of €12.5 billion, an absolute record for German arms sales.

Before the last election, Gabriel was very clear that he would get involved in order to restrict arms sales and prevent human rights violations. In December 2013, when he was already the economic minister, he repeated his pledge. Today, we are looking at a disaster that is multi-levelled. Not only in terms of export volume, but also in regard to the countries that have been sold to, where serious human rights violations and war are rife, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Gabriel has misled the public and broke his promise.

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Gabriel has argued that weapon exports have gone through the roof because of deals inherited from the previous government. For example, an agreement to provide tanks to Qatar.

It is an absurd argument. Paragraph 7 of the War Weapons Control Act says that these licences can be revoked at any time. And two paragraphs later, cancelling a deal based on “disturbing the peace” and what compensation should be paid is covered. This would apply to the controversial agreements with Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as both countries are involved in the Yemeni war and are suspected of supporting Islamic State terrorists in Syria.

So when Gabriel says we can’t go back on the deal, there’s nothing more that can be done, that is simply not true. And he knows that, because as Economy Minister, he knows this act inside out.

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Looking at Germany’s exports in purely quantitative values is problematic, according to Gabriel’s ministry. For example, €1 billion alone was taken up by exporting tanker aircraft to the UK, a NATO member.

Of course, major weapon systems will affect the total value of exports. Another example is the delivery of submarines to Israel, which totalled half a billion. You’re right, that the provision of materiel to the UK is fully in order, because it is one of our NATO partners. Anyone wanting to export to them doesn’t even need a licence. But it is politically a problem, given where the British army is deployed. Additionally, the publication of the Chilcot report last week reminded us how the country invaded Iraq, using, in part, German weaponry.

179 British soldiers died and nearly 150,000 people were killed in this illegal war. On the one hand, one can indeed say that the UK is a NATO partner and weapon exports are legal, but whether they are legitimate is another matter.

If Gabriel’s calculations are to be believed, then bulk deliveries to Qatar, the UK and Israel total some €4.5 billion, which is still higher than the previous year. How can this increase be explained?

Even without the big orders, the numbers remain high. For example, the Eurofighter Typhoon, a war plane that is produced by Germany and the UK, is exported to Saudi Arabia. Small arms exports total nearly €150 million. Munitions, bombs, torpedoes and missiles top €780 million.

These exports are used by the countries buying them in conflict and war, not as museum pieces. So I stand by my statement that authorising these sales is an accessory to murder. When it comes to small arms, there is complicity in mass murder.

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When it comes to small arms, there is actually a more positive trend in exports, as they fell from €47 million to €32 million.

If we are going to talk of some success, then this is where we are going to find it. I wouldn’t underestimate it either, given that 19 out of 20 war dead around the world are as a result of small arms. In this regard, Gabriel has managed to nearly halve exports in comparison to previous years. However, to put this in context, the starting point of 2013 was relatively high, at €82 million, the highest number recorded.

It is a positive development though, brought about in no small part because of the campaigns we have organised.

Security experts have argued that an arms industry has to export to be internationally competitive and that a dropoff in exports would not just affect domestic industries, but also the defence capabilities of the country.

The first statement is definitely true. An arms industry that doesn’t export is not marketable, because the price of weapons would rise so much that even their own armed forces would start buying from abroad. But the link with the defensive capabilities of the country itself is irrational. Germany is part of a collective security effort in Europe and is not surrounded on all sides by potential invaders. In terms of security, maintaining our weapons industry is not essential.

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