defending defense

Arms exports booming, triggering debate

Bundeswehr verlädt Panzer für Transport nach Litauen
Special delivery! Source: DPA

The value of German arms exports fell by 9 percent to €6.24 billion ($7.24 billion) in 2017 but that was still the third-highest total ever, and it conflicts with Berlin’s policy of becoming more restrictive on sales. In their coalition agreement for the new government formed in March, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the center-left Social Democrats said they would reduce arms exports to countries that aren’t members of NATO or the EU.

They have their work cut out because 61 percent of exports went to precisely such countries last year. The percentage was even higher at 90 percent for exports of weapons of war, which exclude armored trucks. Weapons sales are a touchy subject in Germany due to the country’s checkered history, and the opposition accused the government of failing to deliver on past pledges to become more restrictive.

Germany is among the world’s five top arms exporters, according to the SIPRI research group. “I don’t believe in the fairytale of stricter arms export practices,” lawmaker Katja Keul, of the Greens, told Handelsblatt.

The government said the figures were skewed because they include a number of high-volume orders including the sale of a frigate to Algeria and a submarine to Egypt. They also included more benign products such as mine clearance equipment and armored trucks. One delivery for Syria was destined for UN workers. And the third-biggest deal approved by the government was a €500-million contract for tanks and armored trucks for Lithuania, an EU and NATO members.

Let’s make a deal

The arms industry says sales to countries outside the EU and NATO have kept it alive in recent years. A 2015 deal to sell 61 battle tanks to Qatar enabled Germany to maintain the know-how it needed to take the lead in the planned joint development of a European tank in cooperation with France, manufacturers pointed out. “The development of the current Leopard version 2A7 wasn’t paid for by the Europeans but by the much-maligned third-party countries because there hasn’t been any significant procurement in Europe for a long time,” Frank Haun, head of tank manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, recently told Handelsblatt. “If we start only buying European in Europe, we won’t need to export to third countries.”

Conservative Christian Democrat lawmaker Henning Otte said bedeviling arms exports was bad for Germany. “Having our own arms industry is a pillar of Germany’s sovereignty,” he told Handelsblatt. “Countering a loss of know-how in key defense technologies in particular is of central importance to us.”

The arms industry says restrictive export rules are hampering a planned European defense cooperation, especially with France, and has called on EU members to adopt common regulations. “Without a harmonization of export control regulations, European and especially German-French cooperation plans are barely feasible over the long term,” the managing director of German defense industry federation BDSV, Hans Atzpodien, told Handelsblatt.

Donata Riedel covers economic policy for Handelsblatt. To contact the author:

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