Arms Deals

Weapons Exports Should Improve Germany’s Security

The German government quashed the sale of  Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia. Source: DPA
The German government quashed the sale of Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia.

Arms exports are an integral part of security policy. When tanks and planes are shipped abroad, it automatically creates enduring strategic relationships between the two nations buying and selling them. The armaments can alter domestic power structures and geopolitical balances. All this makes global arms exporters responsible for change and stability in the world.

This makes Germany a complicit partner in any future conflicts where its weapons could play a role. As a rule, the federal government in Berlin guarantees buyer countries extensive German support, such as providing spare parts in times of war. Events abroad, in turn, could then directly impact Germany’s security situation and political decisions. For example, if Saudi Arabia went to war using German Leopard tanks, then either making further deliveries or refraining from them could alter the likelihood of terror attacks on German soil.

For this reason, the current debate in Germany about arms exports should be oriented toward a reasonable security policy. A strategy differentiated according to a particular region’s security situation and Germany’s interests makes it possible to incorporate arms deals directly into Berlin’s foreign policy. The government would be required to demonstrate how weapons exports would contribute to increased security for Germany.

What responsibility and possibility of action does Germany have if weapons fall into the wrong hands, for example in the case of a coup d'état?

This approach would enable the tailoring of appropriate offerings to specific countries, making use of the entire policy toolkit, from arms embargoes to the monitoring, support and delivery of weapons systems. The key criterion for any deal would be determining how the country contributes to German security interests and why the transfer of weapons and technology is justified. Germany’s responsibility for this partner in terms of security policy would also need to be clarified.

A basic bargaining chip in arms exports is control of replacement parts. After only a few hours in the air, a Eurofighter jet cannot fly safely without maintenance and spare parts. The usefulness of such equipment can be brought to a standstill if the recipient country violates agreements. Replacement parts could be linked to a requirement that the recipient country undertake changes to its own security policies.

Approaches already exist for this sort of regional strategy. Germany is helping develop security forces alongside its European Union and NATO partners in Afghanistan and Africa. It would be logical and ethically justified to provide the best possible equipment to the forces trained by Germany. But risks must be weighed. What responsibility and possibility of action does Germany have if weapons fall into the wrong hands, for example in the case of a coup d’état?

Christian Mölling is defense expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. He can be reached at: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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