Arms Wrestling

Questions of Morality Overshadow Discussions About Armaments Sales

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  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Europe’s armaments industry faces further consolidation and job losses amid a heated moral discussion about selling weapons in crisis areas,

  • Facts


    • The SPD and German trade unions see themselves as historical figures in the international peace movement, but that view would be tarnished by the sale of weapons to violent regimes.
    • There is no money to convert arms manufacturers into other lines of business even as mergers are likely to slash thousands of jobs in the future.
    • The issue demands serious debate without any political grandstanding.
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The Social Democratic Party and trade unions in Germany are in a quandary. Both groups see themselves as major figures in the international peace movement, but it’s difficult to reconcile that lofty vision with the export of arms to unstable regions of the world.

Yet the SPD and Germany’s biggest trade union, the Industrial Union of Metalworkers, or IG Metall, with 2.4 million members, are also pioneers of the worker’s movement and committed to the interests of employees in the German armaments industry.

This raises a vexing question of morality: What is more important? Thousands killed with German-made weapons wielded by religious fanatics, warlords and potentates or 100,000 jobs lost in German industry?

No one expected a meeting between Sigmar Gabriel, who is the SPD chairman, vice chancellor and minister for economic affairs and energy, and the works councils of the German armaments companies to find a quick way out of this dilemma. But Mr. Gabriel again made it clear to the manufacturers that arms exports to countries outside the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization could only be considered in exceptional cases.

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