Ever since becoming economics minister in December 2013, Sigmar Gabriel has tried to limit German weapons exports to countries that are not part of the European Union or the NATO military alliance.
New figures revealed over the weekend by German newspaper Die Welt, however, showed arms exports actually more than doubled to €7.86 billion, or $8.6 billion, last year compared with €3.97 billion in 2014.
Qatar in the Middle East bought tanks, Saudi Arabia purchased weapons and the United Kingdom bought four tanker aircrafts, Die Welt reported, citing a document from the federal economics ministry. Arms exports reached the highest level in at least 14 years, according to data from the newspaper.
Germany is the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter, with companies such as Rheinmetall, ThyssenKrupp and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann supplying weapons to all corners of the globe.
Mr. Gabriel’s ministry partially controls export licenses for weapons and other military equipment, giving the leader of the Social Democrats and deputy chancellor, the power to decide where and when German defense companies can sell their wares.
For exceptional weapons deals, however, the government’s Federal Security Council has the final say on exports. Chancellor Angela Merkel chairs this council, and six ministers, including Mr. Gabriel and Ms. Merkel’s chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, are its other members.
Defense companies say Mr. Gabriel’s policy could ruin the industry, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs. Ms. Merkel’s Christian Democrats share the companies’ concerns, and Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister and party ally of Ms. Merkel, told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday that the weapons export rules are “not suitable” in Europe.
As the world’s fifth-largest arms exporter, German companies such as Rheinmetall, ThyssenKrupp and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann supply weapons to all corners of the globe, but Mr. Gabriel has said that arms sales to countries outside the European Union and the NATO alliance must be closely scrutinized.
Mr. Gabriel has justified his cautious export policy by pointing to the conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East, where he has argued that German arms could fall into the wrong hands.
Last year, 59 percent of all weapons exports went to countries outside the European Union or the NATO member states, Die Welt reported. This figure stood at 60.5 percent in 2014, when Saudi Arabia, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia were among the top-10 buyers of German arms.
The German government approved a total of 12,687 export deals last year, 597 more than in 2014, the paper said. It rejected 100 export requests, unchanged from the preceding year.
Speaking to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, Mr. Gabriel acknowledged that “a considerable rise in volume” had occurred last year, but some of the deals had already been approved by the previous coalition government of Ms. Merkel. He said he could not reverse these decisions, for instance, the tank deliveries to Qatar, a deal worth €1.6 billion.
The minister also cited a €1.1 billion deal with the United Kingdom to supply four tanker airplanes as a reason for last year’s strong rise in exports. The U.K. exports were “completely unproblematic,” Mr. Gabriel told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.
He also pointed out that the exports of small arms, such as machine guns and bazookas, had fallen to the lowest level in 15 years, totalling €32 million last year, compared with €47 million in 2014.
“These arms are especially dangerous, because these are the weapons used in civil wars,” Mr. Gabriel told the Süddeutsche Zeitung.