Selling Guns

German Weapons Exports Test Coalition and Country's Psyche

iraq kurd afp
Mind pointing your gun the other way?
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The success of the Islamic State in Iraq or Isis and the plight of the Yezidis in northern Iraq have forced the German government to rethink its position on arms exports.

  • Facts


    • German weapons are in high demand around the world, prized for their precision and reliability.
    • Germany is the world’s third-largest arms exporter.
    • The German arms industry has often profited from both sides in military conflicts. Despite the strict export rules, some 62 percent of arms exports went to countries outside NATO and the European Union last year.
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There are so many ways that a single visit can change things. German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel had expected that by Tuesday of this week, he would have uncovered yet another issue on which he could count on the support of the majority of Germans. Because most Germans oppose arms exports, Mr. Gabriel, who also heads the center-left Social Democratic Party, believed that they would support his bid to reduce the number of tanks and guns Germany sells to other countries.

But arms manufacturers complained, as did the SPD’s coalition partners, the center-right Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union. It was the kind of political conflict Mr. Gabriel welcomes.

That was until the Yezidis arrived.

Last Tuesday, Mr. Gabriel met with a delegation of the ethnic group in northern Iraq that is literally being slaughtered by fighters with the terrorist organization the Islamic State in Iraq or Isis. After meeting with the Yezidis, Mr. Gabriel was using language like “genocide” and “preparations for genocide.”

During the day, it became increasingly clear that Germany would provide aid to the Yezidis. And arms deliveries are also no longer a taboo – regardless of German public opinion over arms exports.

Policymakers in Berlin were long puzzled over what exactly is meant by the “new German responsibility.” In the previous coalition government of the CDU/CSU and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party, arms exports had increased and yet Berlin had advocated restraint. And now, with everyone touting Germany’s “responsibility,” exports were expected to decrease?

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