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Slight dip in German arms exports

October 15, 2014

The German government has approved arms exports for the first half of 2014 worth less than the same period in 2013, according to a cabinet report. Yet Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel is still under fire over the figures.

Symbolbild Deutschland Waffenexporte
Image: Getty Images

Compared to the first six months of 2013, German arms exports dropped by around 700 million euros ($892 million) from January to June, to a total of just under 2.23 billion euros.

Energy and Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, also the Social Democrat deputy chancellor, often said that he wanted to rein in German arms exports - especially to unstable, non-NATO and non-EU countries - during last year's general election campaign. Critics on Wednesday from the opposition Greens and Left alleged that he had not kept his word.

Despite a total decline of about 70 million euros, the proportion of heavy weaponry sold to countries that are not members of NATO or the EU actually increased, from 51 to 63.5 percent of the total tally.

When presenting the report, cleared by the German cabinet, Gabriel said that it would provide "considerably more clarity in the area of arms exports." The official delivery of the figures was far quicker than in the past. Previously, the government had issued only an annual report on approved weapons exports - publishing it one year after the fact.

WindEnergy Hamburg 2014 Sigmar Gabriel
Gabriel lobbied for fewer German arms exports while in oppositionImage: picture-alliance/dpa/Bodo Marks

Major naval sale to Israel

The leading Social Democrat also said that the largest export outside of NATO and the EU, a submarine for Israel approved by the government years ago, should not be a cause for concern.

"Even in the case of ships, each individual case is tested, but fundamentally these cannot be used to repress the opposition in one's own country, nor can they be employed during civil wars," Gabriel said. The government report notes that it is "unlikely" that naval equipment could be used for domestic repression or to infringe on human rights.

Private sector weapons exports require government approval under German law; a special committee including Gabriel, Chancellor Angela Merkel, and other relevant politicians makes the decision.

The report also noted a reduction in the exports of "small arms" - broadly speaking, any weapon that one person can carry and operate alone - which are not itemized in the government report like larger weapons deals.

Opposition, Amnesty critical

"The much heralded change of course by Gabriel is nothing more than hot air," the Greens' co-leader Anton Hofreiter said in Berlin on Wednesday, while his party colleague Katja Keul said that arms exports to non-NATO and non-EU countries were "not the exception, but rather the rule, even under Gabriel."

The Left party's Katja Kipping said that it was "absurd" to approve weapons exports to Qatar and Saudi Arabia as both countries faced allegations of supporting radical islamists.

Mathias John, an armaments expert for Amnesty International, told the German EPD news agency that the continued pattern of exports showed "that human rights are not the German government's decisive criterion for the export of military equipment."

Heckler und Koch G36 Gewehr
Among other products, Saudi Arabia is a major customer for the G36 assault rifleImage: Getty Images

John welcomed both the reduction in small arms sales, and the prompt release of a government report, but said that continued cooperation with Saudi Arabia, "which tramples on human rights," baffled him. He appealed for the Social Democrat to have "the courage" to take a close look at already-approved contracts still awaiting delivery, saying Gabriel should "run the risk of legal disputes in order to protect human rights."

Total German arms exports for 2013 were valued at 5.8 billion euros, a 24-percent spike on the previous year.

msh/jr (AFP, dpa, epd, Reuters)