German Arms Exports Under Fire | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 07.12.2004
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German Arms Exports Under Fire

Days after a report confirmed an increase in German arms exports, Chancellor Schröder promised to help end the EU embargo imposed on arms sales to China. Critics say Germany is too eager to export to questionable buyers.


German made, South Africa bound

Last Wednesday, the German government released its annual report documenting the number of German-made arms exported abroad. The report confirmed an upward trend, with foreign sales reaching an all time high of €1.3 billion ($1.7 billion) in 2003, compared to €318 million in 2002 and €367 million in 2001, firmly establishing Germany as the world's fourth largest arms producer.

While the increase was partly explained by the sale of a few big ticket items, including a submarine worth €210 million to South Africa, arms control advocates say the German government is all too willing to allow the sale of arms and military hardware to countries engaged in conflict or with questionable human rights records. They point to recent sales to Nigeria and India.

Less than a week after the report was released, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder kicked off a trip to China, where he promised to lobby the international community to end an arms embargo imposed in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. He thereby signalled his government's willingness to further liberalize Germany's arms export policies.

With the global weapons trade worth more than €521 billion ($700 billion) per year, it's not surprising that Schröder, struggling with a stagnant economy and high unemployment, wants to provide a boost to a highly profitable domestic business. But arms control advocates --with the support of Green Party parliamentarians -- have vowed to block his efforts.

Government says proper checks met

Leopard 2 für die Türkei

German "Leopard" tanks fetch top dollar.

Following widespread pressure in the late 1990's to impose more control on the international arms trade, the German governing coalition of Social Democrats and Greens -- who campaigned promising more transparency -- issued the first annual report in 2000 documenting German arms exports.

That same year, the government toughened laws governing arms exports and gave an oversight committee, known as BAFA, final approval over all foreign sales. According to the rules, such sales can only be completed after it is established that the weapons aren't intended for conflict zones or countries with poor human rights records.

In a press release accompanying this year's report, the government claimed 67 percent of 2003 exports were bound for EU or NATO allies and permission for the remaining exports was only granted after a careful check and BAFA review were carried out.

Critics take issue with report

U-Boot U 31 auf Testfahrt

Some German arms sales remain undetected in official reports, say critics.

But Bernhart Moltmann, Chairman of the Study Group on German Arms Exports of the Joint Conference Church and Development (GKKE), which will issue its own report on German arms exports next Wednesday, said the government report misrepresents the facts.

"The numbers given aren't clear," he told DW-WORLD. "They are directed to give a good impression."

He points to the fact that more arms are bound for so-called "developing countries" than the report indicates because the government used its own definition of a "developing country," rather than the one generally agreed upon by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

"There are problems with the definitions used," he said.

Loopholes remain

In addition to finding fault with the definitions used, some experts also point to loopholes in the rules.

Siemon Wezeman, the acting head of the Arms Transfers Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), does not dispute the government's claim that the majority of weapons defined as "arms," according to the criteria used to compile the government report, are bound for the EU and NATO allies.

Of greater concern, according to Wezeman, are the individual components, such as engines, which are not counted in the report and are not subject to the approval of BAFA. They may be installed in, say, a French tank and ultimately end up in the Middle East or elsewhere.

"We only have the figures for the major weapons systems, but not for the smaller components," he told DW-WORLD. "It's a loophole and a way for German-made arms to end up pretty much anywhere in the world."

Winfried Nachtwei, a deputy parliamentary leader for the Green Party and Claudia Roth, head of the Greens, issued a press release on the same day the government arms report was released promising to look into ways to close the loopholes and make all German arms -- whether entire weapons systems or individual components -- accountable to the same checks and restrictions.

Just political posturing?

Gerhard Schröder mit China Präsident Hu Jintao

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has promised to help lift the arms embargo on China.

If Chancellor Schröder intends to pave the way for German companies to sell sophisticated weapons systems to China, he could have a tough fight on his hands. Five years ago, the Green Party successfully blocked the controversial sale of German-made tanks to Turkey.

Wezeman, of SIPRI, suspects Chancellor Schröder's effort to help convince the EU to end the Chinese arms embargo is pure political posturing. Even if the EU agrees, the United States has made its intention to block weapons sales to China very clear and has promised not to do business with European countries that sell arms to Beijing. "He wants to make German policy look China friendly to open the civilian market, not the arms market," said Wezeman.

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