Germany might not quite rival the US and Russia when it comes to weapons exports, but it still accounts for up to six percent of the global arms market.
German Fuchs tanks are sought-after military hardware
Although the German Foreign Office insists that its "traditionally restrictive arms export policy dovetails with the country's foreign and security policy, aimed at preserving peace," Germany is among the world's top ten arms manufacturers, along with France and Britain. The burgeoning Chinese arms industry is also catching up fast.
And German arms are highly sought-after. According to Michael Brzoska, a weapons expert at the Bonn International Center for Conversion, the industry has two outstandingly good sellers.
"Along with ships, Germany's armored vehicles are in huge demand," he told DW-Radio. "Nonetheless, the present government as well as its predecessors have been relatively restrained when it comes to exporting armored vehicles," he explained. "Their export is only permitted to other NATO and EU countries, with certain exceptions."
One of the most notable exceptions was a controversial delivery to Saudi Arabia of 36 German tanks equipped to detect WMD back in 1991. Another is the planned deployment of German transport tanks in Iraqi army training programs.
Arms report promotes transparency
In 2000, Berlin began publishing an annual arms export report, which aims for public transparency by listing which countries receive military hardware from Germany every year.
"Last year the main recipients of German arms included South Korea, Greece and Turkey," said Michael Brzoska. "In earlier years, it was Indonesia and Israel."
Germany has a history of supplying arms to Israel, even though the Ministry for Defense supposedly operates a policy of limiting arms exports to conflict regions. Critics point to Germany's sale of three "Dolphin"-class submarines to Israel in 1999 and 2000 as a clear breach of this policy and accuse Germany of ignoring its potential complicity in the Middle East nuclear-weapons build-up.
German Navy special forces wade ashore during exercises in the Baltic Sea.
Israel isn't the only country with an interest in Germany's maritime military know-how. India is another keen customer. And another country, previously subject to a trade embargo and therefore absent from Germany's arms export report, is now set to top the list.
"South Africa is tipped to be Germany's biggest arms buyer because German shipyards have sold several warships to South Africa which are about to be delivered," explains Michael Brzoska.
Undiscerning arms export policies
But NATO and EU countries are still Germany's primary arms partners. At just 20 percent, exports to developing countries are modest in comparison, and that's not just because of the arms export restrictions introduced by Berlin four years ago.
According to a US Congress study, international investment in military hardware fell by 40 percent between 2000 and 2003. Poor countries in particular are buying ever fewer weapons from abroad. Many fear that this drop in profits this has led to a less discerning arms export policy.
Military production as a mainstay
Michael Brzoska stresses it's important to look at individual cases. "A lot has changed in Turkey, for example, which has made it acceptable to reconsider possible tank exports there," he pointed out.
"I would be far more hesitant about exporting tanks to Iraq," he added. "So far, Germany has refrained from supplying weapons and munitions as armament aid, but in recent years there has been a broad willingness to approve sales to the Middle East."
Germany sells military hardware to a total 100 countries. But with just 90,000 employees, its arms industry is not as extensive as might be expected. It makes up just one percent of the country's total exports. Nonetheless, areas such as ship building depend on military production for survival.