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German weapons exports hit record with bumper Egypt sales

January 18, 2022

Arms exports from Germany brought in record revenue during 2021, with just under half coming from Egypt. The ministry responsible said the new "traffic light coalition" government wants tighter regulation.

Weapons systems from Diehl Defense were among those approved for sale to Egypt
Weapons systems from Diehl Defense were among those approved for sale to Egypt Image: Andreas Franke/picture alliance

Arms sales to Egypt boosted Germany's weapons exports to record levels in 2021, according to government figures released on Monday. 

Preliminary figures from the Economic Affairs and Climate Action Ministry show that Germany exported arms worth €9.35 billion euros ($10.65 billion) last year — 61% up on 2020.

The previous record was about €8 billion in 2019, with only €5.82 billion worth exported during 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Where are the weapons going?

Arms exports with a volume of €3.4 billion had been made to EU countries, NATO partners and NATO-equivalent-status countries (Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Japan). 

About €5.95 billion went to so-called third countries not included in that list. Of those, by far the highest spender was Egypt, to which some €4.34 billion of goods — principally air defense systems and maritime equipment — were exported.

Human rights activists accuse the Egyptian government of serious rights abuses and involvement in both the conflicts in Yemen and Libya.

The top 10 countries buying arms from Germany in 2021 are: Egypt (€4.33 billion), the United States (€1.01 billion), the Netherlands (€821 million), Singapore (€630 million), Australia (€264 million), the United Kingdom (€226 million), South Korea (€187 million), Austria (€170 million), Brazil (€144 million) and Switzerland (€137 million).

Future wars — and how to prevent them

Stricter export controls planned

The Economy Ministry, which has been led by Green Party co-leader  Robert Habeck since December,  said the previous grand coalition government of the Social Democrats and Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives was principally responsible.

According to the ministry, a tougher line on where and which weapons would be exported was envisaged under the current government.

"This federal government sees a restrictive approach to arms exports and will, in accordance with the guiding principles in the coalition agreement, develop an export control law," the ministry said in a statement alongside the figures.

Since the new government took office on December 8, licenses worth about €309 million euros have been granted.

Last-minute granting of licenses

It was revealed in December that the previous government had approved arms exports worth €4.91 billion in its last nine days alone, including several with Egypt.

At that time, it was acting as a caretaker government and not required to make far-reaching political decisions.

Then Economy Minister Peter Altmaier sent a letter about the deals on December 7 to Bundestag President Bärbel Bas, one day before the swearing-in of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

The weapons agreements disclosed in the letter include the delivery of three MEKO A-200 EN frigates to Egypt from Kiel-based Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, along with 16 air defense systems from Diehl Defense, which is located in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg. 

A sale of a type 218 G submarine to Singapore from Twas also divulged in the letter.  

Social Democrat Scholz, as then finance minister, would have been involved in the decision, alongside Merkel and six other leaders of departments responsible for approving sensitive arms exports.

Whether Scholz involved his current coalition partners — the Greens and the FDP — in the last-minute approvals was still unclear, the DPA news agency reported on Tuesday.

rc/wmr (dpa, AP)