German arms exports to the Gulf region are on the rise. Critics say Germany should not be supplying countries with such questionable human rights records.
The German government approved weapons exports worth about 817 million euros ($1.84 billion) to six states in the Gulf region in the first six months of 2013. The data was provided by the German Economics Ministry in response to a query by Left Party member of parliament Jan van Aken.
This year could set a new record for Germany, the world's third-largest arms exporter. In 2012, the Federal Security Council - which meets clandestinely - approved shipments worth 1.4 billion euros to the six states of the Gulf Cooperation council, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Qatar with its two million inhabitants has been earmarked to receive the bulk of shipments this year, worth more than 635 million euros.
Officially, the federal government announces details on approved weapons exports in its annual arms exports report a year later. But according to media reports, Qatar is set to receive 62 Leopard 2 battle tanks and 24 self-propelled guns. According to armaments manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the deal is worth 1.9 billion euros.
Human rights concerns
Van Aken has accused Chancellor Angela Merkel of "unrestrained" export policies. The consideration of human rights issues as part of Germany's supposedly strict arms export guidelines is a criterion that regularly loses out to foreign policy interests, he told DW: "The Gulf states are not exactly known as a haven for human rights."
In its most recent annual report, Amnesty International lists individual cases of torture, a disregard of women's rights and limited freedom of expression in Qatar.
The German government has granted Saudi Arabia - criticized by Amnesty International for the widespread use of torture - weapons exports amounting to 118 million euros this year. Last year, cleared arms exports to Saudi Arabia amounted to a record 1.24 billion euros. According to Jan van Aken, this does not point to a change of heart in the German government: approval for the shipment of patrol boats and tanks might still be pending. Media reports have suggested Saudi Arabian interest in buying several hundred Leopard tanks.
No weapons to Egypt
For years, there's been strong criticism of arms exports to Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both states are under authoritarian rule and both sent tanks and soldiers to aid the violent suppression of protests in Bahrain in the spring of 2011. Riyadh regularly uses violence to put down domestic protests. "Everything we criticize the Taliban for we could also probably charge the Saudi royal family with," van Aken says: that applies to the suppression of women, the death sentence and torture.
German Economics Minister Philipp Rösler stresses that the government takes a very responsible approach to the approval of arms exports. In the case of Egypt, for example, the government decided to "put everything on hold for the time being because of the uncertain domestic political situation." According to the Ministry's official response to van Aken's question, "All decisions concerning export applications to Egypt have been postponed," although it continues, "as long as there are no reasons in individual cases for an immediate positive or negative reply."