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Tank trouble

July 5, 2011

News sources say Germany plans to deliver 200 Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia. But even if the oil-rich country is not actively in crisis, we shouldn't be selling them heavy weapons, DW's commentator says.


Germany does not export arms to crisis regions: That is the government's official policy, and rightly so. Saudi Arabia is not a crisis region in the narrow sense of the word, and on top of that, it's a partner of the West. Yet the German plan to export tanks to Saudi Arabia is a highly dubious one.

As the revolutions shaking the Arab world reached the small kingdom of Bahrain, the Saudis sent tanks to the ruling princes there. They did so in order to support the sheikhs' comfortable regime - and to stick it to the demonstrators who were speaking out in opposition.

People were wounded. People died.

The Leopard tanks that are slated to be delivered are extremely well suited for dispersing demonstrators. In an emergency, a special bulldozer-like blade on the front of the tank can act as a particularly powerful instrument of suppression.

Daniel Scheschkewitz
Daniel Scheschkewitz regularly comments on current affairs at DWImage: DW

Political paradox

That puts the weapons deal that recently came to light in direct contravention of Germany's basic political and moral principles. In this particular historical situation, its even a paradox: How can we Germans explain to the brave people rising up against authoritarian regimes that, on the one hand, we are opposed to taking up arms against the military dictator Moammar Gadhafi - but on the other hand, we will deliver arms to a regime that doesn't allow women to drive cars?

The Saudi oil sheikhs are still snugly in power. But considering everything that is going on in the region right now, would anyone be willing to that it will stay that way? And what happens if German tanks are someday used against peaceful demonstrators who are seeking more democracy and freedom?

Exporting tanks may be in the best short-term interest of the arms industry - which has in any case seen exports double in the past few years. But even if they don't go to Saudi Arabia, there will always be a market for the top-of-the-line Leopard tanks. A government that wants to use them against peaceful demonstrators - like in Bahrain - should not receive a shipment.

A poweder keg of a region

Saudi Arabia plays a heavy part in the spiraling arms race, and it does so in a region that is a powder keg even in the best of times. Only recently did Saudi Arabia threaten to build an atomic bomb if Iran maintained its atomic program. Meanwhile, Germany is calling emphatically for atomic disarmament. In such an environment, exporting weapons in a risky business.

If the German government wants to be judged by its deeds and not just by its words, it should stop exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia. If not, Germany is in danger of losing its credibility.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz (jen)
Editor: Rob Mudge