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Surge in German weapons to Saudi Arabia & Turkey

January 10, 2019

German arms exports to Saudi Arabia and Turkey rose last year, eclipsing sales in 2017, despite public criticism. The trend follows a question in parliament submitted by the opposition Left party.

German coastal patrol board being hoisted aboard a larger transport ship
March 2018: German coastal patrol boat bound for Saudi Arabia Image: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Sauer

Germany's Economic Affairs Ministry disclosed Thursday that German firms sent €160 million ($184 million) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia between January and October last year.

That was up €50 million on the whole of 2017. Berlin only decided on a full stop in November, prompted by the Saudi murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, amid restrictions already applying over Riyadh's role in war-torn Yemen.

Read more: Amnesty slams Western arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Riyadh leads a nine-country coalition backing a Yemeni government opposed by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who last month reached a fragile ceasefire arrangement under UN mediation. 

Sevim Dagdelen gestures while addressing the federal Bundestag
German arms exports 'shabby,' says DagdelenImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

German weapons exports to Turkey — mostly naval items — more than tripled to €202 million in the same timeframe, up on €62 million in 2017, the ministry said in its reply to parliament.

Erdogan is under international scrutiny over his intention to dislodge Kurdish rebel groups in neighboring war-torn Syria.

'Shabby' Berlin arms policy, says Dagdelen

Left party federal lawmaker Sevim Dagdelen, who had submitted the parliamentary question, accused Germany's armaments industry of making "strong profits with the criminal war in Yemen as well as the aggressive foreign policy of Erdogan," a reference to Turkey's president.

Dagdelen told German ZDF public television that the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel must "do everything" to hinder further such exports to Riyadh and Ankara and end what she termed its "shabby" arms policy.

German arms review due mid-year

Last month, Merkel promised to bring forward to mid-2019 a sharpening of Germany's military export guidelines — in effect since 2000.

A German stop to arms sales to any nation involved in Yemen's conflict was agreed in March last year as a condition for Germany's center-left Social Democrats entering another coalition with Merkel's conservative bloc.

A loophole, however, allowed fulfillment of already-approved sales as German exporters threatened to press Berlin for monetary compensation.

Complex regulatory setup 

The 2000 directive, known as "Political Guidelines of the Federal Government for the Export of Military Weapons and Other Armament Products" states that sales should not proceed when sufficient suspicion exists that they can be used for internal repression and systematic human rights violations in the import country.

A matching set of guidelines dated 2008 exist at EU level.

Infografik SIPRI Anteil Waffenverkäufe Englisch

Paragraph 6 of Germany's Military Armaments Control Law [Kriegswaffenkonttrolgesetz] foresees cancellation of export approval when the danger exists that military weapons can be used during a peace-destabilization act, especially a war of aggression.

Oversight is supposed to be exercised by the German Foreign Office in consultation with Germany's Defense Ministry.

Churches demand rethink

At the forefront of opposition to German arms sales are Germany's Protestant and Catholic churches, who in December presented a major study.

Deutschland Rüstungsexportbericht der GKKE
Anti-weapons export study presented in DecemberImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

It highlighted a trend in which "armaments firms shifted the end production of weapons systems to places where they expected the least resistance to controversial exports" and called for an internationalization of controls.

In a New Year's message, Protestant EKD church chairman Heinrich Bedford-Strohm said peace could only emerge "when the spiral of violence was broken."

ipj/rc (KNA, AFP,  dpa, epd)