• Germany edition
 
Op-Ed
Why Germany should stop arming the world
Saudi Arabia wants to buy 800 German Leopard 2 tanks. Photo: DPA

Why Germany should stop arming the world

Published: 15 Apr 2014 16:34 GMT+02:00
Updated: 15 Apr 2014 16:34 GMT+02:00

Germany opposed the war in Iraq and its troops deployed in the Nato mission in Afghanistan were mainly kept out of combat.

Last month's decision to take part in the European Union's peace-keeping in the Central African Republic was made only on the condition that Germany's main contribution be medical transport planes.

But the country's military coyness has not prevented it from selling weapons into the world's war zones – not just as business but as foreign policy.

Chancellor Angela Merkel all but declared her "send guns not soldiers" strategy in a speech at a political foundation event in 2011.

She had evidently decided it would be more politically prudent to arm regional allies than put soldiers in harm's way.

And under Merkel, the arms business has boomed, reaching a peak in 2010, when her government approved arms exports worth a record turnover of €2.1 billion - a tenfold increase on 2000.

Selling to allies - and others

Lately though, German weapons firms have increasingly been selling to countries outside Germany's circles of immediate allies, who may not necessarily share Germany's security interests or its commitments to protecting human rights.

As the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showed in a report on Monday, non-Nato states are boosting their defence spending while countries like the US and Germany are slashing theirs.

The resulting controversy came into focus on Sunday, when the Bild am Sonntag newspaper revealed that Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel had blocked the sale, via a Spanish weapons manufacturer, of up to 800 Leopard 2 tanks to Saudi Arabia - a country with a catastrophic human rights record which sent troops to Bahrain to brutally suppress peaceful protests.

On Tuesday, Germany's constitutional court considered a complaint by three Green party politicians who accused the government of not fully answering a request for information they made in 2011 on a potential deal to sell 200 Leopards to the Saudis.

The conservative half of Germany's coalition government - the Merkel-led Christian Democratic Union – angrily criticized Gabriel's intervention.

The CDU's deputy parliamentary faction leader Michael said that Germany wouldn't have a defence industry if it couldn't sell to countries outside of the Nato alliance.

But the economic value of the arms trade is limited – weapons account for less than 0.1 percent of German exports. They represent around 80,000 jobs. So why has the issue gained such a huge importance for German politicians?

It's not the money

Henrik Heidenkamp, German defence industry expert at the Royal United Services Institute, told The Local the economic value was not the point, but about nurturing Germany's defence industry so that it will be able to supply arms to the German army and its allies.

"Only a commercially viable defence industry can deliver needed equipment to the armed forces in order to sustain the national defence effort," he said.

In other words, Germany needs to sell guns so it can make guns for its own soldiers.

But what if those soldiers then end up facing enemies with the same German-made weapons?

The Heckler & Koch G36 – made in the town of Oberndorf in southern Germany - is the standard assault rifle in the Bundeswehr and several Nato armies.

But in 2011 it was also found in the arsenal of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

Many of these have now found their way, via the Libyan militias currently tearing that country apart after Nato's intervention, into central Africa where plenty of Islamist terrorist groups are likely to get their hands on them.

No one knows how Gaddafi got these powerful weapons, but they were probably acquired illegally via factories in Saudi Arabia, which has a licence to make several H&K automatic weapons.

By the same token, the G36 has found its way into the hands of corrupt police forces and militias fighting a slow-burning war in northern Mexico.

The truth is that once a license has been sold, nothing stops the spread of small arms.

The licence to make the Bundeswehr's last standard rifle, the G3, was sold to at least 15 countries in the 1960s and 1970s - including Iran, which subsequently had an Islamic revolution and began arming groups like Hezbollah – classed as a terrorist organization by most western nations.

In practice, the "stability argument" means selling arms to both sides of any simmering conflict – in the past, Germany has sold arms to Egypt and Israel, India and Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Iran, Turkey and Greece.

The truth is that nothing makes the world more dangerous.

SEE ALSO: Germany to give military aid to Baltics

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Ben Knight (ben.knight@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
UN climate talks shuffle to a close in Bonn
Photo: DPA

UN climate talks shuffle to a close in Bonn

Concern was high at a perceived lack of urgency as UN climate negotiations shuffled towards a close in Bonn on Saturday with just 14 months left to finalise a new, global pact. READ  

Berlin slams Italy Nazi claims court ruling
Italy's National Partisans' Association welcomed the court decision. Photo: DPA

Berlin slams Italy Nazi claims court ruling

Italy's constitutional court has ruled that victims of Nazi-era war crimes can sue Germany in Italian courts, rejecting a UN ruling and provoking a strong reaction from Berlin on Friday. READ  

Expats reveal another side of Berlin Wall
Photo: Paul Sullivan

Expats reveal another side of Berlin Wall

Two expats who walked the Mauerweg - the 160-kilometre trail that runs the length of the former Berlin Wall - have written a book about forgotten aspects of its past and present. READ  

Karstadt closes six stores to stay afloat
Photo: DPA

Karstadt closes six stores to stay afloat

Germany's biggest department store chain Karstadt will close at least six stores, putting around 2,000 jobs at risk, in a drastic bid by its new boss to return it to profit. READ  

Quiz
How well do you know Germany?
Photos: DPA/Shutterstock

How well do you know Germany?

Do you know your Saxony facts from your Saxony-Anhalt ones? Test your knowledge of Germany's federal states in The Local's quiz. READ  

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal
Pollution from a coal-fired power station in Frimmersdorf, North Rhine-Westphalia. Photo: DPA

Climate chief hails Bonn greenhouse gas deal

The UN's climate chief hailed a European agreement in Bonn on greenhouse gases on Friday as providing "valuable momentum" for a world pact to be inked in Paris next year. READ  

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth
Photo: DPA

Germany gets €780m EU rebate for poor growth

Germany will get an early Christmas present of around €779 million from the EU, thanks to weaker than expected GDP growth. READ  

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told
Photo: DPA

Stay inside after blast, Ludwigshafen told

It will take several days to find out what caused a massive explosion on Thursday which rocked a town on the Rhine, killing a builder and injuring 26 others. READ  

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'
An NH90 helicopter. Photo: DPA

German helicopter fleet 'not fit for Nato'

Germany's fleet of NH90 helicopters is undergoing engineering checks after one of them suffered a serious engine failure, in the latest blow to the country's military capabilities. READ  

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m
Rainer Schwarz at a court hearing in September into the case. Photo: DPA

Ex-boss of Berlin Airport farce gets €1.2m

The man who was blamed for Berlin's miserable attempt to build a new airport must be paid more than €1 million - after being fired. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Politics
Satirist lives the dream on EU gravy train
Photo: DPA
Gallery
PHOTOS: Huge explosion rocks Ludwigshafen
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
Which high school cliche is your German city?
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Storm hits southern Germany
Sponsored Article
An international school unlike any other : School on the Rhine
Photo: Fitzpatrick family
Society
'We still don't know what happened to Matthew'
Photo: Mariana Schroeder
Munich
Special Report: Hope and chaos at Munich's refugee shelters
Photo: DPA
Culture
Can you top our history quiz leaderboard?
Photo: DPA/Shutterstock
Gallery
11 things Germans are afraid of...
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,532
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd