In an interview with the weekly Die Zeit newspaper, Niebel said he could not comment on specifically on reports that the government intends to sell Leopard 2 battle tanks to the Middle Eastern Kingdom, but said Berlin would not make such a decision lightly.
“Generally the government considers all necessary aspects when making such decisions – including the political situation of the entire region. Germany has a high standing there,” he said.
And when asked whether such a trade would be consistent with his ministry's position on human rights, he said, “The stabilisation of a region contributes to the defence of human rights – perhaps not in the country in which one is active, but in the neighbouring countries.”
When the interviewers asked whether this also included military goods, he said, “It is not always as simple as it seems. Remember the Cold War. Military deterrence contributed to the fact that war did not happen.”
Yet more transparency in Germany's arms export policies would be extremely welcome, enabling parliamentarians to have a say in strategy, said Roderich Kiesewetter, an arms expert from the Christian Democratic Union who chairs the parliamentary committee on disarmament and arms control.
In a separate interview with Die Zeit he said, “It would be helpful if we in the committee were informed timely, and not only one-and-a-years later, when the arms export report is presented.”
He called for a national security strategy to be developed, and for it to be discussed annually in parliament.
This would determine to which countries arms could be exported, he said. “Economic policy interests are important but they are not decisive,” he said, calling for the government to withstand the tension between values and economic interests in determining foreign policy.
Turning to other issues in the interview, Niebel also defended what seemed like a paltry German donation of €6 million emergency aid sent to the famine-stricken Horn of Africa region – a tenth of what Britain has sent.
He said longer-term projects in the region were already up and running, with for example €138 million available over three years for agricultural support in Kenya.
When asked about his initial comments on taking over the ministry – that he wanted to abolish it – Niebel said he had radically changed the way it worked, and that development issues affected all governmental areas – education, health, environment, security and economy. It was time to pull development out of what he said had been a soft niche.
He also defended the €113.8 million increase in his budget for 2012, way below the €1.2 billion which a group of 360 MPs had demanded be the development ministry increase. Niebel said the fact that his budget had gone up at all in such austere times was a clear political signal from the government.