Arms exports fall by almost half in five years

Arms exports from German companies fell by 43 percent in between 2009 and 2014 compared with the previous five years, new figures released on Monday showed – but fresh orders may see them back on the rise soon.

Arms exports fall by almost half in five years
A German Leopard 2 A7 tank. Photo: DPA

“It's not a conscious policy decision” that has produced the fall in exports, Pieter Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which produced the data, told The Local.

“Policy change, as far as it happened, came in with the new government [following the September 2013 elections]. And it's not entirely clear what their change in policy has been.”

One topic that has dominated headlines in recent months is arms exports to the Middle East – a fraught topic for Germany, which historically has preferred to steer clear of exporting weapons to conflict zones.

Even decisions to deliver military surplus weapons to Kurdish forces fighting Isis in Syria and Iraq, or non-lethal equipment such as engineering vehicles to Saudi Arabia, have been hotly contested.

But Germany has continued to sign controversial contracts which have attracted less attention, such as the planned delivery of four submarines to Egypt.

'Anything that swims, goes'

“Especially the Egypt deal has made clear that Germany is willing to deliver certain types of arms,” Wezeman said.

“Considering they have allowed exports to Egypt, there's a good chance that Saudi Arabia would get submarines if they wanted such a deal.

“There's an old German saying in this field, from the former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher [1974-1992]: 'Anything that swims, goes'.”

Germany has generally allowed naval equipment to reach Middle Eastern customers unhindered, Wezeman explains, while stopping short of delivering tanks or other land warfare weapons.

But that could be changing, with Algeria recently having placed a large order for armoured vehicles – meaning that Germany will contribute to the build-up of Africa's largest weapons importer.

SIPRI figures show that Algeria has been the biggest importer of arms on the continent for two consecutive five-year periods.

Europe slims down

Other areas of the world have seen demand for German arms fall back in recent years, especially Europe.

“There was no clear threat perception which warranted investment in lots of arms, and the financial crisis put pressure on to save money even more,” Wezemann said.

“That might change a bit with the situation in Ukraine, countries like Poland are considering investing even more in their armed forces.”

SIPRI found that arms imports in Europe decreased by 36 percent in 2009-14 compared with 2005-09.

But several states bordering Russia have now increased their spending plans.

Sweden, recently announced budget increases for its military following repeated probing of its airspace and national waters by Russia.

Meanwhile, the USA remains Germany's most valuable and most regular customer, topping the table of spending on German arms.

World market grows 16 percent

The world arms market grew overall by 16 percent between the two five-year periods 2005-09 and 2009-14.

China was the big winner of the SIPRI study, with its exports growing 143 percent, pushing it past Germany into third place after the US and Russia.

But at 5 percent of total world exports it is well behind the two leaders, who supply 31 percent and 27 percent of arms exports respectively.

Germany and France, meanwhile, come in at fourth and fifth place.

India, Saudi Arabia, China and the United Arab Emirates were the top five weapons importers for the most recent period.

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‘Feeling of insecurity’: Alarm gun ownership on the rise in Germany

A new survey shows an increasing number of people throughout Germany hold a certificate needed to carry an alarm gun.

'Feeling of insecurity': Alarm gun ownership on the rise in Germany
Photo: DPA

The number of people holding this type of permit has risen dramatically in Germany. Currently 640,000 citizens are entitled to carry an alarm gun, up from 260,000 in 2014, according to a survey conducted by RP Online of all 16 German states. 

In total, there are currently around 5.4 million privately owned weapons in Germany, or 66 weapons per 1000 inhabitants.

In the past 12 months, the increase amounted to around nine percent compared to the same period last year.

In relation to the population, the proportion of alarm gun licence holders is highest in the far northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein, followed by the southern state of Saarland.

The “small weapons permit” is relatively easy to acquire in Germany. They are usually available to anyone over 18 with no previous serious criminal convictions, and who is considered “physically and mentally fit.”

The permits allow people to carry a pistol that fires loud blanks in public, though such pistols can be kept at home without a license.

Latent feeling of insecurity

The Police Union (GdP) told RP Online that the rise is due to a “latent feeling of insecurity” among the population.

“Since the events in Cologne's Cathedral on New Year's Eve 2015, more and more people are feeling insecure,” said the GdP chairman Oliver Malchow, referring to the sexual attacks on women at that time by groups of young men from North African and Arab states. 

READ ALSO: How Cologne sexual assaults 'changed German mood completely'

“The problematic increase in alarm gun licenses shows that we must work to restore a sense of security to many citizens,” Malchow said. “A first important step would be a greater police presence on the street.” 

In Germany’s most populous state of North Rhine-Westphalia, 162,952 alarm gun licenses were registered on June 30th. 

At 7.1 percent, the increase over the same period last year was below the national average. Yet there are many alarm gun holders in the western state.

For every 1,000 inhabitants, there are around nine alarm gun licences. Only in Saarland and Schleswig-Holstein is this figure higher. 

The northernmost German state also recorded the highest annual increase with around 15 percent. 

Strict gun laws

When it comes to gun laws in general, Germany has some of the strictest in Europe. To get a gun, Germans must first obtain a firearms ownership license, and need one for each weapon they buy, or a license to carry.

Applicants for a license must be at least 18 years old and undergo what's called a reliability check, which includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have mental illness or any other attributes that might make them questionable to authorities.

Authorities also have the right to revoke this license under questionable circumstances. In North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, 1,236 firearms ownership licenses were revoked in 2018.

While Germany has had a few high-profile incidents involving guns over the past year – such as the murder of a Kassel politician by a right-wing extremist – it has one of the lowest rates of gun related deaths worldwide.

READ ALSO: Five things to know about guns in Germany


to arm oneself – Bewaffnen sich

Small weapons permit – Kleiner Waffenschein

latent feeling of insecurity – (das) latente Unsicherheitsgefühl

firearms ownership license – (die) Waffenbesitzkarte

License to carry a firearm – (der) Waffenschein

Assaults – (die) Übergriffe

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Do you have any suggestions? Let us know.

We amended this story to clarify it was for alarm gun licenses and not firearm licenses.