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GERMANY: Quietly Arming Conflicts

Wolfgang Kerler

BERLIN, Jun 16 2009 (IPS) - Pacifists, the political opposition and churches are bashing the German government for rising arms exports that have made the country the world’s third largest supplier of weapons. But an industry insider says the German arms exports policy is still among the most restrictive worldwide.

When the Israeli army was attacking the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009, it made use of F-16 jet fighters, Apache attack helicopters, and Merkava war tanks. None of those was assembled in Germany. All were built, however, with several military components made in Germany and then shipped to foreign firms.

This business practice has become more and more common, especially within the European Union. “We don’t know to who, for instance, French firms are selling the finished goods,” Marc von Boemcken, senior researcher at the Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC), told IPS. The centre supports peace and development work.

Nobody could say for sure whether German components end up being used in military conflicts – although political guidelines clearly prohibit arms exports to conflict regions. “But the government does not seem to care,” von Boemcken says.

Without government approval, arms and their components cannot be sold abroad by German companies. Most German arms are sold to allies, especially to Turkey and Greece, but a significant number are also shipped to “third” countries that are neither members of the European Union nor of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – or equated with NATO members.

“In its political principles of 2000, the German government has basically ruled out exports of weapons to ‘third’ countries – unless there are security and foreign policy interests in favour of permission,” von Boemcken said.

He said the delivery of 112 Leopard-2 tanks to Chile and of 16 Fuchs reconnaissance tanks to the United Arab Emirates in 2007 and 2008 do not seem to serve Germany’s security or foreign policy interests. “There really is a discrepancy between the political principles of the German government and its permission policy.”

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), German exports of conventional weapons such as submarines, tanks or helicopters increased 70 percent between 1999-2003 and 2004-2008. Germany’s global market share has risen from 7 to 10 percent, exceeded only by Russia and the United States with market shares of 25 and 31 percent respectively.

Between 2004 and 2008 German companies delivered weaponry worth 8.7 billion euros, according to SIPRI.

Adding shipment of smaller weapons, engine components and jeeps to the big weapons systems, Germany’s own federal ministry for the economy reports that in 2007, the latest year for which data is available, the government approved exports worth 8.8 billion euros, compared to 7.7 billion in 2006.

An industry insider, who works for a major German arms manufacturer, told IPS that Germany still has one of the strictest arms exports regulations. “Unlike companies in, for instance, Austria or the Netherlands, we are not allowed to make certain deals with certain countries,” he said. “That’s a competitive disadvantage.”

Germany, he said, is not necessarily exporting more weapons than other suppliers, but more valuable ones, because “Germany is – above all – exporting high technology products which are very expensive.”

But there have been reports of small arms that were not ‘high-tech’. Militias in Darfur have been found to be equipped with G3 machine guns that were developed by German manufacturer Heckler & Koch in the 1950s. The guns probably made their way over from Iran, that obtained a German government licence to produce G3 in 1967.

“It seems as if the federal government is not in a position to control where weapons are exported to once it has granted a licence,” von Boemcken of BICC told IPS. For G3 alone, licences were issued to 13 countries.

“As there are rumours that countries like Saudi Arabia are interested in G3’s successor, the G36,” von Boemcken added, “we want to point out how problematic the licensing of G3 has turned out to be.”

The arms industry insider says it would not improve world security if Germany stopped granting licences to other countries. “If we don’t do it, someone else will.”

The German government has approved sale of three submarines to Pakistan, even though final contracts have not yet been signed because of the political instability there.

Marc von Boemcken said “there has to be a political decision whether or not Germany wants to fuel the arms race between Pakistan and India.”

In August 2008, when Georgian troops entered the breakaway province of South Ossetia, pictures clearly displayed Georgian military forces carrying G36 assault rifles designed by Heckler & Koch.

The German government could not explain how the weapons got into Georgia. An application to export 230 G36s to Georgia filed by Heckler & Koch in November 2005 had been rejected.

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