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German Arms Exports

The Federal Office for Economics and Export Control, known by the German acronymn, BAFA, a subsidiary of the economy ministry, is responsible for licensing arms export deals. Germany is one of the world's main arms suppliers to the European Union and NATO countries, and in recent years has been reducing its sales of light weapons to countries outside of those alliances.

Despite a pledge to reduce its weapons sales, Germany last year sold $8.7 billion in arms to foreign militaries, nearly doubling its munitions from 2014, according to a 180-page German Economic Ministry report. Among the buyers of German weapons was Saudi Arabia, and the Arab Gulf state of Qatar, which German opposition politicians say is a key source of funding for the Islamic State militia, or ISIS. The sales figures represents the highest pricetag for German weapons sales in more than 15 years.

Qatar alone purchased nearly $1.8 billiion in ammunition, combat tanks and other heavy artillery from Germany in 2015. With human rights officials already complaining that Germany was helping militarize an unstable Middle East, Germany's Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who is the leader of Germany's Social Democrats, had tried to stop the delivery to Qatar but was overruled by other ministers in Germany's Federal Security Council.

According to ACDA, known German exports of arms were valued at an estimated US$1.1 billion in 1993 and constituted 0.3 percent of total German exports; arms imports had a value of US$250 million and amounted to 0.1 percent of total imports. During the 1991-93 period, nearly half of Germany's arms transfers were made to other NATO countries, notably Portugal, Greece, the United States, Turkey, and Norway. Switzerland, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), and Finland were also substantial clients, while smaller quantities were shipped to Singapore and Colombia. In the Middle East, arms valued at US$820 million were exported to five countries during this period, Saudi Arabia taking US$525 million and Israel US$200 million.

West Germany's grant-type military assistance to other NATO countries focused on Turkey, Greece, and Portugal. The major recipient was Turkey, a beneficiary of German military aid since 1964. Arms transfers included Leopard tanks, Milan antitank missiles, and retrofit kits for M-48 tanks. West Germany also assisted Turkey with infrastructure and defense manufacturing facilities.

Although West Germany imposed controls on weapons exports, repeated charges have been made that arms shipments by private West German suppliers were not carefully monitored. In the 1980s, evidence mounted that West German firms were instrumental in assisting Iraq and Libya in developing weapons of mass destruction. In 1988, based on information supplied by the United States implicating West German firms in the construction of a poison gas plant at Rabka, Libya, the owner of one company was sentenced to prison for illegal exports and tax evasion. In early 1993, the German government announced that German firms were being investigated for delivering equipment for a second chemical weapons factory in Libya. In a report issued in 1991 by the International Atomic Energy Agency, thirteen Western companies, more than half of them German, were identified as having contributed to the Iraqi nuclear program.

In 1992, after extensive international publicity over the inadequate enforcement of arms controls, the Bundestag approved legislation to create a new government monitoring agency. The new law authorized screening of mail and use of wiretaps to facilitate investigations of suspected violators. Harsher punishments could be imposed, including confiscation of profits from illicit arms sales and imprisonment of company officers.

Under German arms policy, export permits are denied for the sale of weapons to areas of tension. This policy has applied in particular to the Middle East, where Germany felt a moral obligation to avoid actions that could endanger Israel. In 1992, despite a ban imposed by the Bundestag, at least fifteen Leopard tanks were shipped to Turkey, where they were apparently used by the Turkish army to attack strongholds of the rebel Kurdish Workers' Party. The minister of defense, Gerhard Stoltenberg, claimed that the shipment had been approved without his knowledge. Nevertheless, Stoltenberg was forced to resign from the government in the ensuing uproar.

In early 1993, the Bundestag disapproved the delivery of submarines and frigates to the Taiwan government, although SAM systems produced in conjunction with the United States were approved for sale under the rationale that they were purely defensive weapons. Diesel engines for a large quantity of French tanks sold to the United Arab Emirates were also approved for export.

Domestic critics of Germany's arms export practices assert that German firms have easily circumvented controls through coproduction schemes or deliveries of key parts to other countries; through licensed production in other countries of arms that reach prohibited users; through the sale of technology and whole weapons plants, of which Germany is the world's foremost exporter; and through sales of items improperly labeled civilian goods. Critics claim that the UN embargo on arms sales to South Africa was violated by false labeling of troop transport vehicles, helicopters, and minesweepers.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2016 20:03:08 ZULU