Germany’s secretive weapons industry under scrutiny

Green Party wants more transparency around Berlin’s armaments deals

Hans-Christian Stroebele,  member of the German parliament for the Green Party and plainitff of a constitutional complaint on the question of if and how the German government has to inform the parliament on planned arms exports. Photograph: Uli Deck/EPA

Hans-Christian Stroebele, member of the German parliament for the Green Party and plainitff of a constitutional complaint on the question of if and how the German government has to inform the parliament on planned arms exports. Photograph: Uli Deck/EPA

Wed, Apr 16, 2014, 01:00

From cars to kitchens, Berlin is proud that its “Made in Germany” exports are in demand like never before.

Yesterday judges in the country’s highest court asked government lawyers to explain Berlin’s thinking on another buoyant, less celebrated export market: arms. From machine guns to tanks, Germany is the world’s third-largest armaments exporter, behind the US and Russia.

A big seller is the G36 assault rifle manufactured by Heckler & Koch, located an hour south of Stuttgart. Another is the Leopard 2 tank, manufactured by Munich’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.

Berlin says it operates the strictest weapons export regime in the world – article 26 of the post-war constitution requires official permits before German companies can manufacture and sell “weapons destined for war”.


Considered in secret
Weapons exports also require permits, applications for which are considered in secret by the federal security council headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel. Now three Green Party MPs have attacked the status quo as insufficiently transparent and, before the constitutional court yesterday, demanded greater Bundestag oversight on arms deals.

Under the current system, arms exports data is collated and published retrospectively in an annual report, without listing any details of deals. In future, Green MPs want to know which permits are being considered to allow greater parliamentary intervention.

Judges in Karlsruhe will have to weigh up where the greater public good lies in maintaining the current system of confidentiality, or by bringing the Bundestag into the loop of arms industry export requests.

The focus of the Green Party complaint is a deal to sell 200 Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia. The deal, never officially confirmed or denied by the federal government, has sparked controversy given Saudi Arabia’s poor human rights record.

When details of the deal leaked in 2011 it was attacked as immoral by Germany’s opposition parties – including the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Party leader Sigmar Gabriel, now economics minister in the grand coalition, has signalled his ministry is likely to be more restrictive in issuing arms exports permits.

Ahead of yesterday’s hearing he signalled he is likely to cancel the Saudi tank exports, prompting protests from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). It supports the status quo, dubbed the “Merkel Doctrine” by military analysts, whereby Germany arms trusted partners around the world rather than engaging militarily itself.

“We have to be ready to enable states ready to engage,” said Merkel, explaining her thinking in 2011. “I say clearly this includes the export of weapons – of course only following clear and recognised principles.”

The 2012 German arms export report, issued last October, shows the value of German arms exports to EU countries has almost halved in the last decade.

Since the CDU took office in 2005, however, the value of arms exports to non-EU/Nato countries jumped by 141 per cent to €2.6 billion in 2012.