Critics attack German boom in arms sales to Arab world

Opposition party accuses government of prioritising money over strategic priorities

Germany exported more than €1 billion worth of arms to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Israel in the second quarter of 2017, a fivefold rise on exports to the crisis-wracked region in the same period last year.

Egypt bought more than €300 million in weapons between April and June, making it Germany’s biggest arms customer, while Saudi Arabia spent nearly €150 million. In the same period last year, both countries spent €45 million and €41 million respectively.

The figures were revealed by the opposition Left Party, which described Germany’s booming arms trade with crisis regions and problematic regimes as “reprehensible”.

Particularly problematic, according to that party’s Stefan Liebich, are sales to Egypt and to Saudi Arabia, up almost 12 times in the past decade.


Both countries, he said, “have to answer for thousands of deaths from their dirty war in Yemen” – a reference to an ongoing civil war between Yemen’s government and Houthi rebels.

A coalition led by Saudi Arabia has become involved in a conflict that has resulted in more than 10,000 deaths and created the region’s largest humanitarian crisis, with some seven million people facing likely famine.

‘Restrictive’ regime

Germany insists it operates a restrictive arms export regime, prioritising trade with EU and Nato members, and other states with similar status.

Berlin says it issues export approval “on a case-by-case basis and in light of the situation after carefully assessing or drawing on foreign and security policy considerations”.

The economic ministry has declined to comment on the nature of the booming experts to Saudi Arabia, though the recent orders are believed to include four patrol boats, lorries as well as military tools.

In the last administration Social Democrat (SPD) economic ministers, responsible for arms export licences, struggled to deliver on a political promise to curtail Germany’s arms trade, citing obligations to deliver on pre-existing contracts.

The opposition Left Party accuses the SPD and Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union of prioritising commercial concerns over strategic priorities.

“There were times when it was completely out of the question for Germany to deliver weapons to countries participating in wars,” said Mr Liebich.

In 2016, Germany issued export licences for €6.85 billion worth of arms, down 13 per cent on the previous year.

According to international arms watchdog Sipri, Germany is the world’s fifth biggest exporter of weapons and its market share has shrunk by a third in the last decade.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin