German arms exports go from strength to strength

Claiming tight ethical control, Berlin saw tenfold rise in bullet sales in first half of year

Germany’s arms export boom is getting even boomier, with sales of weapons worldwide up 7 per cent to €4.03 billion in the first half of 2016, due in part to a jump in sales to Turkey.

German small arms sales stagnated slightly in 2016 but bullet sales have jumped 10 times, according to a six-month report by Berlin’s federal economics ministry, which issues arms export permits.

Six of the top-10 customers were Nato partners though the top customer was Algeria, which spent €1 billion; €484 million of arms were exported to Saudia Arabia, in third place. Others in the top 10 include United Arab Emirates, South Korea and Turkey.

Attempted Turkish coup

In the six months before Ankara put down an attempted coup against the Erdogan administration, Germany issued export permits for €76 million worth of arms to Turkey, lifting it from 25th to eighth place in arms companies’ most-valued-customer list.

Germany’s economics ministry insists it is operating the most restrictive arms export regimes in post-war history. Economics minister Sigmar Gabriel, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), attributes the ongoing sales boom to deals signed by the previous Merkel administration, when the ministry was controlled by the liberal Free Democrats (FDP).

As well as the decline in small weapons exports, Mr Gabriel’s ministry said it had refused 34 export permits on €9.6 billion worth of arms.

Code of trade

Berlin refuses to allow weapons exports to countries involved in – or facing the threat of – armed conflict, and has also introduced new post-sale checks to prevent arms ending up in the hands of Islamist extremists and others. In future, the economics ministry says it will refuse arms exports to countries which cannot show they are still in possession of weapons they bought from German firms.

In response to another criticism, the ministry will no longer allow arms companies export machines from Germany, allowing them produce weapons and components beyond the control of Berlin.

German opposition parties attacked Berlin’s “restrictive” export claims, with Left Party spokeswoman Sevim Dagdelen accusing Berlin of delivering arms to a “torture state” in Turkey.

Torture ‘blank cheque’

A new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) accuses the Erdogan government of issuing a “blank cheque” for torture of those it suspects of involvement in the July coup attempt. The report documents 13 cases of alleged torture following the events of July 13th, including physical and sexual violence against prisoners or the threat of the same against relatives.

Emergency legislation in Turkeyhas extended from four to 30 days the length of time a suspect can be held in police custody, and allows police refuse suspects access to a lawyer for five days.

After the failed coup, leading figures in the ruling AKP party vowed to put those responsible in “holes . . . where they will no longer see God’s sun”. Among the many emergency decrees issued, HRW noted, was one stating that officials “carry no legal, administration, financial or criminal responsibly for their duty done”.

“This sends a clear signal to police and other officials,” warns HRW, “that they can abuse prisoners without any fear of the consequences”.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin