German report dismisses ‘restrictive’ arms exports claim

Greenpeace study finds German-made weapons are fuelling conflict around the world

A new study has dismissed as self-delusional Berlin’s claim that it operates a restrictive arms export regime.

The study, commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by a state-funded peace research body, examined the last 30 years of German arms exports under existing legislation and found that German-made guns, tanks and other weapons of war are fuelling conflict around the world.

Its sobering conclusion: supposedly restrictive laws are systemically abused, violated and side-stepped to profit from global conflict.

When Libyan rebels stormed the residence of Muammar Gadafy, the report notes, they were wielding Heckler & Koch G-36 assault rifles. Three years later, a Mexican militia used the same weapons to murder six students and disappear 43 others. In three years to 2012 German firm Sig Sauer funnelled nearly 40,000 guns illegally into Colombia’s bloody civil war.


“After reading this report, not much survives of the myth of a supposedly restrained and responsible German export policy,” said Alexander Lurz, Greenpeace Germany’s disarmament expert. “The various federal governments since 1990 have systematically allowed – and in some cases actively encouraged – weapons exports to countries where they should never have been allowed, if Germany really had a restrictive control system.”

Article 26 of Germany’s post-war constitution, or Basic Law, outlaws any action to “prepare for a war of aggression”, and ensures that any weapons designed for warfare may be “manufactured, transported or marketed” only with express permission of the federal government, and are to be regulated by a special law.

This law imposes a general ban on exports to non-Nato countries, unless there is a special foreign or security interest for Germany or its alliance partners.

According to the Greenpeace-commissioned report, national and EU arms legislation have watered down restrictions and now 60 per cent of the total value of German arms exports go to third-party countries. In addition, some firms side-step export restrictions by supplying their know-how – and even machines – to allow their weapons be built by others, for lucrative licence fees.


Among Germany’s biggest customers with problematic human rights records: €1.5 billion worth of armed vehicles and submarines to various Egyptian regimes in the last two decades, despite its involvement in the Yemen war. With total orders worth €1.6 billion, Qatar, another Yemen conflict party, was Germany’s biggest arms customer in 2016. Other major orders include tanks for Algeria and warships for Indonesia.

Also flagged are German exports to Israel as part of its post-war obligation to help the Jewish state defend itself. In 2012 Berlin co-financed the construction of three submarines for Israel which, on arrival in the Middle East, could be easily adapted for use of nuclear warheads.

Although Israel has never confirmed it has a nuclear capability, the report argues this approach “undermines [Germany’s] credibility and status and action as a non-nuclear weapon state”.

Despite exporting a record €8.015 billion of arms last year, a federal government spokesman, responding to the report on Monday, insisted Germany operates a restrictive regime.

Meanwhile, the opposition Left Party has called for a ban on arms exports and the end of the “sick” export control system.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin