At the end of 2020 Germany, as its temporary membership in the UN Security Council was drawing to a close, was criticized in this pivotal UN body by Russia and China because of Berlin’s policy in Syria; it was pointed out that Germany and a number of Western countries there are “leaving the Syrian population in the lurch” due to their “hypocritical behavior”. Moscow and Beijing even questioned the prospects for Germany to obtain permanent membership in the UN Security Council, which Berlin has been seeking for many years. At the same time, it was reported that according to the results of Berlin’s representatives in the Security Council many UN member states that previously supported the idea of Germany’s permanent membership are now wondering whether demonstrating “that much cynicism” in the UN Security Council is acceptable. For his part, one Chinese member underscored: “Germany’s speech to the Security Council did not meet the expectations of the world, or the Council’s expectations”.
To some, these may seem to be politically motivated attacks, but unfortunately Berlin’s ambiguity at very important international events has recently become more and more evident.
For example, take Berlin’s attitude toward the sale and delivery of weapons to zones where armed conflict is present – something which Germany has previously actively opposed in public. At the same time, it should be emphasized that the official position taken by Berlin used to stem from both well-known general political principles and existing international agreements. In particular, pursuant to one UN resolution an embargo was imposed on the supply of arms and military equipment to Iran, and a similar embargo applies to the supply of arms to North Korea. In addition, German law prohibits the export of weapons to non-NATO countries, and EU criteria do not allow selling weapons to states that are involved in military conflicts, or are internally unstable.
Germany’s White Paper is a baseline document prepared by the Ministry of Defense, and adopted by the German federal government, that describes the main aspects of the country’s defense policy, the state of the army, its allies, and the main threats for it, and serves as the guideline for the country’s security policy for a period of several years. This document also mentions that Germany “must take on more responsibility in the area of maintaining peace and international security”.
Nevertheless, while publicly advocating these restrictive measures taken by the international community in the fight against armed conflicts, Berlin, with its two-faced policy, actively violates these measures. In particular, this was recently officially proven in a report by the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt (PRIF), which presented an analysis of Germany’s dubious arms deals over the past 30 years that clearly showed that Germany has been selling weapons to countries and regions where civilian and interstate conflicts have persisted for decades.
It must be noted that since the mid-1980s Germany has come a long way in the market for arms exports, “moving aside” Great Britain and even China. Today, it is one of the leaders in arms exports, following the US, Russia, and France in terms of its sales in the “military business”, and with a 6% share in world arms exports.
In 2019, the Federal Republic of Germany sold arms to the tune of almost 8 billion Euro, setting a record for the decade that preceded it. However, when assessing the profits for German arms companies, it should not be forgotten the importance of the role played by “moral purity” in these deals.
A law that explicitly prohibited the supply of weapons to non-NATO countries was adopted by Germany in 1971. In 1998, eight criteria were developed that a country that aspires to buy German weapons needs to fulfill, including specifically that the country importing German weapons follows international law and human rights in its borders, that it is not involved in conflicts, and that it does not have any problems with internal security and stability. These provisions doubtlessly were supposed to have significantly reduced the risk of weapons falling into the hands of international aggressors, terrorists, and the warring parties involved in various armed conflicts.
In actuality, German arms exports are far removed from these cautious dictates in European legislation, which is confirmed by the analysis done by the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt that demonstrated that German weapons have repeatedly ended up in the hands of political forces that can hardly be called peaceful and democratic in the Western sense. One example that could illustrate this is the crackdown by the Mexican government in September 2014 on student demonstrations using German G-36 assault rifles, following which students were injured and killed. German weapons are also actively used by Saudi Arabian troops in Yemen, where violent clashes have been going on since 2015, causing a humanitarian crisis and the death of civilians despite international restrictions on the sale of weapons to Riyadh because of this war, and in the wake of the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
German media outlets are also drawing attention to the duplicity of the German authorities, stating that the German government first bans the sales of weapons to Yemen and Libya, and then goes ahead and calmly sells them to those directly participating in conflicts in these countries. For example, last year the German government allowed the delivery of weapons worth more than one billion Euro to the countries involved in the conflicts in Yemen and Libya. Exports to Egypt alone amounted to 752 million EUR.The Bundestag also authorized the supply of weapons to Qatar (305.1 million), Kuwait (€23.4 million), Jordan (1.7 million), Bahrain (1.5 million), the United Arab Emirates (51.3 million) and Turkey for a total of 1.16 billion EUR. On top of that, all these countries are involved in the Yemeni and Libyan conflicts, and Germany even plays the role of mediator in the Libyan conflict, officially advocating that weapons deliveries to the country should be terminated by hook or by crook.
Turkish media reported that in 2019 Germany reacted sharply to Turkey’s cross-border operation in Syria, regarding it as a military operation that ran counter to international law, and decided to impose an arms sales embargo. However, this did not prevent it from formalizing an arms deal with Turkey worth 25.9 million EUR.
According to the UN, weapons continue to be imported into Libya through Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, as well as into Syria. In 2018, Germany’s ruling coalition signed an agreement to stop weapons deliveries to parties directly taking part in the conflict, however to date these agreements have been put in place only as far as Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen are concerned.
Nowadays, there is no effective method in international practice for tracking the movement and use of weapons that are delivered, which is something that unscrupulous countries, including Germany, take advantage of to reap financial benefits for themselves. That is why it is objectively necessary to create a system of international arms control with strict control by a supranational organization, and develop a system of penalties for those that violate the relevant treaties.
Vladimir Danilov, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.