Arms exports: Germany and its opaque armaments policy – Opinion

The traffic light government wants to pass a law on the export of weapons, it should be more restrictive, create more transparency and seek an understanding with the EU partners. This promise can be found on page 146 of the coalition agreement, and Economics Minister Robert Habeck has announced that this will happen quickly. The key points could be discussed in the cabinet as early as the summer, and the first draft of the law could then be available this year.

One can only hope that this promise does not end like the vast majority of announcements in this area so far. The decisions made in the Federal Security Council are never transparent, if only because it meets in secret. And although strict and constantly tightened rules have allegedly been in force for decades, Germany belongs to that small club of states that is responsible for well over 75 percent of all global exports. 2021 was another record year, almost breaking the ten billion euro mark. Incidentally, the Greens were also involved in this special German economic miracle during the time of the red-green coalition, from 1998 to 2005 – only to then criticize such deals sharply in the opposition, for example with Saudi Arabia, and even before the constitutional court at one to complain about greater parliamentary participation in arms exports. But you can learn from it.

Sometimes every federal government looks the other way

The numbers are too high, the justifications too weak: Yes, the time has come for a fundamental and honest debate about which shooting device from this country should end up in whose hands. Or, in rare cases, maybe even have to. The dispute over weapons for Ukraine is a reminder that nothing has ever worked out here. The first German armaments exports went to Israel after the Second World War in order to secure the state’s right to exist. To this day, every federal government even looks the other way when it comes to state-of-the-art German submarines that ensure Israel’s nuclear deterrent. But what special duty does Germany have towards Ukraine’s right to exist, which has already been invaded by Russia – and which is now threatened with another invasion?

Not every exceptional case can be conclusively defined or even solved by law, and the coalition agreement also points out this fact. But any discussion about an exception would be easier if it were an exception. Originally, exports outside of NATO were hardly supposed to play a role, and deliveries to areas of tension should not be made at all. But German industry owes the boom of the past few years primarily to its loyal customers in the Middle East, a region that is always in crisis. At the latest after the participation of many local states in the Yemen war, the deliveries there should have finally come to an end. Any law that doesn’t finally eliminate this deficiency would be no progress at all. Incidentally, one would like to hear from Olaf Scholz how an export of three frigates and 16 air defense systems to Egypt fits in with the current traffic light plans. This was approved shortly before the change of government, in a meeting attended by Vice Chancellor Scholz. After all, the new – and promised restrictive – armaments law must bear the signature of Chancellor Scholz.

The CDU politician Röttgen has a plausible argument

In the course of the reform, Habeck was supposed to hand over priority responsibility for these exports to the Foreign Office. The current state is a web error. Weapons are not a question of economic development or export controls – but of foreign and security policy. The lack of transparency in the Federal Security Council must also end; the entire Bundestag must be able to debate difficult issues, just as it does when German soldiers are deployed. The agreed confidentiality often only serves to avoid having to explain what one cannot explain oneself. And even more often does not want to explain.

It is appropriate that the debate on weapons for Ukraine be carried out publicly. It was like this in 2014 when the Kurds received material to fight back against IS for the first time. This “emergency aid to save human life”, as politicians justified it at the time, turned out to be correct. In the case of Ukraine, on the other hand, the reasons for a rejection still prevail. The threatened country gets weapons from other EU and NATO countries. And the main reason for the German no was given by the CDU foreign politician Norbert Röttgen: Deliveries are legitimate, but not wise in this situation. Because it is more important to keep the special channels of communication with Moscow open so that the crisis does not turn into a war.

Yes, this is where Germany’s special responsibility lies. However, this is supplemented by this message, which must be sent to Russia as a matter of urgency: No business, no matter how good, no pipeline will survive if tanks roll in Europe again. This enormous economic deterrent potential must not remain unused in times that decide whether there will be war or peace.

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