Guns Only the government should have guns

Arms supplier Germany

The German arms industry on the advance

After the Second World War, the Allies banned the Germans from producing armaments. A war was never again to start on German soil. But the ban adopted at the Potsdam Conference only lasted for a short time.

The western states needed the Federal Republic of Germany as a strong ally during the Cold War. So it happened that the actually demilitarized country got its own army again in May 1955 and joined NATO.

German arms production and arms exports were also tacitly allowed again. In the meantime, the Federal Republic of Germany even had its own arms company: the Fritz Werner company, which both produced ammunition and built turnkey ammunition factories in other countries.

The rise to the third largest arms supplier

Today all German arms companies are privately owned, with some companies belonging to large corporations while others are family-owned. What they all have in common is that they are doing well internationally.

In the ranking of the largest arms exporting nations by the Stockholm peace research institute SIPRI, Germany has consistently occupied one of the top places since 2004. It was the same again in 2016: 5.6 percent of the weapons and weapon components exported worldwide came from German production. Only the US, Russia, China and France sold more weapons.

The recipients of German weapons

If one ignores the fact that weapons kill people, one may welcome the success of the German arms industry. However, the vast majority of Germans - according to an Emnid survey from 2016, 83 percent - reject arms exports. The criticism is not only sparked by the sheer bulk of the weapons, but also by the recipient countries.

While the weapons used to go mainly to NATO states and countries that are classified as NATO-like, such as Japan or Switzerland, Germany now exports around 60 percent of its weapons to so-called third countries. However, these particularly often violate human rights or are involved in civil wars or wars with other states.

Numerous examples of this can also be found in the Federal Government's arms export report from the first half of 2016. Algeria, for example, is a country at the top of the recipient list that is considered a sham democracy and where the military pulls the strings. Nevertheless, Algeria will receive armored vehicles, trucks and off-road vehicles worth around one billion euros in the next few years.

Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also among the ten largest recipients of arms. You get high-tech products such as systems for target range measurement and fire control devices that help guided missiles hit more accurately.

The developing country Pakistan, which is fighting for Kashmir with India, is receiving battle tanks and submarine parts. German arms companies are exporting missiles, pyrotechnic ammunition and ignition systems to Israel, which is in a bloody conflict with the Palestinians.

Export permits on the assembly line

What the arms companies think when they ask for permission to deliver weapons to dictatorships and poor countries can only be guessed at. The industry is silent and does not comment on the criticism expressed from many quarters.

On the part of the state, disputed applications are usually approved with reference to foreign and security policy interests. The arms trade is often part of maintaining relationships, especially in the oil-rich Gulf states.

In general, it can be said that arms exports are usually examined benevolently. Of the 17,336 individual and collective applications submitted to the Federal Ministry of Economics, the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and External Control and the Federal Security Council in 2013, only 71 were rejected. These included applications for arms deals with Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world.

No rules without exceptions

The War Weapons Control Act, the "Political Principles of the Federal Government for the Export of War Weapons and Other Armaments" and the Foreign Trade Act are decisive for the decisions of the state inspection bodies, whereby the latter is not a major hurdle in arms deals.

But also the much more strictly formulated political principles and the War Weapons Control Act are degenerating more and more into a provision that one can adhere to, but not necessarily.

For example, arms deliveries to states that violate human rights and promote terrorism are explicitly excluded in the "Political Principles". Nevertheless, the Federal Security Council repeatedly approves such transactions.

In such cases, there are virtually no sanction options. The Federal Security Council, to which the Federal Chancellor, the Head of the Federal Chancellery, the Foreign Minister, the Interior Minister, the Justice Minister, the Finance Minister, the Economy Minister, the Defense Minister and the Development Minister belong, meets in secret.

Parliament also only learns about arms exports from the armaments report, which is also often submitted several months late.