German Weapons for the World How the Merkel Doctrine Is Changing Berlin Policy


Part 3: Selling the Merkel Doctrine

Two Bundeswehr delegations attended the 2011 International Defense Exhibition (IDEX) in Abu Dhabi. One was headed by the deputy inspector general of the armed forces, and the other by the head of the arms department at the Defense Ministry. The five-day event in the emirate is considered a mecca for the arms industry. The Rheinmetall Group was one of 66 German companies exhibiting at the IDEX, where it exhibited its latest tank, dubbed the "Main Battle Tank Revolution."

The Bundeswehr also supports the industry with decommissioned material, especially the Leopard 2, of which it once had more than 2,100. Of those, some 1,233 have been sold abroad. In the post-Cold War world, Germany plans to make do with only 225 tanks.

Before the mothballed Leopards are sent to their new homes, they are completely refurbished, with the companies doing the work and often making several times as much as the Bundeswehr can collect for its used weapons.

Chile, for example, is getting 172 tanks, for which it is paying the Bundeswehr €46 million with an additional €78.6 million being spent on upgrades. Turkey took delivery of 354 tanks, which were outfitted with new combat technology for €298 million. A similar deal is in the works with Singapore, and Indonesia is expected to follow suit. The government issued a temporary export permit, so that a Leopard could be exhibited at the Indonesian arms exhibition, "Indo Defence," in early November.

Merkel knows that arms exports are not popular. Voters don't like it when authoritarian regimes like the one in Saudi Arabia use German weapons to stay in power. The official explanation that arms deals save jobs doesn't quite hold up with the public. Still, she has moved ahead, hoping to at least convince her global counterparts of the strategy.

She first laid out her approach, the Merkel Doctrine, at an event last September hosted by the Bergedorf Round Table, a venue that has brought together leading international and European politicians for talks on foreign and security policy since 1961. Last month, she presented her strategy to another select group of listeners. The EU and NATO are dependent on other countries, especially emerging nations, taking more responsibility in the future, she said at a conference of senior defense officials in Strausberg near Berlin. "I am convinced that it is in our interest to enable partners to effectively participate in upholding or re-establishing security and peace in their regions," she said.

Ensuring Peace and Stability

The Bundeswehr officers and security experts at the meeting knew exactly what she meant: The government is to supply weapons to regions of potential conflict, like the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and countries in those regions will then use those weapons to ensure peace and stability.

From the standpoint of the chancellery, two problems can be solved with this doctrine. On the one hand, it justifies arms exports to regions like the Arabian Peninsula, which have long been controversial. On the other hand, it provides the government with a better justification for Germany's reluctance to get involved in conflicts overseas.

And Merkel no longer wants to be responsible for major overseas military missions. She sees Afghanistan as proof that interventions in foreign countries usually fail. In the chancellor's opinion, it is better and less dangerous to provide military support to one side in a given conflict.

Algeria is one of these strategic partners. The North African nation borders two countries that have descended into chaos, Mali and Libya, and it is now expected to serve as a bridgehead in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Algerian intelligence has infiltrated al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) on a large scale. The United States also wants to use the former French colony as a base for its counterterrorism efforts.

It's no accident that Algeria has become an increasingly important beneficiary of German export permits, with the autocratic country ranking eighth in 2011. Algeria finances its extensive arms deals with oil and gas revenues.

Two companies have played a major role in the arms buildup in Algeria. The country has ordered frigates from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems. And Düsseldorf-based Rheinmetall is building a factory to produce Fuchs armored personnel carriers under a licensing agreement. According to the German Economics Ministry, up to 1,200 units will be built at the plant. By comparison, the Bundeswehr owns significantly fewer than 1,000 such vehicles.

Israel and the Submarine Deal

The North Africans recently laid out another, large piece of bait on the international market: the $1.5 billion contract for a modern border control system for the border with civil war-plagued Mali. The project will likely be of interest to Europe's EADS defense company, which is building a similar system in Saudi Arabia. The German government is participating in the deal by providing trainers for Saudi border guards.

But strategic partners can quickly becoming destabilized and unpredictable, as the example of Egypt illustrates. Last year, Cairo submitted an official inquiry to Berlin asking whether it could buy two submarines from Kiel-based HDW. The Egyptians were not inquiring about the nuclear-capable Dolphin-class submarines, which Germany supplies to Israel. They were interested in two vessels in the technically less sophisticated 209 class.

At first, the deal looked to be both economically lucrative and politically uncomplicated. German Defense Ministry officials checked with the Israeli Defense Ministry, and the chancellor called the Israeli premier. There were no objections. On Nov. 28, 2011, the Federal Security Council gave the go-ahead.

But the situation in Cairo has changed dramatically since then. The new president, Mohammed Morsi, comes from the Muslim Brotherhood and has close ties to the Islamist group Hamas. His party has developed a draft constitution that, like the one under deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, names Shariah law as the basis for all legislation. And in Jerusalem, the Egyptians are no longer seen as trusted allies in the region. The submarine deal is now a problem.

Through his spokesman, Netanyahu issued a demand in the press that the deal be canceled, and Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom said that "we agree that we don't agree." Irritated by the Israelis' sudden about-face and the unexpected pressure from Netanyahu's staff, the Chancellery assured the Israelis that it would review the decision. In last Monday's Federal Security Council meeting, Westerwelle complained that Berlin shouldn't make its position completely dependent on that of Israel. But no matter what Berlin ultimately decides, it will alienate one important partner in the region, either the Israelis or the Egyptians.

Germany's arming of the United Arab Emirates has been uncomplicated by comparison, and very lucrative. The government in Berlin tends to counter political objections with the argument that the country has to be strengthened militarily against Iran. And with such political backing, it is little wonder that the Emirates have become a favorite customer of the German arms industry. Rheinmetall, for example, has not only sold the country 27-mm light naval gun systems, but also in recent years built the UAE's first munitions factory. It is located in the military town of Sayid and now offers its deadly products for export in the Middle East.


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powermeerkat 12/04/2012
1. The German records.
In the past Germans built reinforced underground bunkers for Saddam Hussien. While German companies (with almost a century of experience in mannufacturing lethal gases, incl. Cyclon B) have delivered him and his Chemical Ali components of binary chemical weapons, used, among other places, in Kurdish Halabja.
powermeerkat 12/04/2012
2. Oh, hypocricy!
DS: " Foreign Minister Westerwelle acts as a promoter of the German arms industry. He has in the past advocated arms shipments to Russia and Egypt in the Federal Security Council. Merkel, by contrast, was hesitant. But the foreign minister doesn't want to explain his position to the public." Russia and Egypt being of course staunchly democratic countries strongly defending human rights of their citizens.
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