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


Part 4: Questions from German Allies

The plant is owned by Burkan Munitions Systems LLC, of which Rheinmetall owned 40 percent until the beginning of this year, when it sold its stake. Rheinmetall also plans to build a modern, computer and laser supported combat training center in the Emirates by 2014.

Rheinmetall told analysts that it expects the training center to generate revenues of more than $100 million. Once the center goes into operation, the country's armed forces will be brought up to a level of technical expertise in computer and laser supported combat similar to that of the Bundeswehr.

Given the controversy which generally surrounds arms exports in Germany, the government is still hesitating to actively promote its new policy. The chancellor and her advisors do believe it is advisable to at least explain the outlines of the new security doctrine, and Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière also supports a bolder approach. "In effect, markets and sales opportunities for armaments are expanding," he says.

But neither Merkel nor her defense minister is being more specific. Both insist that the discussions and most of the decisions of the Federal Security Council remain secret. Officially, the government isn't commenting on the tank deliveries to Saudi Arabia.

If it were up to Foreign Minister Westerwelle, the government would only issue platitudes on the subject. Westerwelle is working untiringly, though unsuccessfully, on his image as a proponent of disarmament policy. After the re-election of US President Barack Obama, he said: "I hope that we can make progress together on disarmament and nuclear non-proliferation."

But when the public isn't paying attention, 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.

German Credibility

For the opposition, the government's silence presents a big opportunity. The Greens, for their part, campaigned for a tightening of arms export rules some time ago. They also want the Federal Security Council to become more transparent. "An arms export law must define certain disclosure requirements, which also apply to the Federal Security Council," Green Party parliamentary floor leader Jürgen Trittin said in a recent interview with SPIEGEL. "That would finally result in standards."

Even the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), despite its ties to heavy industry, seems to support a restrictive approach. "We must contribute to the prevention of new arms races," says longstanding former Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul. "It's a question of Germany's credibility in foreign policy." The SPD candidate for chancellor in next year's general elections, Peer Steinbrück, has also called for a more restrained arms export policy.

Ex-SPD Chancellor Helmut Schmidt is also highly critical of Merkel's new approach. The Saudis showed interest in Leopard tanks way back in his tenure (1974 to 1982) as well, and the arms industry was exerting a lot of pressure. The counter-arguments from back then are still valid today: Bonn did not want to provide an autocratic regime like the Saudis with the means to crush an uprising by their own people.

The Germans also didn't want to add additional fuel to the Middle East conflict, a policy from which Genscher derived the principle that "anything that floats is okay" -- in other words, Germany could only export ships, because the Israelis and their neighbors were at war on land and not at sea.

But Schmidt is also outraged over the submarine sales to Israel, whose policy toward the Palestinians he has sharply criticized for years and characterizes as "responding to terror with their own terror."

A Greater Role?

Schmidt fears that by approving the submarine deal, Merkel is providing the hardliners in Jerusalem with the ultimate military support for their settlement policy. In critical remarks about Merkel in the spring, he said that he would not have approved the arms shipments to Saudi Arabia or Israel. "I wouldn't have done it," he told SPIEGEL. Weapons should be exported only to allies, Schmidt explained, and neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia is a German ally.

The German position has also raised some concerns among Berlin's own allies. Since their refusal to politically and militarily support the war waged by the West and its Arab allies against former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, the Germans are seen as shirkers.

Some say this openly, and point out that Germany, as a strong economic power, has great influence. "Why doesn't Germany agree to do more in other areas?" asked former French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, an advisor to Socialist President François Hollande. "I really don't see what prevents Germany from playing a greater role in international politics and military missions."

But the arms shipments to Saudi Arabia are a bigger problem for Merkel, because no Western diplomat can truly assess how stable the situation is there. The government, which is fundamentalist by Western standards, is threatened by even more extreme forces. If the situation there is less stable than analysts with the intelligence services and foreign missions suggest, tanks and other German weapons could fall into the hands of an extremely anti-Western movement.

This sort of development has a precedent in the immediate vicinity. For decades, the pro-Western regime of Shah Mohammed Reza in Iran enjoyed generous support from the United States. When the Iranian revolution swept away the authoritarian ruler in 1979, the American weapons were suddenly in the hands of the ayatollahs, who now saw Washington as their biggest enemy.


Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan


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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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