German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg has been criticized by opponents for making a trip this week to India, where he attended an air show in Bangalore Thursday and tried to drum up business for a European-made fighter jet.
On Wednesday he met with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose government is weighing a purchase of 126 Eurofighters, built by the German-French aerospace consortium EADS. The deal is reportedly worth €7.3 billion ($9.9 billion).
India's long-simmering border conflict with neighboring Pakistan has made Guttenberg's two-day trip something of a controversy. Both countries have nuclear arsenals, and German Green Party chief Claudia Roth told SPIEGEL ONLINE that a sale of military gear to any crisis region was "an open departure from the principles of German weapons-export policy."
German export guidelines from 2000 say weapons should not be sold to nations at imminent risk of armed conflict. "India not only falls into this category as a nuclear power," Roth said, "it also lies in a highly unstable conflict zone."
By stumping for the Eurofighter in New Delhi, "the dashing Guttenberg will contribute to an arms race," said Roth. "That contradicts, in an irresponsible way, important efforts for peace and stability in this very tense region."
A prominent Social Democrat, Gernot Erler -- who served in the Foreign Ministry between 2005 and 2009 -- told SPIEGEL ONLINE that Chancellor Angela Merkel's current government behaves "frivolously" with German export guidelines.
'There Will Not Be Any Irresponsible Exports'
Guttenberg is a member of the Christian Socialist Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats (CDU). They've ruled since 2009 in a coalition with the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) and before that were in government with the Social Democrats from 2005-2009.
Guttenberg's office countered Thursday by saying the export guidelines were drawn up by a previous government, namely the Green-Social Democrat coalition under former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who left office in 2005. In 2008, Guttenberg's staff argues, Berlin agreed in principle to a sale of jets to India -- with the tacit participation of Gernot Erler, among others.
"Some of those now being critical took part in this decision," the defense minister told reporters at the Aero India air show in Bangalore.
The Federal Security Council -- a parliamentary committee on defense issues -- makes final decisions on German weapons sales, and in 2008 the council did not object to a potential deal with India.
"There cannot and will not be any irresponsible weapons exports," Guttenberg added. "We have clear guidelines. We have decisions that must go through the Federal Security Council, and that is the basis for our negotiations."
But the question of whether to loosen the Schröder-era guidelines has been a political football for months. The Eurofighter sale is also not a sure thing -- India's massive contract to modernize its air force has a number of international suitors. The American F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Russian MiG-35 Fulcrum are also in competition.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, Pakistan announced a successful test launch of a new cruise missile, the Hatf VII, which reportedly has a range of 600 kilometers.