Arms Exports Berlin Approves Huge Tank Deal with Indonesia

In recent years, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has significantly expanded German arms exports abroad, often to countries with questionable human rights records. Now Berlin has approved a deal to export over 100 tanks to Indonesia.
Von Matthias Gebauer und Otfried Nassauer
The Leopard 2 tank is in demand around the world.

The Leopard 2 tank is in demand around the world.

Foto: KMW/ dpa

The German government has once again approved a controversial deal to export arms to a country with questionable democratic credentials. The German Security Council, which meets in secret, has approved a deal by defense firm Rheinmetall to export 104 Leopard 2 battle tanks to Indonesia.

In addition, 50 Marder 1A2 infantry fighting vehicles are to be delivered as part of the deal, as are 10 other military vehicles, including armored recovery vehicles, mobile bridges and military engineering vehicles. While the broad outlines of the deal had been reported by Reuters previously, the exact numbers of tanks and armored vehicles involved come from a government response to a parliamentary inquiry made by Green Party lawmaker Katja Keul and seen by SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Indonesia's interest in German arms had long been apparent, but Berlin had remained silent on its intentions. Previously, Indonesia had approached the Netherlands regarding its interest in acquiring Leopard tanks, which are widely considered to be the most modern battle tanks available. But the Dutch parliament declined to approve the deal due to concerns about the human rights situation in Indonesia. Jakarta then turned to Germany. The German parliament has no veto right over arms deals.

Rheinmetall has further developed the Leopard tank, providing it with greater protection and systems allowing for street fighting in residential areas. It is this model, called MBT Revolution, in which Indonesia was interested.

Changing Approach to Weapons Deals

A possible arms deal with Indonesia was under discussion as far back as the summer of 2012, when Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the country. At the time, Jakarta was open about its interest in military vehicles made in Germany, saying the anticipated deal was merely an effort to update its weapons systems and insisted the tanks would not be used against its own people, during protests, for example. Still, human rights activists were concerned about the possible deal. Amnesty International accuses Jakarta of contravening human rights in some provinces and the country ranks 100th on Transparency International's corruption index.

The German Security Council, made up of the chancellor and select cabinet members, has approved several deals  to export tanks in recent years, thereby significantly changing the country's erstwhile restrictive approach to arms exports . Previous governments had approved deals involving the export of warships and submarines to questionable countries because it is difficult to use such weapons against the civilian population. Tanks, however, remained taboo. "That which floats is okay. That which rolls is not." Such was the dictum followed during the long reign of former Foreign Minister Dietrich Genscher.

Regional Interests

More recently, however, billion-euro tank deals have been approved as a matter of course. In recent years, the security council has approved export deals to such autocratic countries as Saudi Arabia, justifying the decision by pointing to the importance of regional stability to Germany's own national interests. Saudi Arabia, for example, is seen as a strategic counterweight to Iran and also cooperates intensely with German secret services in the fight against international terrorism.

A similar argument was used to justify the approval of an arms deal involving the export of tanks to Qatar. Berlin granted Krauss-Maffei Wegmann permission in April to export 62 Leopard 2 tanks in addition to other military vehicles in a deal worth €1.89 billion. Rheinmetall is an important supplier in the deal, delivering the canons and weapons systems for the tanks in addition to machine guns, spare parts and munitions.

"Qatar is in many areas an important partner for Germany and the European Union in the region. In addition, it has legitimate security and defense interests," Berlin said in defending the deal. The justification would likely be similar for a deal with Qatar's neighbor, United Arab Emirates. According to the response to Keul's inquiry, the country received permission last year to purchase machine guns and other weaponry, including munitions, from German production.

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