The war criminal in the arms business

Approvals for German arms exports reached a new record level in the first half of 2019 and amount to around 5.3 billion euros. This is clear from information provided by the Federal Government, which was made public yesterday. According to this, Berlin allowed the export of more than twice as much war equipment in the first six months of this year as in the same period of the previous year. Last but not least, it approved the export of arms worth more than EUR 1 billion to states at war in Yemen. The use of German weapons by the United Arab Emirates Army there is documented. The Saudi-Emirati War Alliance, which is fighting in Yemen, is also supplied with German ammunition worth a three-digit million sum, which is manufactured at sites of the German Rheinmetall Group outside the Federal Republic. It is not included in the information provided by the Federal Government. Firearm manufacturers also use factories abroad, bypassing Berlin’s recent decision to stop authorising small arms exports to third countries.

Germany Weapons in Yemen

Records are chasing each other

The extremely high volume of approved German arms exports in the first half of 2019 is not only a new record; at the same time, it confirms that the export of German war equipment continues to grow unabated even in the long term. The finding is important because export licences have traditionally been subject to significant fluctuations; this is due to the fact that individual deliveries, for example from warships or even a larger number of battle tanks, easily reach tens of millions or even billions of dollars; their accumulation in a given year leads to noticeable outliers upwards, their point-by-point absence to equally clear outliers downwards. In the years from 1999, the year in which the German government published its first official export report, German arms exports increased by around three billion euros per year, so the average rose from 2003 to about five billion euros, while from 2015 it rose to about five billion euros. circled around seven billion. Last year, the value of export licences was only 4.8 billion euros - a result of the fact that the protracted coalition negotiations and the badly delayed formation of the government had caused a backlog of permits. It is not yet clear whether the increase to 5.3 billion euros in the first half of 2019 is still due to a delayed resolution of this traffic jams, or whether German arms exports are once again rising to a permanently increased level of well over an average of seven billions of euros per year.

Many roads lead to Rome

Apart from that, it must be borne in mind that German arms companies have long since begun to move production abroad in order to circumvent restrictions on arms exports from the Federal Republic. The most well-known example is the Düsseldorf Rheinmetall. Rheinmetall, for example, supplies ammunition to Saudi Arabia through its subsidiaries RWM Italia and RDM (South Africa). According to Rheinmetall board member Helmut Merch, the value of these ammunition deliveries amounts to around 100 million euros per year. RWM Italia alone had already been able to increase its company turnover to EUR 90 million in 2017 and is facing further growth; the order backlog was valued at more than EUR 500 million at the end of last year. At Rheinmetall, it is regularly pointed out that the national laws at the respective location apply to the foreign subsidiaries; as a result, the German arms export restrictions there are ineffective.

German Wealth through Murder

Even if arms deliveries from locations of German corporations outside Germany are not taken into account, in the first half of 2019 the German government approved exports worth more than one billion euros to countries that are waging war in Yemen. For example, permits for the export of war equipment worth more than EUR 800 million to Egypt have been approved. In addition, war equipment worth more than 200 million euros may be sold to the United Arab Emirates, according to permits issued by the Federal Government since 1 January. Emirati troops are using German weapons in their fighting in Yemen, as a recent research group in German media showed. In addition, German armaments delivered to the Emirates are used in the war in Libya.


The ranking of recipients of German arms exports in the first half of 2019, which was announced yesterday, confirms once again that German arms manufacturers are benefiting massively from the implementation of NATO’s 2 percent target. This was already evident in 2017, when Lithuania ranked third among the buyers of German war equipment; At the time, the German government approved the purchase of armoured vehicles worth around half a billion euros - 1.17 percent of Lithuania’s gross domestic product at the time. So far this year, Hungary has ranked number one among German arms companies; the German government allowed deliveries of war equipment worth 1.76 billion euros - 1.33 percent of Hungary’s gross domestic product. Last year, Hungary ordered 44 Leopard 2A7+ battle tanks and 24 2000 armored howitzers from Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. As in the case of Lithuania, the purchases accompany the intensification of military cooperation: while the Bundeswehr is working ever more closely with the country’s armed forces as part of its deployment in Rukla, Lithuania, it is currently building together with Hungarian troops. a binational transport company, which is to be operational from 2023.

© Chappatte in NZZ am Sonntag, Zürich

Again the road to Rome

The latest figures refute the Grand Coalition’s recurring claim that it is committed to a restrictive arms export policy. Only recently, the Federal Government had tried to back up this claim with new regulations. Thus, a recast of the political principles for German arms exports states: “The export of small arms to third countries should in principle no longer be authorised”. “Third countries” refers to states outside the EU and NATO, as well as a small group of officially equal countries to NATO. In fact, permits for the export of small arms to third countries have been systematically reduced since 2013, when they accounted for more than 50 percent of Germany’s total small arms exports, with a value of more than 42 million euros, and in 2018 they were only 400,000 Euro. At the same time, however, the supply of small arms customers in third countries via locations outside the Federal Republic is increasing. For example, Heckler & Koch has been expanding its firearms factory in Columbus for two years. Initially, production is only to be carried out for the USA, but exports are not excluded. Firearms manufacturer Sig Sauer handled 90 percent of the company’s sales through a subsidiary in Newport in 2016. In April 2015, his U.S. plant received a permit to export firearms to Mexico worth USD 265 million; permission is valid until 2024. At the beginning of 2017, the managing director of the company had already stated: “We have determined in the company that in the future we will concentrate on the German market, Europe, NATO states and NATO-equal states.” This corresponds to the new regulation of the Federal government. Other exports are no longer made from the German location, but from the sister company in the United States. They do not appear in the statistics of the Federal Government either.

Victims of the Iguala massacre outside the courthouse in Stuttgart before the Heckler&Koch trial (DW/B. Knight)