A submarine of the Indonesian Navy has recently sunk off the coast of Bali; all 53 crew members have died. The sad event once again highlights German arms export policy in general and arms cooperation with Indonesia in particular. The submarine was built in 1978 by the German defense company Thyssenkrupp in Kiel and has been in the service of the Indonesian Navy since 1981. It was part of a series of around 60 examples produced since the 1960s exclusively for export to around twelve countries.
Military spending grows despite Corona
Germany is one of the big players in the global arms business. It is a business that also runs excellently in corona times, as the latest figures published a few days ago by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute Sipri show: Despite the health crisis, the states continue to pump a lot of money into their armies. In 2020, global military spending in the individual states rose by 2.6 percent, adjusted for inflation, to an estimated 1981 billion dollars – according to Sipri, the highest level to date since comparable calculations began in 1988. Germany, which according to NZZ“increased more sharply than any other top-10 state, finishing just ahead of France in seventh place”.
Universally appreciated German valuable work
Germany has not only invested much more in its own armaments, but is also at the forefront of arms exports: Between 2015 and 2019, Germany was the fourth largest arms exporter in the world with a share of almost six percent. There was even a record increase in 2019. In 2020, however, the German government granted 27 percent fewer export permits for arms, instead of 8.015 billion euros, as in the record year 2019, “only” 5.82 billion euros. However, the share of exports to third countries, i.e. to countries that do not belong to the EU or NATO, has increased. “Exports to these countries are particularly controversial because some of them are involved in conflicts or violate certain human rights standards,” as the Deutsche Welle.
Among the customers of the German arms industry are brutal regimes, dictatorships, states with notorious human rights violations and warring nations. And yet Germany still feeds on the myth of a supposedly restrained and responsible arms export policy. The German government also repeatedly makes the public claim to pursue a restrictive arms export practice. Since 1971, there has been a general ban on the supply of war goods to third countries. But the basic ban has since given way to a complex set of rules, a plethora of laws, regulations and international agreements regulating the trade in arms, other arms and product licenses.
The difference between claim and reality
“However, this dense and complicated network of norms has not led to a responsible practice of the German arms trade,” writes PRIF, one of the leading peace research institutes in Europe, in a recently published report. On the contrary, The Report “German Arms Exports to the World? Taking Stock of the Past 30 Years” by Simone Wisotzki “notes an alarming difference” between claim and reality: With a view to the past three decades, the report refers to “numerous examples in which Germany provides licensing and arms exports to countries that violate international humanitarian law in armed conflicts, as well as to countries that massively violate the human rights of their citizens. It is precisely in these cases that German arms exports help to fuel the arms dynamics on the ground and increase the risk that existing conflicts escalate and turn into violence.“Above all,” arms exports to third countries from Germany have become the norm – in the past ten years, up to 60 percent of German war weapons and arms supplies have repeatedly gone to third countries, " says the PRIF report.
Armament companies dodge
There are two main reasons why this is so. First, the internationalization of arms production plays a major role in this development. German companies rely heavily on foreign partners, subsidiaries or license production to avoid possible denials of German permits. The PRIF report cites numerous examples of arms cooperations, of newly founded subsidiaries in third countries as well as of German technology and know - how transfer, which “reveal loopholes in German arms export legislation and the associated procedures.”
Plenty of room for interpretation
The second reason is the numerous loopholes. For example, the European Union calls on its arms-exporting member States to take into account the technical and economic performance of recipient states. At the same time, however, the right of states to guarantee their security and defence needs is also stressed. This leaves a lot of room for interpretation. In the past, arms exports have repeatedly been approved for countries that are among the least developed, such as Afghanistan, or for countries that are prone to tension and conflict, such as Pakistan, India, Egypt, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia - or Indonesia.
Indonesia is a good customer
Indonesia, according to the German Foundation Asien Haus “regularly to the main countries of Destination with the highest approval values in the group of third countries for German arms exports and 2019, with over 200 million euros approval value to rank ten of all recipient countries of the German exports of arms was”. The Foundation’s main focus is on the impact of German arms exports on human rights violations in West Papua. There, the indigenous population is largely exposed to the security forces without protection.
Warships for conflict in Aceh
Over the years, the entire program has been delivered to Indonesia: vehicles, tanks, warships, electronic devices, software, ammunition, explosive devices, fire control devices, but also small arms, light weapons and aircraft. According to PRIF’s report, old stocks of the Bundeswehr and the former National People’s Army of the GDR were also delivered to third countries, “such as warships to Indonesia, with which soldiers were transported to Aceh in 2003 in the civil War.”
The big tank deal of 2013
The delivery of a total of 164 German tanks to Indonesia in 2013 stirred up a lot of dust. At that time, the German government granted Rheinmetall the export licence for 104 battle tanks, 50 rifle tanks as well as various bridge laying and pioneer tanks. Indonesia first knocked on the Netherlands, but the trade failed at the parliament, “which raised concerns about the human rights situation in Indonesia. Then Indonesia has turned to the Federal Republic of Germany,” as the time reported.
Ultimately no control
Completely independent of individual target areas – Weapons and military equipment in general are durable goods, which have a fundamental problem even with the most conscientious and restrictive licensing practice and export control: their use can ultimately neither be completely controlled by the manufacturer nor by the licensing authority. The PRIF report shows this once again impressively. He concludes with the words: “Arms exports have a long half – life-the examples of this study show that the exports of the past can also have dramatic effects many years later if the political situation in the recipient country changes in such a way that the weapons supplied from Germany are used to wage war, violently suppress protest movements or violate human rights.”