The Saga of German Weapons For The Arab World

By Julio Godoy* | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

BERLIN (IDN) – Once a year, the German government reports the amounts of weapons the country’s military industry exported to the world during the previous 12 months. Once a year, German society pretends to be scandalised by the numbers and particularly the recipients of the weapons. Once a year, the German government explains why the military exports are important for the country (jobs, jobs, jobs!) and why the importing regimes, many of them undemocratic, should continue benefiting from the German high tech weapons. And never something changes.

On June 11, 2014, it happened again. Under pressure from the opposition in parliament, the German coalition government led by the Christian Democratic chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that the country’s military exports in 2013 had grown again, this time by 25 percent compared to the year before. The government was also constrained to reveal that most of the weapons were exported to Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Qatar, Pakistan, and Israel.

As always, there were some expressions of regret (even the most conservative newspaper in the country, Die Welt, which always applauds whatever chancellor Merkel does, called the destination of the weapons  ‘shocking’. Sigmar Gabriel, minister for economic affairs (he is also leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), in charge of authorising military exports, announced that in the future such permits shall be managed in a more stringent way.

Such a pious statement we have heard before.

Fourteen years ago, the German government, already a mighty military exporter, set high moral limits for such businesses. In the year 2000, the SPD government of the time, of which Gabriel was minister, approved its so called “Political Principles”, according to which Berlin would manage the military exports in a “restrictive and responsible” way, as the statement put it, and would not authorise the selling of weapons to regimes that violate human rights, or in areas of conflict.

These principles were quite a delated reaction to scandals linked to military exports, such as the export of submarines to apartheid South Africa in the mid-1980s, and similar, nuclear-capable vessels to Israel.

But, even as of today, you can assess what these political principles are worth. Since years, Germany has been selling weapons, from frigates to armoured tanks to small weapons, to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Algeria. Since years, the German government insists that such exports conform to the political principles, because, for instance, “Saudi Arabia is an anchor of stability” in the Middle East.

Chancellor Merkel has repeatedly said so over her nine years of government. In Dec 2012, Germany was at the time about to export armoured tanks to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Merkel said her government maintained “a strategic relationship” with the Saudi monarchy, and argued that Iran constituted a “major threat” for the Saudis, who, so the conclusion, needed to bristle with weapons.

Saudi Arabia an “anchor of stability”? Saudi Arabia a democratic regime? Saudi Arabia an adherent to human rights? The Arab world a region without crisis? Actually, Saudi Arabia supports terrorist groups in Iraq, in Syria, in Libya, and, as recently as 2011, helped to crush the democratic demands in countries such as Bahrain and Yemen. But Merkel would say: ‘We don’t care!’

In Syria and Iraq

The gravity of the German military exports can be at its full extent seen in Syria and Iraq. Since the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the German (and by extension, practically all NATO countries) supported one way or another the opposition to Bashar Hafez al-Assad, despite evidence that it was supported and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the Sunni powers in the region. It wouldn’t be a surprise if one were to find German-made weapons, originally exported to the Saudis and Qataris, in the hands of the socalled Syrian rebels.

That German and NATO support for the insurrection in Syria only started to flinch when the nature of the most important and best armed factions of the rebels became clear: Sunni warriors representing the most intransigent Islam faction, the Wahhabism. By then it was too late, for the civil population in Syria anyway. But the civil population was never the concern of the military exporters.

Something similar has been happening in Iraq since years. Sunni military factions do not recognise the Shia- und Kurdish-dominated, internationally recognised government, and, with the little help of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, keep the bloodshed going.

The most important of these factions is without doubt the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a most brutal militia army, which aims at redesigning the national borders of the region, to create a Sunni state that would encompass parts or the whole of Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. By its own accounts, the ISIS has been committing all kind of atrocities in the region, including mass executions.

ISIS recent march towards Baghdad has finally alarmed most governments, including the leading NATO members, and has triggered consultations between Washington, the European capitals, and even their former enemies, the Shia-ruled Iran and Syria, on how to stop the ISI offensive once and for all.

It would be an absurd corollary to the German military exports to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, if  the NATO is forced into an alliance with the Shia powers in the Middle East to rescue Iraq from falling into the hands of Sunni zealots, armed, precisely, with weapons made in Germany.

It is also a new evidence of the cruel irony of history that 12 years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq started, and 11 years after George W. Bush claimed that the U.S. “mission” there had been accomplished, and after hundreds of thousands have been killed there under the most horrifying circumstances, Western military powers are again considering invading or at least bombing Mesopotamia from the air.

*Julio Godoy is an investigative journalist and IDN Global Editor. He has won international recognition for his work, including the Hellman-Hammett human rights award, the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Investigative Reporting Online by the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists, and the Online Journalism Award for Enterprise Journalism by the Online News Association and the U.S.C. Annenberg School for Communication, as co-author of the investigative reports “Making a Killing: The Business of War” and “The Water Barons: The Privatisation of Water Services”. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 18, 2014]

Top Image Credit: PressTV

Bottom Picture: Julio Godoy – Credit: ICIJ

The writer’s other IDN articles:

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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