Germany and the Arms Trade Treaty

Written by Robert Lindner, Oxfam Germany

As long as I can remember, German arms like the Leopard tank and Heckler & Koch guns have always been among the export hits of the arms industry. Grim deals with deadly products “Made in Germany” still constitute the dark side of Germany’s fame as one of the world’s leading engineering nations.

But after enjoying more than 60 years of peace, many Germans are tired of reports about German arms ending up in the hands of security forces in countries that by no means live up to the same legal standards that Germany or other European states have established.

According to the Swedish Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), between 2009 and 2013 Germany ranked third among the world’s largest arms exporters, neck-and-neck with China, and outstripped only by the US and Russia. When you look into Germany’s official report on its arms exports in 2013, it is not easy to believe that my country has been among the most committed supporters for the creation of the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) – that groundbreaking treaty concluded at the UN last year with the aim of curbing irresponsible weapons transfers around the world. Very soon, on forthcoming Christmas Eve, the ATT is due to enter into force. This is a moment I could have only imagined some eleven years after NGOs and activists around the world the “Control Arms” campaign.

In 2013, Germany granted arms exports licenses worth 5.9 billion Euros destined for 140 different countries worldwide, a considerable number of which are located in crisis-hit regions or have poor human rights records such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Malaysia and Singapore. Approvals for small arms transfers rose last year to some 82.6m Euros – the highest value in at least 10 years.

But in a historically shadowy trade, there is also some light. Only recently, Germany significantly increased its transparency on its arms exports by producing its first semi-annual instead of annual report. According to it, transfers of small arms from Germany during the first half of 2014 (worth 21.4 million Euros) dropped by almost 50% compared to the same period in the previous year (worth 39.5 million Euros).

There is currently a lively public debate whether, for example, the recent delivery of rifles, rockets and hand grenades to North Iraq might be fueling the escalating violence in the region instead of protecting innocents from terrorist attacks. This is certainly a very delicate decision, but at least I’d really like to know, which safeguards my government has put in place to prevent those arms from falling into the wrong hands. All too often, guns and ammunition of German provenance have ended up in the hands of dubious militias, which hardly ever would have legally received G3 or G36 assault rifles or any other sophisticated German weaponry. The Arms Trade Treaty can signal the end this diversion, but only if countries take its provisions seriously.

Which takes us to Berlin.

Starting today, over 100 governments are gathering in my home city for a meeting that can set the tone for a highly effective Arms Trade Treaty. Here, governments will conduct discussions that will determine how decisions are made within the Treaty’s framework. The meeting marks yet another step on the road to saving lives protecting communities around the world.

It goes without saying, that the Arms Trade Treaty will not be a panacea to prevent shady arms deals, but after the 24th December, state parties like Germany, that claim to be among the the world’s most responsible arms exporters, will need to do more than just to fulfill the treaty’s minimum requirements. They should embrace the ATT’s humanitarian rationale and put an end to their own contradictory licensing practice.

 

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