Germany’s arms exports to Saudi Arabia: what we know and some important questions

Written by Lorey Campese, Control Arms

In a recent post on the Control Arms website, we congratulated the government of Germany on the halting of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. This was based on a report by the German news outlet Bild am Sonntag, which, citing government sources, claimed that arms transfers would either be “rejected pure and simple” or be deferred for future consideration. If only that were true!


What we know

Further investigations have revealed that the Bild report was some distance from the facts, and that rather than an end to arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, there has been no obvious change to German policy. Indeed on Wednesday, Germany approved licenses to send border security software as well as shooting simulators to Saudi Arabia. Nor has there been much change to Saudi policy, despite the arrival of a new King. Raif Badawi, the blogger who was accused of insulting Islam, is still set to endure 950 more lashes.

Some important questions

If you’re paying attention, the “arms” that Germany approved aren’t what we typically think of as arms. On the list of arms exports, which I’ve seen (full disclosure, it was in German and I had it translated for me), there are no tanks or assault rifles headed to Riyadh. Germany’s standard response to questions about arms exports is that they are dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Maybe they determined that border control software wouldn’t put human rights at risk.

But export licenses are approved as they come in. Germany may not be sending tanks simply because there wasn’t a request. Licenses for security software today can easily turn into an approval of machine gun order tomorrow.

The notion of Germany declining more lethal weapons exports to Saudi Arabia because of regional instability or human rights concerns would be an encouraging one. And while not out of the realm of possibility, it would seem we aren’t there yet. What a little more than a week ago we had hoped was a turning of a corner in support of ATT principles now just leaves us with questions and a sense of frustration over what might have been.

 

Photo credit: DAPAD

Lorey Campese is Digital Communications Manager at Control Arms. Follow him on Twitter @MrCampese.

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