Arms Exports Under Fire

The German government approved weapon exports worth some €3.2 billion ($3.95 billion) in 2002, making the country the world’s fifth largest arms seller, an annual report has revealed.

Compared to 2001, Germany’s weapon exports decreased by €400 million -- but it’s no reason to sound the all-clear, according to the GKKE, the Joint Conference Church and Development, which compiled the report.

photo: AP
An estimated 550 million small arms are in circulation worldwide.

​​The GKKE, an ecumenical body of German churches, presented its 2002 findings on weapons exports in Berlin, revealing that Germany is second only to France when it comes to arms exports from the European Union. It accounts for some 5 percent of the international world arms market.

The organization has been publishing its Arms Export Report once a year since 1998. The study provides statistical data on German exports of arms and military equipment based on information made publicly available by the German Government and other international institutions. The report also includes analyses and evaluations of current and medium-term trends in German and European arms export and control policies.

Weapons to trouble spots

The latest GKKE report criticizes the German government for continuing to approve weapons exports to international trouble spots such as Israel. The report showed that the primary countries buying German arms in 2002 also included India, Singapore and South Korea.

A quarter of all exports still go to developing countries, GKKE spokesman Bernhard Moltmann said. "Within this group are generally countries with a higher per-capita income, because generally, German export arms are quite expensive, so poorer countries can’t afford them,” he added. “So if German weapons do appear in these poorer countries, they are second-hand."

The China syndrome

The organization was especially critical of the German government’s stance on future arms exports to China. On a recent state visit to Asia, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder told Chinese Premier Weng Jiabao that he was in favor of lifting the weapons embargo imposed on China 14 years ago after the country’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Bejing’s Tiananmen Square.

Stephan Reimers, who chairs the GKKE, said his organization was unhappy with Schröder's decision. "We don’t understand why the German chancellor wants to lift the embargo,” he said. “After all, China fulfils neither German nor EU criteria -- which would be the precondition for allowing exports from Germany."

Reimers also raised objections to the proposed, controversial export of a German plutonium factory to China. The Siemens plant in Hanau in western Germany was completed in 1991 and decommissioned four years later without ever being used.

The project has led to a heated controversy within Germany's ruling Socialist-Green coalition over whether Berlin, which is phasing out atomic energy at home, should be involved in encouraging the use of nuclear power abroad. There are also concerns that China might use the plant for military purposes.

The threat of small arms

Speaking in Berlin, Moltmann addressed another pressing issue -- the proliferation of small arms such as revolvers, self-loading pistols, rifles, carbines, sub-machine guns, assault rifles and light machine guns.

Describing them as "the 21st century's weapons of mass destruction," he explained that experts assumed Iraq bore responsibility for an increase of small weapons in unstable neighbouring countries.

"When Saddam Hussein was found in his hide-out he had a loaded Kalashnikov," Moltmann said. He added that the shots fired by Iraqis to celebrate Hussein’s arrest all came from small weapons. "The country is riddled with them," he said, adding that an estimated 160 secret weapons depots exist in Iraq.

Moltman said that the German government was involved with commendable programmes under the aegis of the EU and U.N. to crack down on the circulation of small weapons worldwide. But he was also quick to point out that "the credibility of Germany's commitment to tackling the problem on an international level is inextricably linked to its domestic arms policy."

© Deutsche Welle / DW-WORLD.DE 2003

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