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Sibylle Bandler

German MPs call for end to Saudi arms deals

Sales of Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia were blocked by the German government [Getty]

Date of publication: 2 April, 2015

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Government under pressure to end arms sales to Riyadh following reports of indiscriminate attacks on civilians in Yemen.

German opposition parties have raised the alarm that weapons sold to Saudi Arabia could be used in the bombing of Yemen.

They have called on the German government to impose an immediate ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, which is leading the assault on the Houthis in Yemen.

Arms deals

"Once again we are witnessing how easily combustible and utterly destructive it is to help arm a nation that will, without scruples, enforce its claim to power in the region by military means," Agnieszka Brugger, the Green Party's defence spokeswoman told Der Spiegel.

"An immediate end to weapon exports to Saudi Arabia is long overdue. The federal government must now acknowledge that a change in policy is urgently needed," she added.

In January, Germany's "grand coalition" government - consisting of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) - agreed to restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf state has been one of the biggest patrons of Germany's defence industry for many years.

In 2014, Riyadh was the fourth biggest recipients of German weaponry, the Gulf state spending $226 million.

This includes assault rifles and pistols, sniper rifles, grenade launchers, hand grenades, detonators and ammunition along with military computer systems

All the major German arms' dealers have benefited from Saudi cash.

But the government recently began curbing sales to the Gulf country, which has been frequently criticised for its human rights organisations.

Sigmar Gabriel, vice-chancellor and economics minister, blocked a multi-billion euro deal between Munich-based defence company Krauss-Maffei and Riyahd for Leopard 2 tanks.

     Germany's regulations for its arms export industry have long been considered exemplary.


Despite causing a rift in the coalition, Gabriel justified the decision in part due to Saudi Arabia's "appalling" human rights record.

Eurofighters sold to the oil-rich state by the UK, operate with German-built technology.

Human rights concerns

But it is not clear if Eurofighters have been used in the recent assault on Yemen, but Saudi's aerial arsenal consists mainly of US-built F-16 fighter jets.

"One can only hope that Houthi rebels will retreat following the air attacks so that the current conflict does not expand into a large-scale inferno," said Jan van Aken, foreign affairs expert in the Left Party. 

He says that despite German weapons being sold under the pretext of defence, recent events show how quickly they can be used for offensive purposes.

Opposition parties, including the Greens and the Left Party, fear that Yemen is battleground for rival regional powers, Saudi Arabia and Iran. 

Despite this, Germany's regulations for its arms export industry have long been considered exemplary.

Together with other EU countries, Germany introduced self-imposed limits on its arms trade in 1998.

Under the rules, no weapons may be exported if there is a risk that they could be involved in human rights violations or stoke existing crises.

However, despite its strict rules, Germany remains the world’s third-largest weapons exporter, after the United States and Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

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