Germany Bookmark and Share Plan to export hundreds of tanks to Saudi Arabia sparks fierce opposition

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Campaigners, activists and politicians in Germany have denounced the proposed sale to Saudi Arabia of hundreds of tanks designed for "urban warfare", with the deal described as "scandalous" and "against democracy and human rights".

In July 2011 a decision was made during a secret meeting of German government's Federal Security Council to approve the export of 270 Leopard 2A7+ tanks to Saudi Arabia. The decision of the Council, which is chaired by Angela Merkel, only became publicly known after the German media published leaked correspondence relating to the deal.

Der Spiegel, which published the documents, reportedly stated at the time that:

"This would be the first time Germany supplied heavy arms to an Arab government that has declared its intention to fight its opponents with 'an iron fist', a country that deployed tanks against demonstrators in a neighbouring country - Bahrain - and ranks 160th on The Economist's Democracy Index, just a few spots above North Korea, which holds the very bottom spot." [1]

Recently it has become clear that Saudi Arabia is seeking to increase the order to between 600 and 800 tanks, putting the total value of the deal at some $12.6 billion. The Saudi Defence Ministry is reported to want the deal "wrapped up by July 20, before the annual fasting season of Ramadan is due to start." [2]

Production and protest

The tanks are primarily produced by the firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, although according to campaigners a number of other firms are also involved in various aspects of the tanks' production and delivery, including Rheinmetall and MTU Friedrichshafen.

The NGO Grundrechte Komitee has called for direct action; civil disobedience; public mobilisation; and "peaceful protest and blockades" against the firms involved in the production and delivery of the tanks, as well as banks that are involved in financing arms production and exports. A report issued last year accused Deutsche Bank of being "the most important financier" of the companies involved in the export deal. [3]

The Komitee issued a statement saying that "what the government wants to implement and what the people want stand at odds to each other," and "civil disobedience actions are justified, because such tank exportations stand against human rights. Therefore resistance against the arms trade is legitimate!" [4]

The international campaigning organisation Avaaz has launched an online petition calling for a halt to the sale, while in Berlin a protest took place that was organised by the organisation International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. [5]

Some 75% of 1000 people questioned in a poll published by the weekly magazine Stern oppose the deal, with supporters of the Left, Green and Social Democrat parties most strongly against the proposed sale. [6]

Bullet in the post

At the end of June it was revealed that an organisation called the Centre for Political Beauty (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit) had posted a bullet to one of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann's owners, accompanied by a "stained note" reading: "Your deals give children and their parents no chance for a happy life."

The same group has also offered cash rewards in return for information leading to the arrest of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann's owners. An offer of €25,000 has been made "for information leading to the imprisonment of the owners of KMW." [7]

"Military operations in urban terrain"

According to the group Stoppt den Waffenhandel, which is calling for German residents to send letters opposing the deal to Bundestag deputies, [8] the Leopard 2A7+ was first presented in 2010 at the French arms fair Eurosatory. It weighs over 67 tonnes, has an operating distance of 450 km and is marketed as being useful for "military operations in urban terrain." [9]

The model earmarked for export to Saudi Arabia has apparently been adapted for the specific needs of the Saudi government with the addition of an "interface for additional elements" such as bulldozers.

Stoppt den Waffenhandel argues that the deal with Saudi Arabia may have an important impact on the 2013 elections. After the details were made public, the opposition Green, Left and Social Democrat parties made "serious accusations" against the government. In response a representative of the Bundestag's defence committee and the economic-political spokesperson of the Christian Democrat-Christian Social Union coalition, Joachim Pfeiffer, defended the government's position, remarking on "Saudi Arabia's stabilising function in relation to Iran, but also Israel and Palestine."

Broken principles?

The deal, if it goes through, would apparently break "long-standing principles of not supplying advanced weapons to autocratic regimes." [10] According to Stoppt den Waffenhandel, however, these principles have not in the past prevented German governments approving the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia.

From 1998 to 2005, the government headed by Gerhard Schröder exported approximately €232.7 million of weaponry to Saudi Arabia. Between 2005 and 2012 exports increased further, and in just four years the Christian Democrat-Social Democrat coalition, in power from 2005 to 2009, approved arms transfers worth approximately €406 million.

The controversy over the deal has come just weeks before states are due to negotiate on the first ever binding Arms Trade Treaty at the United Nations in New York.

A European Parliament resolution on the proposed treaty was cautiously welcomed by analysts and civil society organisations. The Parliament's statement was criticised for ignoring "several key factors, such as the impact of the arms trade on the socio-economic development of recipient countries and the involvement of civil society in future negotiations." [11]

Were Germany to export tanks to Saudi Arabia, it would be following in the footsteps of numerous other EU Member States who have also sold weaponry to repressive regimes in the Middle East. Last year the Saudi regime supplied UK-made armoured vehicles to Bahrain to suppress protests, [12] and the UK government was forced to suspend arms export licences for Bahrain and Libya following a public outcry. [13] In recent weeks Human Rights Watch called for the French government to prevent Thales, in which it has a 27% stake, to halt the export of weapons which may be re-exported to the Syrian government. [14]

Further reading
Eric Töpfer, 'The Arab Spring of "Security made in Germany"',Statewatch Analysis, September 2011

[1] 'Saudis 'boost German tank buy to 600-800'', UPI, 19 June 2012
[2] Ibid.
[3] Jan Willem van Gelder and Petra Spaargaren, 'German banks involved in the export of tanks to Saudi Arabia', Facing Finance, July 2011, p.ii
[4] Grundrechte Komitee, 'Aktion Aufschrei: Stoppt den Waffenhandel nach Saudi-Arabien! Legt den Leo an die Kette!', May/June 2012
[5] Avaaz, 'Citizens against the arms lobby!'; IPPNW, 'Protestaktion gegen Rüstungsexporte'
[6] 'Deutsche gegen Panzerdeal mit Saudis', Stern, 27 June 2012
[7] 'Activists offer cash for info on tank makers', The Local, 19 June 2012
[8] Stoppt den Waffenhandel, 'Brief an Bundestagsabgeordnete'
[9] Stoppt den Waffenhandel, 'Die LEOPARD-2-Lieferungen an Saudi-Arabien müssen verhindert werden', 2012
[10] 'Anger over German-Saudi tank deal', Russia Today, 6 July 2011
[11] Daan Bauwens, 'Resolution on arms trade 'bold but not bulletproof', Inter Press Service, 17 June 2012
[12] Campaign Against Arms Trade, 'Saudi Arabia uses UK-made armoured behicles in Bahrain crackdown on democracy protestors', 16 March 2011
[13] Campaign Against Arms Trade, 'New report shows that UK kept exporting arms to Libya through 2010', 21 April 2011
[14] 'Human Rights Watch denounces France's involvement in Syrian regime's military equipment', Statewatch News Online, 19 June 2012

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