German Arms Transfer to North Africa and the Middle East from 1999 to 2013

German Arms Transfer to North Africa and the Middle East from 1999 to 2013

Eine Langversion des Artikels auf Deutsch kann here heruntergeladen werden.

Germany argues to pursue a ethically driven international policy when dealing with the export of arma. Its behaviour nevertheless contradicts its rhetoric as Berlin does indeed export weaponry to states that do violate international norms and principles. This fact is proven by its own Military Equipment Export Reports.

Germany is part of many international contracts whose goal it is to limit export of weaponry in order to mitigate violence and killings in conflict regions all over the globe. The most famous being the Arms Trade Treaty and the EU Code of Conduct (now EU Common Position) on Arms Transfers. These contracts link military export to normative behaviour of the recipient states. Precisely this means that Germany should not export to states which are either involved in an intrastate conflict or which violate human rights.

In contrast to this ideal Germany´s official Military Equipment Export Reports (MEERs) demonstrate the opposite of an ethically driven international policy. The reports have been issued every year since 1999 by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy listing all states that received any military equipment in the previous year.

In my research, I developed a complete dataset for all 194 states Germany sold armament to from 1999 to 2013. The dataset includes the number of licenses, the value of licenses, the number of denials and lastly the value of licenses. The data does not give any reasons to the question why Germany is exporting to these states, nevertheless it presents facts and can serve as a basis for further research to an area which in itself is very non-transparent and kept strictly in shadows.

In this essay I would like to shed some light on the facts found during my research. Firstly, I will present the actual German export to 9 North African and 14 Middle Eastern states. Secondly, I will compare these states to international principles proving thereby Germany’s contradictory behaviour. Lastly, I will elaborate on some domestic problems when facing the government with these facts.

Arms Transfer to North Africa and the Middle East

According to the MEERs Germany sold military equipment worth 64,8 billion € to 194 states during the last 15 years. Thereby 11,4 billion € were exported to 25 North African and Middle Eastern states. This represents 8% of all states but 17,5% of the overall export value in armament.

The data includes 4 different governmental coalitions. While it is obvious that export to this region has been rising over the whole period of time, it is very striking that almost half of 11,4 billion € has been exported since 2011.

Arms Transfer to Norms Violating States

In order to prove Germany’s violation of international norms, I compared the recipient states on the one hand to the Political Terror Scale (PTS) for human rights and on the other hand to the UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset for states involved in an intrastate conflict.

The data shows 17 states that violate human rights on a regular basis and 12 states that were involved in a conflict. In addition, the same 12 states violated both norms; representing half of all North African and Middle Eastern states.

Export of Weaponry to Human Rights Violating States

The Political Terror Scale is a dataset created and continued every year by Professor Marc Gibney from the University of North Carolina in Asheville. The PTS measures human rights violations by a scale of 1 to 5. Serious violations start with grade 3 where extensive political imprisonments exist and /or executions and murders are common. The worst grade 5 is attributed to those states where terror has expanded to the whole population and political leaders pursue personal and ideological goals by all means.

Between 1999 and 2013 Germany denied 240 licenses worth 112 million €, while granting almost 7.700 permits worth 7.7 billion € to 17 human rights violating states. According to the PTS human rights violations were the worst in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Yemen. Nevertheless, Germany granted 1.180 licenses worth 1.7 billion € to these 5 states.

Armament Export to States involved in an Intrastate Conflict

The UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset is an Scandinavian research project initiated by the Universities of Uppsala and Oslo. The dataset differentiates between armed conflict which results from 25 to 999 battle-related casualties and war after the death toll exceeds 1.000. According to the dataset Germany transferred military equipment to 12 states that were involved in an intrastate conflict.

On the one hand 171 licenses worth 76 million € were denied, while on the other hand 4.351 licenses worth 4.5 billion € were granted in the last 15 years.

For an enumeration of military export to norms violating states by government see table V:

Germany’s Decision-Making Process on Arms Exports

The domestic decision-making process on arms export lacks transparency in two major aspects. First of all, decisions are made without the inclusion of the parliament and secondly, decisions are never justified by the government in public.

When the government decides over questions of arms transfer, the German parliament is excluded from the process. Only the most important ministers in the cabinet have the ultimate decision-making power. These decisions are taken by majority vote behind closed doors of the Security Council. Thereby two camps crystallize: on the one hand, the Foreign and Development Ministries which push to adhere to norms and deny military export and on the other hand, the Defence and Economy Ministries favouring permits for economic profit.

Given this decision-making process the parliament has no influence on grating licenses and is only informed after the Military Equipment Export Reports was issued with an one year delay[1]. Consequently, the executive has substantially more information than the legislative and a control of the parliament over arms export is not given. Another related impediment to parliamentary control is the delay of the reports. While parliament debate should happen in a timely matter, it is often delayed to more than 6 months or even years. While for example, the report of 2004 was published on January 1st, 2006, the debate took place on December 18th, 2008.

Secondly, the German government does not justify any decision on armament export. I have found several requests from parliament members to justify decisions on arms transfer in the parliamentary archives (among others: 17/5599; 17/6931 and 17/9412). All requests were either issued by deputies of the Green of Left Party. In contrast to these requests, I found only two responses by the government. Both replies deal with armament export to territories outside North Africa and the Middle East, therefore I will not elaborate on them (17/9854 and 17/6432).


Given the results of my research, Germany has been proven to break international norms and principles on a regular basis. Germany’s arms transfer appears only rarely in public discussions, decisions are made secretly and not even the parliament has influence or control over them.

Given the small number of answers and justifications on any export, a thorough research on reasons for military export is impossible. The export of Leopard II tanks to Saudi Arabia which raised many questions in 2013, is still lacking any justification by the German government. Consequently, there are no monitoring mechanisms and no check and balances to foreign policy decision-making. Due to these lacking mechanisms, the government must not fear any consequences, if principles on arms transfer are not adhered to.

Armament export represents only 1% of the overall German export, nevertheless does it influence many conflicts especially in North Africa and the Middle East. Due to increasing arms transfer, weapons pile up and become in return the most simple means to conflict resolution. Even though transparency is not given, illegal German arms transfers are an open secret. We all should address this problem more frequently, if we really are interested in solving conflicts all over the world.

You can download a long version of the article here

[1] Zapf, Uta (2010), “Lecture 6: The Role of the Parliament”, 22th November, Hauptseminar: Aktuelle Fragen deutscher Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik: Rüstungskontrolle und Abrüstung, Winter Semester 2010/11