Tuesday, 31 July 2012
Change of Paradigms – German Arms Sales Replacing Active Military Missions?
Arms sales are not a completely new trade; it is probably one of the oldest businesses of mankind. With Germany as one of the leading arms exporters in the world, the numbers of sold weapon systems keep continuously growing. Now, these sales seem to increase in the Middle East, with Qatar as a potentially new key market for German weapon producers.
Analysts interpret the increasing German arms sales as a change of contemporary German foreign and security policy, which is undergoing a thorough and profound evaluation and re-structuring process. The list of German arms customers is long, starting with more than 200 sold Leopard-2 tanks to Saudi Arabia last year, including 100 more tanks to Indonesia, and now with Qatar in the potential customer line.
This “new deal” is part of a complete change in German foreign policy, intending to reduce all running out of area military missions in Afghanistan and at the Horn of Africa to a lower level and replacing it with increasing arms sales instead. The reasons for this are obvious: arms sales are far more beneficial than direct military missions in crisis regions, eliminating any risks for own soldiers and civil servants deployed to the respective regions, and provide the chance for allies to defend themselves rather than deploying own troops to the region in question. This was the same strategy the Nixon-Administration has adopted after the failure in Vietnam.
Regarding the obviously failed nation-building efforts in Afghanistan, the on-going and deteriorating financial crisis in Europe, and the overall reform of the German armed forces, the Merkel-Administration finds itself in a delicate situation, struggling to reduce costs on security and defence on the one hand, and trying to maintain enough striking capabilities in all regions where Germany has deployed troops – above all in Afghanistan and at the naval “Operation Atalanta” at the Horn of Africa – on the other hand. Although the German contingent to Afghanistan is the third biggest of all ISAF contributing countries and the Germans suffered far less casualties than other nations (e.g. the US, the UK, or Canada), public support for the mission has plunged, and any out of area mission of the Germany army is being widely questioned.
So, the question is: does an increasing export of German weapons and increasing arms sales to partner nations contribute to global security in a same way and with the same amount of efficiency like the mere contribution of troops in a crisis region?
This question sounds redundant, because there are various flaws in this simplified assumption.
First – and obviously, just selling war material to a country does not imply that they are going to use them for crisis prevention, peace enforcement, or even peace keeping measures. A reasonable and responsible arms trade has to ensure that the sold weapon systems are supposed to be used for pure self-defence measures. However, the term “self-defence” is very vague in many cases, and the international monitoring instruments are rather faint, or they are not sufficiently and consequently implicated.
Secondly, looking at the payrolls of German arms sales, you find states which are known for not being the most democratic ones, especially Saudi Arabia. This case is an indication for a linkage of arms sales with significant and visible good governance principles, combined with an internationally confirmed statement by the international community that there is a necessary need for arms sales in terms of exclusive self-defence purposes.
Thirdly, if the policy that arms sales would be more useful than direct military action in the crisis region, then Germany will have to sell arms to Afghanistan. The reason why it is not the case is simple: Afghanistan is not able to pay for modern German weapons, nor even able to operate them without proper and professional instruction.
Germany will have to rethink its foreign and security policy strategy, especially regarding the imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan within the next two years, the withdrawal from Bosnia & Herzegovina, and the on-going reform process of the armed forces. It is highly questionable if the Bundeswehr will still be able to fulfil its global security tasks by adopting this strategy. With the current foreign policy implementations, Germany will not be able to efficiently implement security enforcing measures. The plans to withdraw the nearly 5,000 soldiers out from Afghanistan not only provides a negative signal to the overall ISAF mission and all other countries based in Afghanistan, it also leaves the Afghan security forces – the ANA and the ANP – in a pure insecurity environment. Even arms sales will be totally insufficient in the Afghan case, or even in any other crisis region in the world.
The German army remained mainly inactive during the Cold War regarding out of area missions. Now, more than 20 years after the end of the Cold War and with several past and currently running mission around the world, it appears that Germany feels itself uncomfortable on this international arena. Avoidance, however, and outsourcing international commitments to arms sales, is the absolute wrong signal, with a severe risk of international credibility loss.
Germany has the choice: being a strong international security actor, or just an arms trader without further active military missions. Combining both would be an ideal option. But, is Germany ready for it? Unfortunately, it does not seem so.