BERLIN — The decision by the German government to deliver 200 state-of-the-art armored tanks to Saudi Arabia, despite the Wahhabi monarchy’s human rights record and its recent violent intervention in Bahrain to repress the popular rebellion against the local ruling family there, illustrates the rhetorical nature of Western support to the so-called Arab democratic spring.
The German ruling coalition, formed by the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Liberal Democratic Party (FDP), unofficially confirmed July 6 that it has approved the export of 200 Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia, for an estimated value of 1.8 billion euros.
Anonymous official sources, quoted by numerous German news outlets, said that the delivery of the Leopard tanks to Saudi Arabia was supported by the U.S. and the Israeli governments. The Saudi regime “is a pillar of stability in the Middle East … [and] is also a strong ally in the war against terrorism,” these government sources said.
At the same time, the German government rejected appeals by opposition leaders, and numerous political analysts, to call off the deal on human rights grounds.
The government did not discuss the arms deal in public, arguing that it must remain within the purview of the Federal Security Council, the highest German body on military and foreign affairs policy. Minister of Defense Thomas de Maizière refused to comment, saying that the council “debates are classified, and this [classified character] won’t change.”
Opposition leaders, some members of the German ruling coalition, human rights groups, and numerous political analysts have condemned the transaction, calling it “a proof of cynicism made in Germany.”
The deal was revealed July 4 by the weekly newspaper Der Spiegel. It immediately triggered a debate over the honesty of official German, and by extension, Western, support to the so called Arab democratic spring — the popular movements that started last January in Tunisia and Egypt, and which have so far brought down the despotic regimes of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak.
Many opposition leaders called the arms deal illegal, because it goes against German guidelines that forbid the export of weapons and other military equipment to regimes that violate human rights and to regions facing military crisis.
Saudi Arabia is “one of the worse despotic regimes in the Arab world, which regularly violates human rights and represses democratic movements,” said Hans Christian Stroebele, Green Party member of the national parliament, or Bundestag, and member of its foreign affairs committee.
In addition, Stroebele said, “Saudi Arabia is the protector of other similar regimes in the Arab world, and helps to obliterate democratic movements in the region, as it did in Bahrain some weeks ago.” There is no question, Stroebele added, that according to German law the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia cannot be allowed.
Several German laws ban the export of weapons to such regimes. Article 6 of the “Control of Weapons of War Act” says that export is to be forbidden if there is a “risk that the weapons would be used in an operation to disturb peace” and if it “would violate the [German government’s] obligations according to international law.”
Another German guideline forbids the export of weapons to “regions facing military crisis” or to “despotic regimes.”
However, practically all German governments have in the past approved the export of weapons to Saudi Arabia.
“I don’t know whether there is corruption in the present case,” Stroebele told IPS. “But past experiences, in Germany and in other countries, suggest that for the Saudi Arabian regime it is normal to pay illegal commissions to obtain weapons and other military equipment.”
In the early 1990s, the German government approved the export of 36 armored tanks, for an estimated value of 226 million euros, to the Wahhabi monarchy. “At the end, the Saudi regime paid more than 450 million, that is, more than 220 million above the official price tag. At least one million euros landed in the pockets of German government officials,” Stroebele, who was a member of the parliamentary commission that investigated the case, said.
Recent cases of corruption linked to weapons exports to Saudi Arabia have also been revealed in Britain and in France.
Opposition leaders and even some members of the ruling coalition agree with Stroebele. Andrea Nahles, general secretary of the Social Democratic Party, said that supplying state-of-the-art battle tanks to Saudi Arabia showed that the government’s pledge to pursue a value-oriented foreign policy was only “lip service to democracy and human rights.”
Klaus Ernst, leader of the Left Party, said the government’s approval of the deal illustrated its “real operating maxim”: “The most deadly tanks for the worst oppressors.”
But also senior government officials, including Norbert Lammert and Ruprecht Polenz, both members of the CDU, and president of the Bundestag and chairman of its foreign affairs committee respectively, criticized the deal on the same grounds.
Florian Guessgen, policy editor of the weekly newspaper Stern, called the Saudi Wahhabi regime “anachronistic and inhuman,” and the weapons deal “a proof of German made cynicism.”
“Human rights are beautiful and good — but only for the Sunday speeches,” Guessgen said, referring to rhetorical German and Western support for the Arab popular rebellions against the region’s corrupt dictators. “But when it comes down to our geopolitical interests, there is no doubt about it: We deliver weapons to our most evil friends — even at the price of sacrificing the tenderest blossoms of the Arab freedom movement.”
According to the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), a watchdog group that studies military affairs and promotes peace and development, Germany has traditionally been a provider of military equipment to Arab countries, especially to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and to a lesser extent to Algeria, Libya, and Tunis. Only the U.S. and Britain supply more arms to the region.
Germany is also the third largest global exporter of weapons, according to the BICC.
(Inter Press Service)