Media reports on Thursday showed that the German coalition government had authorised fresh military sale agreements with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
When the claims surfaced, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz had returned from a trip to Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar.
Riyadh’s role in the conflict in Yemen and charges of killing the dissident US-Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi led to a restriction on arms shipments by Berlin.
Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy minister and vice chancellor, acknowledged in a letter to the Bundestag that Scholz had cleared multiple weaponry export transactions before his travel to the area.
According to the letter, the export permits are part of a collaborative initiative with Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
Der Spiegel reports that Riyadh would be allowed to acquire equipment and ammunition for Eurofighter and Tornado planes for €36 million ($35.2 million).
According to DPA, the European cooperation initiative would also provide €2.8 million worth of replacement components for the Airbus A330 MRTT.
In 2012, German arms exports to Saudi Arabia peaked at €1.2 billion.
However, in 2018, Germany’s conservative CDU/CSU and Social Democratic Party (SPD) coalition decided to limit weapons shipments to nations participating in the Yemen conflict.
Several loopholes in the agreement permitted limited shipments of German military supplies to the Gulf state. So-called collective export licenses were also used to circumvent the restrictions.
One year after the murder of Khashoggi, a comprehensive ban went into place. The prohibition has already been extended twice.
The prohibition was consistent with Germany’s policy of not supplying arms to active war zones.
This position has evolved this year due to pressure on Germany to give arms to Ukraine during Russia’s incursion.
Since 2014, Riyadh has led a coalition in Yemen fighting with the government against Iran-backed Houthi rebels, causing what the United Nations has dubbed the world’s greatest humanitarian disaster.
A cease-fire agreed by the United Nations has been extended many times since then, boosting expectations that the fighting may soon finish.
During the conflict in Ukraine, Berlin also seeks to strengthen its connections with energy producers as it reduces its dependency on Russian gas. Saudi Arabia is one of the most significant energy exporters in the world.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Germany is one of the world’s leading weapons makers and exporters, with sales rising 21% from 2016 to 2020.
The Chinese dimension and the European ire
The total prohibition prompted British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt to urge Germany to modify its stance, stating that it was “imperative” for Germany to exclude major defence projects from its weapons sales stop to Saudi Arabia, or else its economic reputation would be damaged.
He said that he foresaw a possibility that Saudi Arabia will in the future turn to Russian or Chinese suppliers.
Referring to the crisis in Yemen, where the government supported by Saudi Arabia is battling the Houthi movement backed by Iran, Hunt expressed grave worry that the freeze would diminish the United States’ capacity to influence important players in the coming months for the sake of peace.
His strongly-worded letter followed protests from a senior Airbus executive, who told Reuters that the ban prevented Britain from finalising the sale worth $13.18 billion for 48 Eurofighter Typhoon fighters to Riyadh and delayed possible sales of other weaponry, including the A400M military transporter.
Not just Britain but even France and other European partners fumed after the ban. Anne-Marie Descotes, the French ambassador to Germany, urged the German government against “politicising” weapons sales, which might damage joint ventures for planes, drones, and tanks.
In an essay published by German Federal Academy for Security Policy, Descotes said that Germany’s attitude is prompting more corporations to build “German-free” weapons, i.e. weapons created without German involvement. The essay by Descotes was among the strongest criticisms of Germany’s position by a French official. France and Germany are already locked in a bitter dispute over the future of the FCAS project ( Future Combat Air System/ NGF), in which the two parties are demanding a greater share of work.
Eurofighter is manufactured by a coalition of four founding nations – Germany, the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain – represented by Airbus, BAE Systems, and Leonardo. BAE Systems, the British military and aerospace company, is leading the project, and Germans are responsible for providing one-third of the aircraft’s components.