Germany Extends Saudi Arms Ban While US Looks to Relax Regulations
Germany is extending its arms sales ban on Saudi Arabia but only until the end of March.
Germany first announced its decision to impose a ban on arms sales to oil-rich Saudi Arabia last October, amid the Yemen War and rising controversies surrounding the mysterious death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered in the Saudi Consulate office in Istanbul, Turkey.
In a statement released on Thursday, the minister stressed that Berlin is committed to ending the bloodshed in Yemen which erupted in 2015, adding that the decision to resume arms exports to Saudi will depend on the latest developments in Yemen.
Maas said after a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel: “We decided this with a view to developments in Yemen. We believe that the Yemen war must end as soon as possible.”
The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore the internationally-recognized Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi administration, which was ousted by the Houthi rebels in the previous year.
Although there is no concrete data on the number of casualties resulting from the Yemen war, in 2017, a U.N. official said that 10,000 civilians had been killed. Human rights groups have cautioned that the death toll could increase five-fold, due to the war, famine and illnesses.
Germany’s Arms Embargo Faces a Dilemma
Germany’s Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier said the unilateral ban imposed on Saudi Arabia has harmed Germany’s defense sector, calling for a standard European policy.
Merkel’s coalition government is divided over the arms issue. The SPD (Social Democratic Party) supported the arms sales ban on Saudi Arabia. But other coalition members argue that some of the arms sales are for defensive purposes and have nothing to do with the Yemen War.
The extended embargo has also affected deals signed with other countries including France and the U.K., sparking anger from Germany’s defense industry. Hensoldt Holding GmbH, one of Germany’s leading defense firms, has had several deals fall through, including one with France’s Airbus which is about to collapse.
France had planned to place the Taufkirchen-based missile warning systems in 23 helicopters heading for Saudi Arabia. However, Berlin’s decision to extend the arms sales ban forced Airbus to buy similar technology from Sweden’s Saab.
“Our employees no longer understand the world,” Thomas Mueller, CEO of Hensoldt Holding GmbH, said. Mueller has filed a complaint to the responsible ministers and believes that those in the government should be blamed for the collapse of the cooperation agreement.
Germany is one of the most important countries in the defense industry, which accounts for 12.2 billion euros in gross value added (GVA), as the Wifor Institute said in 2014. The country’s defense products are highly appreciated and valued and considered to be produced by highly skilled workers.
Last month, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt urged Germany to review its decision to stop exporting arms to Saudi Arabia, saying that the embargo could harm a vital arms deal with Riyadh.
Hunt asked Berlin to exempt some major deals from embargoes, such as the Tornado fighter jets and Eurofighter Typhoon. If Germany sticks to the ban, the U.K. could lose faith in Germany as a trading partner.
Weapons From the US and Europe Continue to Kill Civilians in Yemen
The Saudi-backed coalition relies on European and U.S. weapons in the Yemen War which then kills innocent civilians, as a Yemen-based rights group said in a report.
Mwatana for Human Rights (MWR) documented 27 attacks launched by the Saudi-led alliance which killed 203 civilians and wounded around 749 between April 2015 and April 2018.
It is speculated 22 out of 27 attacks have involved American-made weapons, while the remaining five attacks carried out were attributed to either guns produced in the U.K. or both in the U.K. and the U.S.
The West continues to export arms to Saudi Arabia and ignores outcry over human rights violations and humanitarian disasters perpetrated by Riyadh and its allies.
In December 2018, the U.S. Senate passed a historic resolution that canceled U.S. military support for the Saudi-backed coalition in Yemen. Washington is known to provide logistics and intelligence support the Saudi’s alliance in its fight against the Houthi rebels.
The US Proposes to Relax Arms Exports Regulation
The Trump administration is proposing a draft that relaxes regulations governing arms sales. The proposal would allow arms companies exporting certain arms such as semi-automatic firearms and sniper rifles to bypass the current requirement to register with the U.S. State Department.
Under the Arms Export Control Act, the State Department is obliged to report any arms sales worth more than $1 million to Congress. Lawmakers blocked $1.2 million in handgun and ammunition sales to Turkey after bodyguards for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan beat up demonstrators in Washington in 2017.
However, the draft was put on hold by Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter that firearms and ammunition “should be subject to more, not less, rigorous export controls and oversight”.
Currently, the State Department controls the sales of U.S.-made military goods ranging from tanks to firearms.