Germany’s decision to halt exports of military equipment to Saudi Arabia in November (after the horrendous killing of journalist Jamal Kashoggi), is threatening Berlin’s participation in the European arms industry, both in current and future programmes, as well as its own ambitions to foster a common European defence policy.
German exports to Saudi Arabia account for only 2 percent of the kingdom’s imports, but the arms freeze is affecting other European countries, companies and projects, as German firms have an important role in the making of components.
Despite systematic human rights violations by the Saud Regime, its active participation in the Yemeni conflict and its disregard for international humanitarian law, which should make the country ineligible for arms trade according to international and European law, Western Powers have continued and even increased their exports to Saudi Arabia, even when it is proven these weapons kill Yemeni civilians (see recent report by UNHR and Mwatana), arms sales to the kingdom have not been questioned. Of these countries only Germany has taken solid measures to question Saudi’s actions.
However, what seems to draw most of the attention at the diplomatic and financial level is how this move has jeopardised billions of euros of military orders. A 10 billion pounds deal to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh has been put at risk, and some firms such as Airbus have started to strip German components from some of their products. BAE Systems, the defence contractor behind the Eurofighter Typhoon, anticipating financial losses has urged London and Paris to convince Berlin to lift the embargo. Shipments of Meteor air-to-air missiles to Saudi Arabia by MBDA, which is jointly owned by Airbus, BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo, are also being held up since the missiles’ propulsion system and warheads are built in Germany.
Many companies are lobbying for the arms freeze to be lift and some are also taking action to rid themselves of their German suppliers. This is all placing the German Government at a crossroads. The decision has been postponed until the end of the month, when Berlin will have to choose between respecting basic human rights (and legality) or re-joining the very lucrative business of war.