EU Defense Policy Jeopardized? – Germany Extends Anti-Saudi Arms Sales Embargo

Written by | Friday, April 5th, 2019

Germany extended an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia for another six months in a move that put a strain on European arms exporters. Having already been extended two times, the moratorium on arms exports, including on already approved sales, will newly end on 30 September. “Over this period no new export applications will be approved,” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert commented.

Berlin is also taking precautionary measures to make sure that no weapons produced in collaborative projects with other EU members can be exported to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, with the ultimate goal of avoiding to supply weapons to the Yemeni conflict. Components manufactured by Germany in joint European projects are exempt from the ban. However, the decision has also brought about lots of uncertainty over the future of the multi-billion military orders.

Chancellor Merkel’s coalition government implemented restrictions on arms sales to Saudi Arabia last year due to country’s role in Yemen war, whereby these were further reinforced following the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. This policy needs to be seen also in the context of Social Democrats’ attempt to court their traditional voters sceptical about arms sales and concerned about arms sales to Saudi Arabia, especially in the context of the Yemen war.

With the arms sales bound for the Middle East having almost doubled in the 2014-2018 period compared to 2009-2013, the Social Democrats have repeatedly called for an extension of the arms sales embargo, which led to a conflict within the government. At the same time, Berlin has to observe the commitments made to its EU partners because otherwise, closer EU external cooperation cannot be achieved, Jürgen Hardt, CDU’s foreign policy expert, commented. This objective also requires that Germans “accept what Frenchmen and British and others think,” Mr. Hardt added since the move to extend the arms embargo has worsened relations with Paris and London.

To that end, earlier last week, the French ambassador to Germany, Anne-Marie Descôtes, criticized the “unpredictable” nature of Berlin’s arms export policy, calling on Germany to abandon its position on arms sales to Riyadh in order to prevent a further fragmentation of Europe’s defence policies. “Credible export opportunities based on clear and predictable rules are an indispensable prerequisite for the continuation of our European defence industry, as argued for in the Aachen Treaty,” she wrote in an essay published by the Federal Academy for Security Policy.

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