The 2021 G7 summit brought together seven wealthy countries that export over 50% of all the world’s arms. Phoenix Media Co-op interviewed Dr Alexander Lurz about G7 member Germany in particular. He spoke about the role the country plays in this destructive trade, and how civil society is trying to bring about change.
From 2010 to 2017, Lurz was a scientific assistant to a member of the German parliament (Bundestag) and did research on German weapons exports policy. Since 2018, he has been an expert on peace and disarmament at Greenpeace.
“A German co-responsibility” for refugee suffering
The German government insists that it “maintains a restrictive policy on the export of armaments to “third countries”, i.e. countries which are not members of the EU or NATO or NATO-equivalent countries (Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Japan)”. But the Peace Research Institute Frankfurt found in 2020 that “Germany has systematically violated arms export regulations for 30 years”. It has done this by approving exports “to countries affected by war and crisis, to countries with human rights violations and to regions of tension”.
Indeed, as DW reported in January 2021:
The German government approved a total of €1.16 billion ($1.41 billion) in arms exports during 2020 to countries involved in both the Yemen and Libya conflicts
The bulk of this went to authoritarian regimes in Egypt, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Turkey. And with statistics like this in mind, Lurz highlighted Germany’s responsibility for the suffering of people who flee the conflicts in question.
Phoenix Media Co-op (PMC): What role have German weapons had in ongoing conflicts and on people fleeing their countries as refugees?
Alexander Lurz (AL): It is a truism that wars cannot be fought without the permanent supply of weapons. It is equally clear that war results in flight. First within the affected country, then beyond its borders. That means that in every war in which a German weapon appears – and in the end that is almost every war – there is a German co-responsibility for the fact that people have to flee.
“An unholy alliance”
PMC: Based on your experience in the Bundestag and at Greenpeace, please explain how the German weapons industry influences politics in Berlin. What organisations and companies are significantly involved?
AL: The ‘defence’ industry knows how to make its voice heard in German politics. To this end, it also invests heavily. The lobby offices of the German arms giants Rheinmetall, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, and Diehl are for example located directly at the Brandenburg Gate. No place in Berlin could be more prominent, closer to power, and more expensive.
But the fact that German weapons find their way into the hands of dictators and human rights violators is not just the result of clever lobbying. Large parts of politics want exports to take place; be it so that alliances with certain regimes are strengthened, be it because the larger sales market reduces the unit prices for purchases by the Bundeswehr [Germany’s armed forces].
We are therefore dealing with an unholy alliance of unscrupulous arms companies and equally unscrupulous politicians.
‘Calling for an arms export control law’
PMC: What can German citizens do to change the way Germany sells weapons?
AL: All surveys show that the vast majority of the German population is against arms exports. This is not just the case in Germany, by the way. Greenpeace recently commissioned a survey in the four main arms-exporting countries of the EU – Germany, France, Spain, and Italy. The results are very similar everywhere. For example, 73% of respondents in Germany, 59% in France, 76% in Italy, and 69% in Spain oppose joint European weapons development, provided it comes at the price of later selling these weapons to undemocratic regimes. So there is no rupture line between states on this issue – there is one between ordinary people who don’t want to make money from arms exports and politicians and the arms industry who do just that.
In Germany, there is already a strong rejection of exports to undemocratic regimes far into the parties of the centre. Civil society, together with Greenpeace, is currently calling for an arms-export-control law with an export ban for states outside the EU and ‘EU-equivalent’ states. We are already very optimistic that we will get a law. Now, we are fighting to make it as strict as it can be.