German arms exports rose to a record high in 2023, smashing the previous estimate set in 2021. This data shows the constant tension between the government's promises for stricter export controls and the harsh reality of global conflict.
The total value of approved exports reached a staggering €11.71 billion by mid-December, a 25% increase over 2021 and a 40% jump over the first year of the current Social Democrat (SPD)-Green-Liberal coalition. While the war in Ukraine undoubtedly played a significant role in this increase, which accounted for roughly a third of total equipment exports worth €4.15 billion, it was not the only driving force.
Exports to other destinations, especially NATO and EU member countries such as Norway and Hungary, also contributed significantly. The Green Party, staunch critics of previous arms exports during their time in opposition, now face the unpleasant task of justifying these sales under their leadership.
SPD is not satisfied with record exports
Despite increased exports to NATO allies and the EU, concerns remain about destinations with questionable human rights records. Countries such as Turkey, criticized for its military campaign against the Kurds, received €1.03 billion worth of arms, causing discontent within the coalition itself.
SPD politician Ralf Stegner openly called the record exports "bad news", highlighting the discrepancy between the coalition's initial promise of stricter rules and the current reality. This issue is further complicated by the case of Israel, which ranks seventh in total exports with 323.2 million euros.
Although primarily driven by Hamas attacks and focused on air defense and communications equipment, the sheer scale of the increase compared to 2022 is cause for concern. In addition, exports to countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia raise ethical questions because of their human rights records.
Record exports also reveal inconsistencies within the coalition. While the Greens are pushing for stricter arms export laws, the Christian Democratic opposition is criticizing the government's alleged "carelessness" and calling for approval of the sale of Eurofighter jets to Saudi Arabia.
This internal and external pressure underscores the difficulty in balancing Germany's security interests with its ethical obligations in a changing global landscape. The coalition faces the challenging task of reconciling its stated values with the practical realities of a world that requires military support.
Finding a sustainable and ethical way forward will require careful consideration, transparency and open dialogue to ensure that arms exports do not undermine its commitment to peace and human rights even though the two are incompatible.