PARIS --- A senior British Cabinet Minister has strongly criticized the German government because, since November, it is blocking arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia. London is now threatening unspecified consequences if Berlin does not immediately lift the embargo on joint arms projects.
In a letter to his counterpart Heiko Maas (SPD), British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has accused Germany of damaging Britain’s defense industry by blocking delivery of fighter jets and missiles since their German-made components can no longer be delivered to Saudi Arabia.
In the two-page letter dated February 7, Hunt writes that he must inform Maas of his "serious concerns.”
Essential passages from Hunt’s letter:
“As you know, I attended the Stockholm talks on Yemen. (…) It is a critical time. I am therefore deeply concerned that your freeze on defence exports to Saudi Arabia will adversely impact our ability to influence key figures during the next few months in the cause of peace. I see a real risk that Saudi Arabia may turn to Russian or Chinese supplies in future, depriving us of influence on Saudi International Humanitarian Law compliance.
“I am also deeply concerned by the impact the German government’s decision is having on the supply chains of both UK and European defence industry, and may ultimately have on Europe’s ability to fulfil its NATO commitments. (…)
“It is imperative that you exclude major European defence projects, such as Eurofighter Typhoon and Panavia Tornado from the freeze on arms exports, for three reasons.
“First: these are significant, high profile multinational projects to which you have committed your Government politically, in Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the European Partner Nations. I appreciate that these are arguably not, formally speaking, “treaties.” But the use of MoUs in this context is a matter of pure form, driven by the need to keep the arrangements confidential. The form does not at all detract from the seriousness and constraint of your and our commitments to each other, and our mutual reliance on them, set out in these documents.
“Second: there is a wider point. If Germany is seeking to develop future defence capabilities with European partners in the future, the freeze on exports to Saudi Arabia will create a damaging lack of confidence in Germany’s reliability as a partner and willingness to export jointly to third countries.
“And, third, there must be a risk of litigation and associated legal liability arising from the impact of your actions on the European commercial operators affected. It is surely in all our interests to avoid that.
“I understand one unintended consequence of the freeze is the impact on the delivery of Meteor Air-to-Air missiles to European Partner Nations. This is because Saudi Arabia is one of the destinations on the overall license, but the German government has frozen the license. My UK Defence Ministry counterpart told me the deliveries of 260 missiles to the Royal Air Force are delayed as well as to France, Spain, Italy and Sweden. As this is now an operational missile, such delays can have operational consequences, including, potentially, our readiness to fulfil NATO commitments at a time of increasing scrutiny of Allies’ resolve. (…)
“I understand seven German suppliers have valid licenses but are not shipping to Saudi Arabia; the freeze is costing German defence suppliers €2.3bn over the next seven years.”
The letter clearly illustrates how much pressure Berlin is under from Europe. In addition to France, Britain is considered one of the closest allies in NATO. Paris has similarly criticized the arms embargo against Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Minister Maas should therefore have a lot to discuss with his colleague when he is a guest at the Berlin Foreign Office on Wednesday. He looks forward to the visit to Berlin, Hunt writes in his letter, when he will once again explain in detail all the points in private.
(EDITOR’S NOTE: The except from Hunt’s letter was obtained by the German blog Augen geradeaus!)