Act One, Part 2: the Consequences for Ukraine and Saudi Arabia
The incident: Ukraine as a game-changer…
Until February 2022, the main provisions of the Coalition contract have been the very guidelines of the new Government on arms export policy, especially no sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE or Egypt. But, in February, the Russian invasion of Ukraine overturned the whole table: in three days only (from the 24th to the 27th, day of the famous speech on the Zeitenwende), the German Government has completed changed its mindset on the sensitive topic of arms deliveries to countries at war.
To be honest, Mr. Habeck was the first to have the courage to speak about the urgent necessity of supplying arms to Ukraine: in May 2021, he claimed that defensive weapons could hardly be refused to Ukrainian soldiers in the Donbass, but saying that in in the midst of an election campaign was so sensitive that he has been obliged to come back to the electoral platform of his party: no arms delivery to countries at war, in the name of the historical pacifism of the Party.
War in Ukraine has swept away the wind of pacifism. But the maturation has been long: from the Speech on the Zeitenwende to the that one before the Bundeswehr (16th September), the Chancellery has fumbled several months to find at last the right position to stick to: arms deliveries are allowed when a peaceful country has been aggressed, a serious breach to the traditional pacifism of the Bündnis 90/die Grünen.
From Ukraine to Saudi Arabia, there was only one rung of the ladder to climb: maybe the higher, the harder, but only one. In the new geopolitics by Mr. Scholz, Saudi Arabia is, yes, an authoritarian regime but also a country under daily aggression (by Iran).
In two major speeches, delivered by Mrs. Lambrecht (on the 12th of September in front of the DGAP) and a few days later by the Chancellor himself (on the 16th for the Bundeswehrtagung), the course has dramatically changed: Germany should be a trustful and reliable partner, including when some indirect exports can be “dilemmas” (Baerbock).
These speeches paved the way to the first breach of the provisions of the Coalition contract: a few days before his trip to the oil-rich monarchies of the Gulf, the Federal Security Council agreed on the first indirect sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, in the name of the German solidarity with its European partners and by respect of the already-signed contracts, two main principles already used by Sigmar Gabriel, then Vice-Chancellor and Minister for Economy, in November 2013, to justify the export of Lürssen patrol boats to the Saudi coast guard.
These authorizations were modest: €36.1m for the air-to-air missiles for the Saudi Typhoons, a €1.3m spare and parts budget of the EAU fleet of the MRTT and military heads for the RAM system devoted to the self-protection of the Meko frigates sold to Egypt.
The development: Saudi Arabia, an export too far?
For Mrs. Neumann, the analysis is crystal-clear: if Ukraine is a cause, Saudi Arabia is a mistake. An export case too far in the realism. In an interview with the Spiegel Plus (6th October), she led the following counter-attack:
The basis of the decision taken by the Security Council is politically understandable but morally reprehensible: honesty requires recognizing that Saudi Arabia is involved in the war in Yemen and used the Eurofighter there and bombed civilian targets; the decision is therefore personally wrong for her: “persönlich finde Ich die Entscheidung falsch”.
The most important thing is to avoid the repetition of such a situation; Mrs. Neumann developed her analysis: in substance, so she said, the coalition contract excludes any delivery of arms to the countries involved in this war; from her point of view, these deliveries are neither covered by the Federal directives nor by the European common rules which also apply to partner countries.
On the form, if the government gave in, the reason is the consequence of the pressure exerted on Germany by its partners (UK and France mainly); Mrs Neumann admits the effects of such pressure or such solidarity: "I can understand that in a situation where we are at war with Russia and where European solidarity is urgent in all areas, you did not want to enter into a major conflict with France.”
But the key issue is how to avoid this embarrassing situation in the future, where there is no ethical choice possible and only bad choices. She takes up the ideas of her previous proposals:
--European harmonisation: “we must clarify in principle how we are going to deal with the export of arms produced jointly with EU partners. The sooner we do this, the better, because otherwise it will constantly cause chaos and also paralyze European cooperation in the armaments sector.”
--France, the one to convince: “There is a player in the European armaments sector which has been formulating its interests very clearly and very strongly for at least ten years. It's France. The French conduct an arms export policy essentially oriented towards economic interests. This is contrary to what we agreed together at European level in 2008.”
--A clear formulation of the federal position: “this will be the case with the law on the control of arms exports, which will soon be available and will be based on the common European position, which will be transposed into binding national legislation.”
--Especially for exports of equipment produced together: “I expect this law to also apply to joint projects, at least as long as there is no European solution. It's the only way to get France to negotiate with us on exactly that. So far, they have always done well with their maximum pressure.” For Ms. Neumann, it is hardly understandable that “the Minister of Defence has adopted the position of the French arms lobby”.
--France is directly targeted: Paris is accused of imposing its ideas, “which is not particularly European: And to conclude by advocating to negotiate on an equal footing with Paris on the way to envisage a common export policy”.
--Exporting outside Europe is not considered useful since the market of the 27 is largely sufficient “We have 27 EU Member States which are considerably increasing their defense budgets. Ukraine has a huge need. The arms industry cannot serve all this at all. So, talking now about relaxing export conditions is absurd.
How will Neumann’s work on arms export controls be taken into account by the Government and by her colleague, Robert Habeck, the minister in charge of this issue?
To be continued in the Second Act.