OTTAWA – Germany is carefully reviewing all future arms exports to Saudi Arabia because of human rights concerns, but won’t cancel previously negotiated deals.
German officials have explained to The Canadian Press why the country has stopped allowing the export of some military hardware to Saudi Arabia.
Germany’s position offers a counterpoint to the position of Canada, a NATO ally, and the recent clamour over an Ontario company’s deal to export $15 billion worth of light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s execution of 47 people earlier this month, including a prominent Shiite cleric, has renewed calls on the federal Liberal government to suspend the lucrative deal between Saudi Arabia and General Dynamics Land Systems.
The Liberals, like the Conservatives before them, have said they will not cancel the deal.
But Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has criticized Saudi Arabia for the mass executions and is considering releasing a partially censored version of the latest human rights assessment of the country.
German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, who is also the country’s economic affairs minister, says all pending arms deals between German firms and Saudi Arabia will be closely monitored.
“We must now review whether in future we should take a more critical stance on defensive armaments, which we have so far sold to Saudi Arabia for its national defence,” Gabriel said in a statement following the recent Saudi executions.
A spokesman for Gabriel’s office said the department has recently blocked export approval to Saudi Arabia for “offensive weapons” such as battle tanks and the G36 assault rifle because they could be used for “oppressive measures.”
Gabriel has taken a hard line towards Saudi arms exports since becoming economic affairs minister two years ago. The portfolio gives him final say over Germany’s exports, and his tough stance has sent ripples through the German defence industry.
A German official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Gabriel has been making “a distinction between what we call ‘offensive goods’ and what we call ‘defensive goods.'”
Gabriel has said he will continue to critically review the export of so-called defensive goods.
“We have a constant review process every time a permit is applied for,” said the German official, stressing that Germany had not retroactively cancelled any previously negotiated deal.
“I don’t know the details of other countries,” the official said when asked about the Canadian deal. “But we’ve taken a more critical or more restrictive point of view in the past already.”
The decision has not been without consequences, the official noted. The German company, Heckler and Koch, is suing the government for blocking export of gun components to Saudi Arabia that it could use to manufacture its own versions of the G36.