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Konrad Werner: Germany’s arms race against itself

Germany needs to keep selling more weapons so it can raise its defence budget. Or the other way round. Whatever, the country is basically in an arms race with itself.

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Photo courtesy of the Bundeswehr

Not so long ago – 25 years in fact – the last thing anyone wanted was a militarized Germany. Back in those days, Margaret Thatcher used to lie awake at night, her bowels twisted up with indigestion from Helmut Kohl’s great sausage specials, worrying that after the Teutonic hefferlump had reunited Germany, he would ditch 40 years of federalism, mount a metal war horse, and fix his monstrous appetite on spearing a big bowl of Polish pierogi. It was a real fear. How things have changed – barely a single American general or secretary of state or janitor can give an interview without demanding that Germany get its shit together and start bombing the Middle East like everyone else. “Liberty,” said former Secretary of State James Baker III, “don’t come cheap.” No, it costs brown people’s blood.

And finally Germany is paying attention – for the first time in a long time, Angela Merkel’s coalition government has promised to buy more tanks for the German army. As of 2015. This has come partly in response to recent reports that German military equipment is falling apart, and partly in case Russia invades Brandenburg. Or something. Why settle for one excuse when you have two?

At the same time, a new bi-annual weapons export report published this week shows that German arms sales to non-NATO countries have hardly dipped in the past six months. Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel had promised to clamp down on this, but that hasn’t happened. While Gabriel has, let’s be fair, cut down on the number of machine guns being sold abroad, he also sold €600 million worth of warships and submarines to foreign countries. Over 90 percent of proposed deals were approved. That’s because, as he put it, “Ships can’t be used either for the suppression of the opposition in your own country, or to wage civil wars.” So that’s alright then.

There’s a reason for this. No matter how much Gabriel might want to stop selling weapons, he hasn’t really got a choice, because the two things – defence budgets and weapons exports – are tied together. Germany needs to keep selling weapons abroad to make it worthwhile for domestic arms makers to develop new weapons for the Bundeswehr to use. And the defence budget needs to keep being raised so the Bundeswehr can keep buying the hardware to keep the defence industry going. That means that Germany has a necessary interest in keeping the state of permanent war – described here – going. We have to bomb something.