Merkel Rival Attacks Germany’s Soaring Arms Exports

Top candidate for the 2013 German general elections Peer Steinbrueck of the German Social Democratic Party addresses a news conference


Peer Steinbrueck, set to challenge Angela Merkel as German leader next year, criticized her centre-right government on Saturday for letting arms exports surge and vowed to end that if his centre-left opposition wins power.

The former finance minister, nominated to lead the Social Democrats (SPD) into September’s election against Merkel, said it was a scandal that Germany has become the world’s third largest arms exporter on her watch, reports Reuters.

Arms exports are a sensitive issue in Germany due to its Nazi past and the role arms makers such as Krupp played in stoking 19th and 20th century wars with exports to both sides.

After World War Two, successive West German and later united German governments placed tight restrictions on arms exports, especially to regions where there were armed conflicts or where human rights were poorly respected.

“It’s a scandal and extremely dangerous that Germany has become the world’s third largest exporter of weapons,” Steinbrueck, who hopes to form a coalition with the Greens party, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Saturday.

“An SPD-Greens government led by me would change that,” said Steinbrueck, 65. “We’re even exporting weapons to regions in conflict and to areas where human rights aren’t respected.”

The SPD and Greens would win a combined 43 percent of the vote, according to an ARD TV opinion poll by the Infratest dimap institute published on Friday. That is more than Merkel’s conservatives but not enough to form a majority coalition.

Merkel’s conservatives would win 40 percent. Her Free Democrat (FDP) allies would win 4 percent, failing to clear the 5 percent hurdle needed for seats. The Left party would win 7 percent, according to the poll. If so, the SPD-Greens bloc would need 48 percent of votes to secure a parliamentary majority.

As a result, many analysts see a repeat of the 2005-2009 grand coalition of Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD as a likely election outcome.

In 2001 Germany was the world’s sixth largest arms exporter with $925 million sold abroad, behind the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Italy.

Germany now trails only the United States and Russia after exporting $2.476 billion in 2010, according to latest available data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Germany ranks ninth in the world on its own defense spending.