German controls on arms exports of limited value

April 18, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun

BERLIN -- Germany's much-publicized decision last month to strengthen its control of illegal weapon exports is expected to do little to slow the sale of arms overseas.

This is the consensus of arms control experts and industrial leaders, such as Heinrich Weiss, president of the Federal Union of German Industry. Without export controls throughout Europe, one country's actions will have little effect, Mr. Weiss said.

"France and Germany have completely different export conditions for the same product. This can't continue," Mr. Weiss said.

This contradiction was highlighted during the Persian Gulf war, with some of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons made partly by German firms located in France, which has looser export controls than Germany for some products. The Hot and Milan missile systems, for example, were made partly in France by a German aeronautics firm, Messerschmidt-Boelkow-Bloem.

Other German companies also have set up plants in France and Britain, such as tank manufacturer Krauss-Maffei, artillery producer Rheinmetall and munitions supplier Diehl. This allows the manufacturers to escape Germany's ban on arms exports to areas of conflict.

Germany's latest move to limit weapons exports includes setting up an enforcement office with special powers to tap telephones and open letters of companies suspected of violating the laws. But because of the ease with which companies can set up abroad, this will do little to stop exports, according to Edzard Reuter, chairman of Daimler-Benz, Germany's largest weapons manufacturer.

"The current situation is not tolerable economically for the affected companies," Mr. Reuter wrote in a letter to German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

Mr. Reuter, whose company has been stung by government allegations that it sold Scud missile transporters to Iraq, said companies needed clearer rules, perhaps laid down by the European Community or the United Nations.

Controls in Europe will be even harder, if not impossible, to enforce by the end of next year, when the unified European market starts up. Export controls between European countries will fall, allowing companies simply to export their weapons to a European country with weak export legislation and re-export them to any part of the world.

"When the borders fall, there will be no effective controls," said Peter Kittelmann, a representative of the ruling Christian Democratic Union in the German parliament. "Something will have to happen."

There is little discussion in the European Community about weapons control laws. Many member countries are loath to sacrifice control over weapons sales, which are viewed as an important foreign policy tool.

All European countries have a ready-made veto over weapons control legislation in the form of Article 223 of the community's treaty, which exempts countries from providing information that hurts "security interests."

"The idea that other countries would go along with the German [weapons control] policies is an absurd belief," said Erich Riedl, state secretary in the German Economics Ministry.

Individual country's control over weapons is further eroded because regimes that want sophisticated weapons systems have learned to buy components from different countries, Mr. Riedl said. The components themselves may be harmless but together could make, for example, a chemical weapons system.

Many countries find it especially convenient to shop for components in Europe, where three of the top six weapons exporters to the Third World -- Britain, France and Germany -- are located and have interlocking operations. The other three major exporters are the United States, the Soviet Union and China.

If the EC were to introduce meaningful legislation, it would be a big step toward controlling arms proliferation in the Third World, Mr. Riedl said.

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