German Arms Exports Surge To Record High, Hungary Biggest Buyer

After three years of declines, German arms exports exploded higher in 2019 as critics suggest this proves controls on weapons deliveries are not working.

Following requests for the data from the socialist Left Party and the Greens, reports that, according to documents they have seen from the Economy Ministry, German arms exports rose 65% from January to mid-December 2019 compared to 2018 and hit a record of €7.95 billion ($8.8 billion).

The largest number of German weapons deliveries in 2019 went to Hungary, where exports reached €1.77 billion.

Exports to Budapest made up almost a quarter of the total value of all approvals. Prime Minister Viktor Orban's right-wing, nationalist government is currently engaged in a massive military upgrade.

However, in spite of government assurances that Germany would no longer arm countries involved in the Yemen conflict as part of the coalition deal reached in 2018, DW reports that the documents showed that two of Germany's top 10 arms export customers, Egypt at number two and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at number nine, were also active participants in the war in Yemen.

"The most important thing is to ask is where the war weapons go, and to which countries," Katja Keul, Green party parliamentarian and arms policy spokeswoman, told DW.

"And the number of war weapons exports have doubled since last year."

The most controversial exports are those to so-called third countries: defined as neither European Union or NATO members (or "NATO-equivalent," such as Australia).

"That is certainly striking, because the government has said it is being more restrictive," said Keul.

"If you export weapons of war into crisis regions to countries that are not bound to us by any kind of alliance, you are of course destabilizing the region." 

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier blamed the huge increase on a backlog caused by the monthslong wrangling to form a coalition following Germany's 2017 election.

"More important is the type of goods and their purpose," he wrote. "The government pursues a restrictive and responsible arms export control policy."

However, Left party Bundestag member Sevim Dagdelen, who filed one of the information requests, said in a statement:

"These sizable figures show that the entire export control system is simply not working. We need clear legal bans on arms exports."