"Consequences for NATO": Germany Rebuffs UK Call To Back Off Saudi Arms Freeze

Germany is feeling the pressure from western allies over its weapons exports freeze in the wake of the Saudi killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a freeze first announced in November, which included plans to reject any future export licences to Riyadh, but not previously approved deals. 

German allies like the UK have lately implored the German government to soften its stance, noting the potential broader economic impact on Europe. British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt, currently in Berlin to discuss the terms of Brexit, reportedly wrote to the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a private letter first revealed by Der Spiegel that UK defense companies would be hindered in contractual obligations related to Eurofighter Typhoon and the Tornado fighter jet delivery, namely to supply parts affected by the German arms freeze. 

F-5E J-3065 and Eurofighter Typhoon. Image source: Eurofighter Gmbh-Austrian AF

Hunt told Maas in the letter published in German press: “I am very concerned about the impact of the German government’s decision on the British and European defence industry and the consequences for Europe’s ability to fulfil its Nato commitments.”

This follows comments by German chancellor Angela Merkel at the past weekend's Munich Security Conference acknowledging the need for "common export controls guidelines" across Europe. She said during a question-and-answer session after her speech at the conference:

We have because of our history very good reasons to have very strict arms export guidelines, but we have just as good reasons in our defense community to stand together in a joint defense policy. And if we want … to develop joint fighter planes, joint tanks, then there’s no other way but to move step-by-step towards common export controls guidelines.

However, German Economy Ministry spokeswoman indicated that no change was imminent when questioned by Reuters. “The view of the government is clear and there is no new situation. There is at the moment no basis for further approvals,” she said.

Germany has further said the decision to halt new arms sales is connected to the worsening humanitarian catastrophe still unfolding in Yemen, led by the Saudis and its gulf and US/UK allies. 

On Wednesday Mass reaffirmed while speaking to reporters following the meeting with Hunt: “We are not delivering any weapons to Saudi Arabia at the moment and we will make future decisions depend on how the Yemen conflict develops and whether what has been agreed in the peace talks in Stockholm is being implemented,” according to Reuters

Interestingly, the UK also appears ready to play the Russia and China card, warning Germany that Riyadh could turn to Russia and Chinese defense companies should Europe prove an unwilling partner. 

But the most pressing and immediate UK concern remains the pending jet deal. Reuters notes that this week's meeting in Berlin "followed complaints last week from a top Airbus official who told Reuters that the halt was preventing Britain from completing the sale of 48 Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes to Riyadh. He said the issue was also affecting potential sales of other weapons such as the A400M military transporter."

The four countries involved in the production of the Eurofighter include Germany, Britain, Italy, and Spain, involving the companies Airbus, BAE and Italy’s Leonardo.