Navigation

Internal hyperlinks for navigation

Topic - Export Controls for Military Equipment

A restrictive, responsible policy on the export of military equipment

Introduction

Exports of military equipment are different from other exports. For this reason, the German government has imposed particularly strict rules on itself in this sensitive area and pursues a particularly restrictive licensing policy.

Anyone wanting to export military equipment requires a licence. Licences are only issued on a case-by-case basis following detailed scrutiny. The German government pays particular attention to ensuring that the goods will not be misused to commit human rights violations or to exacerbate a crisis. Decisions on licences for exports of military equipment are primarily based on foreign and security policy considerations, and not on commercial or labour-market interests.

For exports of military equipment, there are no simple solutions, and certainly no “black and white” decisions. Instead, it makes sense to look at the precise circumstances. For example, Germany delivers military equipment to other countries, e.g. to protect coastal waters or to combat terrorism. Also, Germany is integrated into international security structures and has entered into Alliance commitments. This means that there can be instances of legitimate security policy and Alliance policy interests which can justify the export of military equipment and war weapons.

The German government has also always pursued a restrictive export control policy for “dual use goods”, i.e. goods which can be used both for civilian and military purposes; there is a basic cross-party political consensus on this. The same applies to the export of surveillance technology, which the government wishes to restrict. For further information, please click here (in German).

Four statistics on military equipment exports

7.86
Symbolicon für Geldscheine

billion euros
was the total value individual licences issued for exports of military equipment in 2015

31.6
Symbolicon für Wachstumskurve

per cent
was the fall in the value of export licences issued for small arms between 2014 and 2015

119
Symbolicon für eine Aufgabenliste

collective export licences were issued in 2015

41
Symbolicon für Tortendiagramm

per cent
of individual export licences were for exports to EU, NATO and NATO-equivalent countries

Current statistics

Federal Government presents 2015 Report on Military Equipment Exports

The cabinet adopted the 2015 Report on Military Equipment Exports on 6 July 2016. Whilst the value of the licences remained high in 2015, and actually rose above the figure for 2014 due to special factors, the value of licences issued for small arms dropped sharply. Small arms are particularly sensitive military equipment, since they cause the largest number of casualties in internal and cross-border conflicts and can be passed on more easily and even be misused by criminals.

In 2015, individual export licences worth a total of €7.86 billion were issued (2014: €3.97 billion). However, the number or value of licences does not permit any conclusions to be drawn about the direction of the government’s policy on exports of military equipment, since individual large orders regularly cause the figures to fluctuate.

For a more differentiated understanding of the policy on exports of military equipment, it is vital to consider the nature of the exported good, the ways it can be used, and the specific country of destination. For example, a large proportion (41%) of export licences in 2015 were for EU/NATO and NATO-equivalent countries. The higher value of the licences in 2015 compared with 2014 is due not least to the export of four tanker aircraft to the United Kingdom (€1.1 billion).

Economic Affairs Ministry publishes additional interim report for first half of 2016

On 26 October 2016, the Economic Affairs Ministry published the interim report on exports of military equipment in the first half of 2016. The restrictive and responsible policy on the export of military equipment was continued in the first half of 2016. In total, export licences worth €4.03 billion were issued up to 30 June 2016. Of this, €1.71 billion (approximately 42.5%) was accounted for by EU, NATO and NATO-equivalent countries.
The total figure must also be seen against a backdrop of rising defence spending worldwide and an entirely new terrorist threat scenario. According to independent research institutes, the volume of exports of military equipment rose by around 14% in the last five years compared with the preceding five-year period, and global military spending for 2015 is estimated to have amounted to USD 1676 billion (source: SIPRI - Trends in World Military Expenditure, 2015).

The interim report can be downloaded here.

Provisional figures for 2016 as a whole

According to initial provisional figures, which were published by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy on 20 January 2017, export licences for military equipment fell by a billion euros in 2016 as a whole. According to these provisional figures, the value of individual licences for the export of military equipment in 2016 was €6.88 billion. In the year before, 2015, the equivalent figure was €7.86 billion.
FAQs

Selected infographics on military equipment exports

Principles and procedures

Every application is scrutinised

Decisions on exports of military equipment are always taken on a case-by-case basis. Germany has strict rules for this. Not least, licences can only be issued if there is no danger that the military equipment will be used in connection with peace-disturbing acts.

The Federal Government decides on such exports on the basis of the Basic Law, the War Weapons Control Act (in German), the Foreign Trade and Payments Act (in German), the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance (in German), the “Political Principles Adopted by the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany for the Export of War Weapons and Other Military Equipment” of 19 January 2000 (“Political Principles”) (PDF: 90 KB; in German) and the EU Council Common Position defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment of 8 December 2008. Together with the new small arms and post-shipment principles adopted by the government, the German government has adopted the strictest rules on the export of military equipment in the history of the Federal Republic. In some respects, the German government applies stricter criteria than those imposed in the EU Council Common Position.

A particularly strict regime for exports to third countries

The German government examines the export applications very thoroughly on the basis of these rules. The examination attaches great significance to the preservation of peace, security and stability, and the upholding of human rights. The criteria for the examination differentiate between the EU, NATO and NATO-equivalent countries (Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland) on the one hand and “third countries” on the other.

The Federal Government adheres to very strict principles in the case of exports of military equipment to “third countries” - i.e. those outside the EU, NATO and NATO-equivalent countries: the export of war weapons is not licensed unless special foreign or security policy interests argue in favour of a licence in an individual case. The manufacture, trade, brokering and export of war weapons are subject to the strict provisions of the War Weapons Control Act. This Act states explicitly that no-one enjoys an entitlement to the granting of an export licence. The export of “other military equipment” (military equipment which is not war weapons) is governed by the Foreign Trade and Payments Act and Ordinance. The Foreign Trade and Payments Act lays down the principle that foreign trade and investment is not generally subject to restrictions. For this reason, the applicant is basically entitled to receive an export licence unless essential security or foreign policy interests of the Federal Republic of Germany or other reasons (Section 4 of the Act) argue against this. Pursuant to Section 4 of the Foreign Trade and Payments Act, a licence can be refused if the security interests of Germany are endangered, the peaceful co-existence of nations is disrupted, or a substantial disturbance to Germany’s foreign relations is likely.

Who decides whether a licence should be issued?

Apart from the fields of the Bundeswehr, the customs frontier service and the agencies responsible for maintaining public security, the responsibility for issuing licences has been transferred to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. It decides on applications to export war weapons in agreement with the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry of Defence. For other military equipment, responsibility rests with the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA).

Decisions on projects to export military equipment are taken following a careful weighing up, including input from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Federal Foreign Office, of the respective arguments in terms of foreign, security and human rights policy. Where there are differing views between the ministries involved in the decision-making process, or the cases are especially significant, the Federal Security Council usually decides on the issuance or denial of export licences.

Frequently asked questions on exports of military equipment

Are exports of military equipment a tool of economic policy?

See answer Open detail view

Will the current Federal Government take a more restrictive approach to licences for the export of military equipment?

See answer Open detail view

What export licences were issued by the German government in 2015?

See answer Open detail view

Stricter rules

New small arms principles / better end-use controls

Particularly strict controls are required for the export of small arms, since they cause the largest number of casualties in internal and cross-border conflicts and can end up more easily in the wrong hands.‪ At the initiative of Minister Sigmar Gabriel, new “small arms principles” impose stricter rules on exports to third countries. And new post-shipment controls will make it possible to conduct checks in the country of destination in order to prevent the equipment from being handed on without permission.‬‬

Greater regulation of small arms

In order to improve the control of small arms and light weapons (particularly machine guns, submachine guns and assault rifles), the German government has adopted the “Small Arms Principles” (Principles on the issue of licences for the export of small and light weapons, related ammunition and corresponding manufacturing equipment to third countries).

They supplement the strict criteria of the existing Political Principles. The new Small Arms Principles provide not least that in principle no licences to export components and technology to third countries (e.g. in the context of the granting of licences to manufacture) will be granted where such exports would lead to the establishment of a new manufacturing line for small arms or the relevant ammunition. The basic principle is “new for old”. If the recipient wishes to obtain small arms, he needs to discard and destroy old small arms in order to be sent the new ones. The aim is to prevent the proliferation of small arms. In cases in which the new purchase covers a credible need on the part of the recipient for more equipment, and old weapons do not need to be destroyed, the recipient has to make a binding promise to destroy the new weapons when they are discarded (the “alternative” principle of “New, destroy when discarded”). Also, recipients in third countries will in future require the agreement of the German government before they hand small arms on to other recipients in the country of destination than those covered by the export licence.

Introduction of post-shipment controls

In order to improve the controls of the end-use of war weapons and other military equipment, the German government has decided to introduce “post-shipment controls” on a pilot basis in third countries. What this means is that, before the export licence is issued, state recipients of small arms in third countries will have to agree to actual controls of the cited end-use of the military equipment in the country of destination. In other words, following the export, it will be possible to inspect whether the small arms are actually still in the possession of the end-user in the country of destination. This can prevent small arms from being passed on to others without permission. This improves end-use verification for military equipment exported from Germany.

The German government created the basis for this in July 2015 in its key principles on the introduction of post-shipment controls and in changes made to the Foreign Trade and Payments Ordinance in March 2016. Germany is thus introducing a system where controls for exports of military equipment are not completed after the granting of an export licence. Germany is a pioneer in this, alongside just a few other countries, at European and international level.

In order to gather initial experience with on-the-spot controls, the German government is concentrating on controlling small arms in a pilot phase. The first on-the-spot controls can of course not be carried out until weapons have been produced and exported subject to post-shipment controls. The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy expects the first controls to be carried out this year.

Dual use goods and surveillance technology

Dual use goods are not military equipment. They are goods that can be used both for civilian and for military purposes, such as machine tools, testing and measuring equipment, materials, valves, electronics and a host of other industrial products. Their export is regulated at European Level by the Dual Use Regulation. Further information can be found here (in German).

Greater transparency

Providing information about exports of military equipment more fully and more quickly

Defence-related goods are not like “normal” exports, and so the German government attaches particular value to greater transparency. This includes providing the public and the Bundestag with information more fully and more quickly.

The 2015 Military Equipment Export Report was published on 6 July 2016, the third time that this has happened before the summer recess. This means that the period of time between the issuing of the licences and the presentation of the report is substantially shortened – in the past, the Military Equipment Export Report was not presented until the autumn or the winter. Also, and for the second time, on 21 October 2015 the German government presented an additional interim report (in German) on the export licences issued in the first half of the year.

Intensive dialogue with groups in society

The Federal Government is vigorously promoting an intensive dialogue about German policy on the export of military equipment with churches, trade unions, industry, NGOs and other groups in society. To this end, a dialogue forum on German policy on the export of military equipment was set up in July 2015 in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy; its second meeting was held in April 2016.

The government answers questions in parliament about a wide range of aspects of military equipment export policy; the answers can be found here (in German).

Timely information for parliament on export licences

As part of its transparency campaign, in June 2014 the cabinet adopted changes to the rules of procedure of the Federal Security Council so that for the first time the parliament could be informed about final decisions on licences for the export of military equipment. In this way, the German government is going beyond the demands made by the Federal Constitutional Court: it is informing the parliament not only when requested to do so, but proactively after each session of the Federal Security Council.

The German government has disclosed all the final decisions on licences for the export of military equipment taken by the Federal Security Council since 2002

The Federal Security Council only handles politically sensitive exports of military equipment – and particularly those of war weapons to third countries. The German government has now disclosed all the final decisions on licences taken by this body since 2002: in its answer to a question in parliament (BT-Drucksache 18/3002 (PDF: 8,6 MB; in German), the government has stated in detail which exports have been approved by the Federal Security Council since 2002. The German government has thus provided transparency for decisions from previous years, matching the level of transparency for current decisions. A new feature is that the companies exporting the equipment are named.

Further information

  • 06/07/2016 - Press release - Economic Policy

    Press release: Cabinet adopts 2015 Military Equipment Export Report

    Open detail view
Güterbahnhof zum Thema Rüstungsexportkontrolle; Quelle: Getty Images/Fabian Wentzel