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National export controls

Federal Government export controls policy

When it comes to arms exports, the German Government pursues a responsible and restrictive licensing policy. In contrast to the practice in a number of other countries, Germany does not treat arms exports as an instrument of foreign policy. Decisions on arms exports are taken after careful consideration of external, security and human rights aspects.

The German Government controls the export of dual-use goods with regard to their potential application in the conventional military sphere or for weapons of mass destruction. It focuses here on striking a suitable balance between the freedom of foreign trade and the application of unavoidable restrictions.

The Federal Government’s Political Principles governing Arms Exports

The Political Principles of the German Government governing the Export of War Weapons and Other Military Equipment as valid from 19 January 2000 give special importance to the human rights criterion.

The human rights criterion is described in detail and its requirements precisely defined for the first time in the Political Principles. Arms exports, that is exports of war weapons and other armaments, as well as dual-use goods (i.e. goods which can be used for both military and civilian purposes) intended to serve military purposes, will not be licensed if there is “sufficient reason” to suspect that the equipment concerned (weapons, ammunition, specially constructed vehicles, but also software) will be used for internal repression or for any other human rights violations. The general human rights situation in the country of destination plays an important role in this assessment.

Other criteria also play a major role – such as the internal situation in the country of final destination resulting from tensions or armed conflicts, the preservation of peace, security and stability in a region, the purchasing country’s stance towards the international community, especially its position on terrorism and its compliance with international non-proliferation obligations, or the risk of the equipment being diverted once in the purchasing country (for example to terrorist organisations) or re-exported to crisis regions.

Other important aspects of the Political Principles governing Arms Exports are as follows:

  • The German Government maintains a restrictive policy on the export of armaments to “third countries”, i.e. countries which are not members of the EU or NATO or NATO-equivalent countries (Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Japan). Under the War Weapons Control Act, the export of war weapons requires a licence, and such licences are not generally granted where third countries are concerned, unless in specific cases there are particular German foreign or security-policy interests which, mindful of Alliance interests, suggest that a licence should be granted in an exceptional instance.
  • Not only exports of war weapons but also exports of other armaments require a licence under the Foreign Trade and Payments Act.
  • The receiving state must maintain effective export controls so as to ensure that the goods remain within the country of final destination.

EU Common Position defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment

The Council Common Position of 8 December 2008 defining common rules to govern control of exports or military technology and equipment updated and replaced the EU Code of Conduct on Arms Exports (which merely placed member states under a political obligation), making the rules legally binding on all EU member states. The Federal Government incorporated the EU Common Position into its Political Principles governing Arms Exports, making it an integral part of German policy on arms export controls. The Common Position is outlined in greater detail under “International export controls”.

International export controls

Export control of small arms and their ammunition

Against the background of the small arms problem in the Third World, the existence of grey and black markets for arms and the increased need for counter-terrorism measures, the German Government’s arms control policy helps to ensure that small arms and their ammunition are handled responsibly.

The German Government has particularly strict national standards regarding the licensing of small arms exports, and advocates at international level both the responsible harmonisation of political guidelines on small arms exports and greater transparency in small arms transfers by means of more rigorous state reporting requirements. In order to enhance the internal and external transparency of its own practices, the German Government compiles a country-by-country list detailing the value of small arms and ammunition supplied as well as the actual number of items exported under each individual licence to so-called third countries outside the EU/NATO. The Federal Government has thus assumed a pioneering role within the European Union in making its small arms exports transparent.

In order to ensure that small arms are intended for a responsible end-use, licences issued for supplies to state end-users for export from or transit through Germany are single-transaction only. The receiving state must submit a declaration on end-user to this effect. Furthermore, in keeping with the Federal Government’s Political Principles governing Arms Exports (19 January 2000) and the EU Common Position defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment (8 December 2008), respect for human rights in the country of destination is a crucial factor in any decision on exports.

As before, new production lines for small arms in third countries outside NATO and the EU will not be authorised, and the export principle “new for old” will be applied wherever possible. According to this principle, supply contracts are to stipulate that old arms have to be destroyed when new arms are supplied, thus preventing their resale.

The Federal Government Report on Military Equipment Exports

In keeping with its Political Principles governing Arms Exports, the Federal Government presents an annual Report on Military Equipment Exports, which shows how Germany’s principles in this area were implemented in the previous calendar year and gives details of licences issued by the Federal Government for the export of war weapons and other armaments in line with legal provisions.

According to the 2013 report, the German Government issued single-transaction export licences for armaments worth a total of some 5.8 billion euros. Of this figure, 38% were destined for EU member states, NATO and NATO-equivalent countries. There was almost no change in exports of war weapons compared to 2012 (–1.4%). Like in the previous year, war weapons exports only accounted for 0.09% of total German exports.

Licences were issued only following a thorough examination of individual cases which sought in particular to ensure that German military equipment would not serve to violate human rights or to exacerbate crises.

Decisions relating to the issue of licences were based on the EU Common Position defining common rules governing control of exports of military technology and equipment and the Federal Government’s Political Principles governing Arms Exports dating from 2000 (see above).


Last updated 12.06.2014

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