Germany troubled by arms sales to Turkey

Germany has long sold armaments to its NATO ally Turkey, but its former insistence that German tanks only be used for self-defence has fallen by the wayside in recent years, possibly under pressure from the arms industry and a desire to protect jobs, the Washington Post said.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said this week that a decision on whether to sell new tanks to Turkey would be put off until after a new coalition had been formed in Berlin after media reports that German-made Leopard 2 tanks may have been used in the Turkish offensive in northern Syria.

The newspaper cited United Nations reports as saying an estimated 5,000 people had been displaced and at least two dozen civilians killed in the northwestern Syrian enclave of Afrin where Turkish troops launched an offensive a week ago.

Germany sold Turkey more than 400 tanks in the 1980s and 1990s as part of what it called “German NATO defence aid,” but with the proviso they only be used for self-defence.

The possible use of the tanks against armed Kurdish separatists in Turkey has long provoked debate in Germany over whether that constituted self-defence. Turkey says its fight against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), recognised as a terrorist organisation by both the European Union and the United States, is a clear case of self-defence.

By 2005, when Germany sold Turkey another 354 upgraded tanks, the self-defence condition had been dropped, the newspaper quoted Der Spiegel as saying.

“We should of course wonder to what extent export revenue, jobs and the lobby from the arms industry plays a role in these decisions,” it quoted Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as saying.

Even if Germany does take the decision to freeze arms exports to Germany, however, it will have little effect on Turkish military operations, the newspaper said.

“Even if Germany decided to stop selling weapons to Turkey now, they've got decades worth of German weaponry to use in these sorts of assaults against the Kurds,” it quoted global arms trade expert Andrew Feinstein as saying.