Tag Archives: black market weapons

Germany’s Weapons Industry: how to make weapon sales invisible

heckler & koch g3 rifle

Germany.. exports a lot of weapons: more than Britain, France or any other country besides America and Russia. Some German makers of military gear are part of civilian industrial giants, such as Airbus Group (which has dropped its ungainly old name, EADS, to adopt the brand of its commercial-aircraft business), and ThyssenKrupp, a steelmaker. But the biggest German company known mainly for weapons, Rheinmetall, is just 26th in the world league of arms-exporting firms. And Krauss Maffei Wegmann (KMW), which makes the Leopard 2 tank, is 54th.

Germans are, in general, proud of their export prowess. But although foreign sales of weaponry bring in almost €1 billion ($1.4 billion) a year, they are a delicate subject, and lately beset by bad press. Several German firms are accused of bribery in Greece. A former defence official there has said that of €8m in bribes he took, €3.2m came from German firms, including Wegmann (now part of KMW) and Rheinmetall. On January 3rd KMW’s alleged middleman was detained after a court hearing. The firm itself denies any bribery. Atlas, a maker of naval weapons owned jointly by Airbus and ThyssenKrupp, is under fire too. A former representative in Athens has reportedly admitted to bribery; the company says it is investigating the matter.

On another front, the industry faces criticism over the countries it sells to—most recently over a deal to sell Leopard 2s to Saudi Arabia. Arms sales to anywhere other than NATO and “NATO-equivalent” countries are in principle forbidden. But the Federal Security Council, headed by Chancellor Angela Merkel, can approve exceptions when foreign policy dictates, as long as they do not harm human rights.

Peace campaigners fear that the exceptions are becoming less exceptional. NATO countries’ budgets are being squeezed, so Germany’s armsmakers are looking farther abroad. Rheinmetall, for example, has a target of 50% of exports outside Europe by 2015. Asia is a growing target: Singapore recently signed a €1.6 billion deal for ThyssenKrupp submarines.

German small arms are also popular. Heckler & Koch’s G3 rifle (together with its variants) is the world’s most popular after the Russian AK-47….But Germany’s arms exports are probably in little danger, since they have the same reputation for reliability as its cars and other industrial goods.

Moreover, there are ways to lessen the controversy of selling things used to wage war. For example, making guns for a fighter jet assembled elsewhere is less visible than selling a German-made tank. Military transport, logistics, surveillance and protective equipment together account for five times as much of German defence firms’ output as weapons and ammunition—and are less likely to be blamed for civilian casualties. Stephan Boehm, an analyst at Commerzbank, sees such non-lethal materiel as a bright spot for German exporters. The flagging fortunes of Rheinmetall, in particular, should be restored by strong sales of the armoured transporters it produces in a joint venture with MAN, a lorry-maker.

Critics say the government is too willing to let arms firms export to dodgy regimes. The Federation of German Security & Defence Industries argues that strong exports are crucial to spread the development costs of the equipment Germany needs to defend itself. This would be less of a problem, the lobby group admits, if Europe’s fragmented defence industry were consolidated; it says the government should not have vetoed a proposal last year to merge EADS with BAE Systems of Britain. Weapons account for less than 1% of Germany’s exports. But it is a 1% that it, like other countries, is loth to give up.

German weapons firms: No farewell to arms, Economist, Jan. 11, 2014, at 56

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The Race for Qaddafi’s Weapons, US in Libya

The fall of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi has kicked off a race to recover key types of weapons taken from his stockpiles, such as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, by getting U.S. operatives to buy them before terrorists do.  There is evidence that a small number of Soviet-made SA-7 anti-aircraft missiles from Qaddafi’s arsenal have reached the black market in Mali, where al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is active, according to two U.S. government officials not authorized to speak on the record.

The disintegration of Qaddafi’s four-decade dictatorship has created a business opportunity for looters trafficking in the war-stricken country’s missiles, which would enable terrorists to attack military or civilian aircraft. With a buyback program, operatives on the ground seek out the sellers and offer high prices to recover the weapons.  “A buyback program is now critically important,” said Matt Schroeder, director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists, in a telephone interview. “In Iraq, hundreds of missiles were recovered like this and in Afghanistan in the 1990s.”

There is no evidence of looting of Libya’s chemical weapons, which have been under 24-hour watch via aerial reconnaissance, electronic surveillance and agents on the ground, according to U.S. officials.

The potential proliferation of Libyan small arms, portable weapons and old artillery shells that can be made into roadside bombs is a threat the U.S. considers serious and has taken urgent steps to combat, according to a State Department official who was not authorized to discuss the threats.  “We’re very concerned about those weapons turning up in neighboring countries,” Frederic Wehrey, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corp. in Santa Monica, California, who has been studying the Libyan uprising, said in a telephone interview. “They’re the ideal terrorist weaponportable, easy to use and capable of inflicting large numbers of casualties.”

Army General Carter Ham, head of the U.S. military’s Africa Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 6 that Libya once had as many as 20,000 surface-to-air missiles. “Many of those, we know, are now not accounted for, and that’s going to be a concern for some period of time,” he said.

The Soviet SA-7 and SA-7b, an updated model, are the main shoulder-fired missile in Qaddafi’s arsenal. The units are about five feet long and sell on the black market for several thousand dollars, although the price fell as low as $500 when Saddam Hussein’s weapons were looted and flooded the market after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to a 2004 report from the Federation of American Scientists….The U.S. State Department is giving $3 million to two international non-profit organizations operating in Libya to secure and destroy weapons and munitions. The groups have been working since early May in coordination with Libya’s National Transitional Council.

The Obama administration said in May that it was committing $1.5 million to collect and destroy Libya’s missiles and other light weapons, according to a July 6 report by the Congressional Research Service.

NATO aircraft have kept Qaddafi’s vast military and industrial complex there under constant surveillance since the rebellion began in February, and asked rebel leaders to look for signs of mustard gas or other chemical or biological weapons. The surveillance includes Libya’s two main chemical weapons depots, which are at Sebha and Rabta, according to the two U.S. government officials.  “All sensitive elements of Libya’s nuclear program, including everything that Libya received from the A.Q. Khan network, were removed in early 2004,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in Washington. “The last of the highly enriched uranium, the bomb-making fuel, was removed from Libya in 2009.”  Libya does have a supply of yellow cake, a uranium concentrate powder used to make bombs, and it’s safeguarded at the Tajoura nuclear research facility, Nuland said.

Mustafa Abdel Jalil, chairman of the Libyan National Transitional Council, said yesterday in Benghazi that no chemical or biological weapons have been found since rebel forces entered the capital, Tripoli, this week. Libya agreed in 2003 to destroy its chemical weapons, which at the time included an estimated 25 tons of mustard gas and some 3,300 bombs and artillery shells equipped to deliver.

U.S. May Buy Looted Libyan Missiles Sold in Mali’s Black Market,Bloomberg, Aug. 26, 2011