It has been one of the more uplifting news in the past weeks. Germany stopped its arms exports to parties involved in the Yemen conflict, which already caused many civilian losses, creating possibly the most worrying humanitarian crisis today. However, the bitter truth is that German arms dealers and arms exports are not affected by the decision, as they have already found ways to circumvent Germany’s ethical and moral guidelines in order to profit from war and death around the world.
German national boradcas Das Erste recently reported about the business practices of the Rheinmetall AG, one of Germany’s biggest arms manufacturers, responsible for many arms exports from Germany to the world. While arms exports from Germany have to adhere to strict laws and rules, such as not to export into countries that are currently involved or about to be involved in armed conflicts, Rheinmetall has already found ways to profit from arms exports in those regions anyway, according to Das Erste’s research.
German Laws and Regulations for Arms Exports
While the rules Germany imposes on the arms trade seem clear-cut, they are hardly strict. The law implies that weaponry and tools cannot be exported to certain countries for war purposes, but what if they are not declared to be for war purposes? What if a combat vehicle is declared to be used for enforcing border security? Well, it can be exported then, even if the receiving nation is involved in an armed conflict.
The German Government has previously sanctioned select arms exports to countries such as Saudi Arabia, even if they seemed to be unethical at the core. After all, the arms industry, and especially Rheinmetall, are close to the government, providing a high number of jobs, revenue, and several former politicians are involved in its business decisions.
Rheinmetall: Arms Trades in Conflict Areas
Arms manufacturers profit from war and misery. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. More wars, especially ongoing ones, mean increased production and contracts which, in turn, mean great growth and profits. Rheinmetall’s stock increased by 70% last year alone, raking in over 5 Billion in revenue in 2016, a number the company seeks to improve on in the near future. But what if the own government, like in this case, decides to halt all arms exports into a certain region? You try to find ways around them of course.
Trough the course of the investigation, Tageschau found that Rheinmetall owns several subsidiaries, one of which is the arms manufacturer RWM Italia (Rheinmetall Waffe Munition, translated Rheinmetall Weapon Ammunition) on the island of Sardinia, Italy.
The company is situated far outside any major towns or prying eyes and manufactures bombs, many of which are directly exported to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and can be linked to the Yemen conflict. It’s an arms export that is prohibited according to both German and Italian law, yet both governments don’t get involved at all.
Turning a Blind Eye to Weapon Exports
And here’s the tragic genius behind Rheinmetall and its business practices. As RWM Italia is a 100% subsidiary of Rheinmetall in Germany, the Italian government doesn’t intervene. They view those bomb exports to Saudi Arabia as German bombs, not covered by Italian law. And Germany? They aren’t interested either, as it’s not a German arms exports as in weapons physically being moved from within German borders. Arms trade expert Andrew Feinstein, in an interview with Das Erste, said:
“And it is in this way, that the global trade in weapons remains less regulated than the global trade in bananas.”
All the while, Rheinmetall grows and intends to also grow its business on Sardinia over the next years and to make its investors (most of which are private investors and stockholder, probably unaware of their investment in civilian deaths) happy. It’s a shocking an appalling business practice solely focused on profit and business growth at the expense of human life, far removed from any moral or ethical responsibilities.
Rheinmetall in South Africa
The scandal doesn’t end there. Rheinmetall has already started to export something far more dangerous than Bombs, Ammunition or Weapons. It has built a new and even less controllable economic branch in South Africa that exports whole manufacturing plants in those conflict areas. This has more serious implications than the simple export of weapons to conflict areas.
The German government isn’t helpless though. the scientific service of the Bundestag reported that it would be possible pass legislation making any activity of German companies in the manufacturing or trade of weapons outside of the country subject to approval by the government. A law that, unfortunately, is improbable and nowhere in sight at this very moment.
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