Qatar, Germany And The Ethical Dilemma Of Selling Armored Vehicles To Certain States – OpEd


Since the Hamas attack on October 7th, many activists are intensifying calls to exercise greater caution regarding the nations the United Kingdom is supplying with weaponry. Germany may be revealing itself to be a somewhat unreliable partner in this respect, with its unrestrained industries seemingly having no qualms in dealing with Gulf states with problematic human rights records. 

Qatar’s conspicuous geopolitical ambitions require influence in the West. The Gulf state has proactively attempted to develop bilateral partnerships with Western powers whose moral codes often conflict with Qatari internal policy. Germany has fostered a somewhat confused relationship with Qatar following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis. Its new reliance on Qatari gas has seen it shelf many of its more progressive foreign policy initiatives focused on human and minority rights as it comes to terms with a new dose of Realpolitik. UK companies hoping to enter commercial partnerships with German industry should therefore exercise thoughtful consideration before tying themselves to an occasionally unreliable partner. 

German ambiguity 

Germany’s often ambiguous approach to strategic commercial partnerships should serve as a red flag to states, like the United Kingdom, who are exploring potential joint ventures with the European power. Nonetheless, there is certainly doubt creeping into the German political ecosystem about Qatar’s suitability as a commercial partner. Bastien Giegerich writes: “the ideological preference of the government is to tighten the controls further, particularly around human rights, democracy and rule-of-law concerns in importing nations. However, ideology is increasingly facing the harsh glare of reality in the form of geopolitical developments and particularly Russias war of aggression against Ukraine.” Arms exports are being scrutinised with a similar level of fervour.  

Public pressure and think tank policy proposals have led to more attention being paid to Germany’s export partners’ record on progressive issues still held dear by the German public. In this sense, scrutiny of Qatar’s human rights record has intensified since the October 7th attacks by Hamas, whose leadership Qatar is currently hosting. State secretary Sven Giegold has been forced to underline the fact that “the German government is sticking to its restrictive basic line in arms export policy decisions, according to which the issue of human rights is of particular importance for all arms export policy decisions.”  

The focal point of public discussions regarding October 7th has largely centred on the potential involvement of Iran, a key ally of Hamas. Concurrently, Western leaders, who continue to view Qatar as a trusted partner, are equally concerned about what Qatar knew and when it acquired that knowledge, according to Politico. Qatar’s remarkable skill in playing multiple diplomatic roles has enabled this small Gulf kingdom to establish itself as the go-to mediator for the West in the region. This strategic position is evident not only in the October 7th discussions but also in the ongoing efforts to mediate the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, showcasing Qatar’s pivotal role in regional diplomacy.  

Germany has been left in an awkward position, with its relationship with Qatar a crucial bilateral partnership of political convenience antithetical to its staunch support for Israel, if allegations Qatar is supporting radical Islam are to be believed. “Hamas‘ attack means that Israel must protect itself and must be able to defend itself,” said Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “It cannot remain the case that a terror organization that rules this region undertakes such activities from there again and again with unbelievable military force. That must end, and that is an aim that one must support — we do, in any case.” Germany’s ongoing association with the Gulf state and courting of its military in the context of procurement processes for German-manufactured armaments, notably the Boxer IFV must be dissected with these complexities in mind.  

One should note that the German-designed Boxer armoured fighting vehicle is soon to be produced on UK soil. Production will be concentrated in Telford under Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land (RBSL) and in Stockport under KNDS, with sub-contracts within the UK supply chain, including Glasgow with Thales. And this at a time when the competition for Qatar to acquire a fleet of several hundred IFVs was relaunched at DIMDEX 2024 at the beginning of March, a competition for which the Boxer seems to be the favourite. 

Attention on arms exports 

Indeed, Qatar’s approach to the crisis in the Middle East and the knock-on effect this could have on any future arms deals with its Western partners has had alarm bells sounding in the West, and the UK should be taking note. At the same time, there is a growing demand for enhanced regulation of arms exports by establishing a comprehensive European export doctrine that could render informal agreements obsolete. The Arms Export Control Act (REKG) has emerged as a manifestation of this call, aiming to integrate human rights compliance for arms export partners into German law. This legislative move seeks to formalise a restrictive approach to the export of military equipment and reinforce collaboration within the European defence sector. The commitment to a restrained arms export policy is considered an essential component of German foreign policy, aligning with security interests. In fact, this would merely formalise an already common practice of the German executive at the legislative level, one of the most recent occurrences of which impacted the interests of the British defense sector. By blocking the sale of a new series of BAE Eurofighters to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2018, the German government threatened some 15,000 jobs throughout the UK. The stakes were so high that PM Rishi Sunak intervened personallyin the matter with Scholz, even considering legal action to break the deadlock. 

But these laws are being circumvented by some companies who have simply set up shop elsewhere. It is also possible that Berlin might find success in managing a delicate balance by upholding a generally stringent arms-export policy while displaying flexibility in certain weapon transactions. A potential approach for the new arms-export law to strike a balance between constraint and practicality could involve permitting arms deals specifically for self-defence, as outlined in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. However, it would be challenging to envision how Qatar could be accommodated within this procedure. 

Germany’s general unreliability in managing its own industries raises concerns about its suitability as a partner for this contract. But, considering the client is Qatar, a further question arises: who bears the financial burden, a quasi-public entity like Barzan Holdings owned by the ruling family, or public funds? The funding structure for projects in Qatar, particularly those associated with entities like Barzan Holdings, may involve a combination of both, as well as investments from sovereign wealth funds. The contract appears to carry significant risks in this context, and this is all the more true given that certain German industrial practices do not have any qualms about going through intermediaries, something that British legislation cannot accept without reservation. 

Andrew Miller

Andrew Miller is an independent consultant specialising in international finance, trade, and corruption. He works with a wide range of partners: NGOs, international organisations, governments, private companies, mainly focused on illegal business practices.

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