BERLIN Dec 22 Peer Steinbrueck, set to
challenge Angela Merkel as German leader next year, criticised
her centre-right government on Saturday for letting arms exports
surge and vowed to end that if his centre-left opposition wins
The former finance minister, nominated to lead the Social
Democrats (SPD) into September's election against Merkel, said
it was a scandal that Germany has become the world's third
largest arms exporter on her watch.
Arms exports are a sensitive issue in Germany due to its
Nazi past and the role arms makers such as Krupp played in
stoking 19th and 20th century wars with exports to both sides.
After World War Two, successive West German and later united
German governments placed tight restrictions on arms exports,
especially to regions where there were armed conflicts or where
human rights were poorly respected.
"It's a scandal and extremely dangerous that Germany has
become the world's third largest exporter of weapons,"
Steinbrueck, who hopes to form a coalition with the Greens
party, told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Saturday.
"An SPD-Greens government led by me would change that," said
Steinbrueck, 65. "We're even exporting weapons to regions in
conflict and to areas where human rights aren't respected."
The SPD and Greens would win a combined 43 percent of the
vote, according to an ARD TV opinion poll by the Infratest dimap
institute published on Friday. That is more than Merkel's
conservatives but not enough to form a majority coalition.
Merkel's conservatives would win 40 percent. Her Free
Democrat (FDP) allies would win 4 percent, failing to clear the
5 percent hurdle needed for seats. The Left party would win 7
percent, according to the poll. If so, the SPD-Greens bloc would
need 48 percent of votes to secure a parliamentary majority.
As a result, many analysts see a repeat of the 2005-2009
grand coalition of Merkel's conservatives and the SPD as a
likely election outcome.
In 2001 Germany was the world's sixth largest arms exporter
with $925 million sold abroad, behind the United States, Russia,
Britain, France and Italy.
Germany now trails only the United States and Russia after
exporting $2.476 billion in 2010, according to latest available
data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Germany ranks ninth in the world on its own defence spending.
Steinbrueck's pre-Christmas attack on Merkel for the
increased arms exports is not likely to figure as a major
election issue in 2013. But it reflects his fighting spirit on
an issue that is important for some leftist voters.
It also aims to deflect criticism from Foreign Minister
Guido Westerwelle, an FDP leader who last week blamed the
SPD-Greens' government from 1998 to 2005 for the increase in
arms exports. He said many recent weapons deliveries to the
Middle East were set up under the SPD-Greens government.
Steinbrueck, facing an uphill battle against the popular
Merkel, said he was not afraid to criticise her government's
foreign policies, adding he would rely on advice from his
friend, former Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
"I've been around in the world quite a bit," Steinbrueck
told the newspaper. "At the appropriate time, I'll be making
comments on foreign policy on the campaign trail."
The arms issue has made it into the headlines amid a recent
report in Der Spiegel magazine that Saudi Arabia wants to buy
several hundred armoured fighting vehicles from Germany.
Der Spiegel suggested the vehicles could be used in combating
possible demonstrations. According to other media reports
Germany gave pre-approval for the export of 270 Leopard 2 tanks
to Saudi Arabia in 2011. The government has declined to comment.