Who is the world’s No. 3 arms exporter, after the United States and Russia? Surprise. It is Germany, a country bound by law to supply only allies and peaceable folks like (neutral) Switzerland or Sweden. Off limits are “areas of tension” — bad neighborhoods that actually need the stuff.
Yet somehow, Israel and Saudi Arabia, both living in the world’s powder keg, are among Germany’s best customers. So are Algeria, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
What doesn’t go directly finds its way on the international arms bazaar. Consider, no self-respecting drug czar — Russian or Mexican — would flaunt a Czech-made “Skorpion.” It has to be a Heckler & Koch MP-5, also much beloved by U.S. Special Operations forces.
But never, ever has Germany delivered to nonstate forces. This month marks a profound break with that tradition. Germany has agreed to send weapons to the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, a military and political group in northern Iraq, with the bulk of more sophisticated arms going to the peshmerga forces. Not exactly buddies, these two outfits are fighting the Islamic State.
The Kurdish Workers’ Party is due to receive 8,000 G3 assault rifles — almost museum pieces — that were issued to the German armed forces in 1959. The peshmerga forces get more recent hardware: 8,000 G36, the current rifle of the German army. Plus 30 antitank systems with 500 missiles. Add in a few tens of shoulder-held antitank rockets, 40 machine guns and 10,000 hand grenades. The package is worth about $90 million.