Recently, seven West Germans were arrested for allegedly helping Iraq to produce chemical weapons (CW). As U.S. servicemen and women are now in peril from such chemical arms, American indignation over what amounts to an ally’s treachery would be understandable.
If limited to this current travesty, however, this anger risks missing the larger — and far more serious — problem that German export policies represent for the security of all civilized nations.
West German enterprises have been implicated in the sale to Iraq of technology, equipment and know-how associated with not only chemical munitions but also biological and nuclear arms. According to press accounts, German prosecutors are examining the activities of at least 50 companies believed to have engaged in such sales.
These include: Pilot Plant (whose employees were among those rounded up recently for having sold Saddam Hussein two laboratories compatible with chemical weapons production); H&H Metalform (said to have sold Iraq equipment used to build enrichment plants for weapons-grade uranium); and a company with the remarkable name of Nukem (accused of selling Iraq uranium in various forms in the course of last year).
Worse, those probes reportedly represent but a small fraction of the more than 1,000 German businesses suspected of illegally providing Third World countries with advanced weapons and dual-use technologies (namely, those with both civilian and military applications).
Within the past fortnight, for example, it was revealed that Imhausen — the company whose president was recently imprisoned for providing Libya with its notorious chemical weapons production facility at Rabta — may also have sold Moammar Gadhafi plans for a second CW plant.
In addition, the press has reported evidence that U.S. ballistic missile technology has been passed by German concerns under a program named Condor to Argentina and Egypt as well as Iraq.
Unfortunately, the willingness of some German companies to sell militarily relevant technology to potentially aggressive nations is not limited to the Third World. For decades, many businessmen in West Germany have appeared largely indifferent to the risks associated with the Soviet Union’s efforts to acquire sensitive military or dual-use equipment and know-how from the West.
Key technologies transferred by or through Germany to the Soviet Union include: high accuracy machine tools, deep underground tunneling machines, telecommunications equipment, underwater sensors, sophisticated computers and manufacturing equipment associated with microelectronics, advanced composites and superalloys.
What, one might ask, is the West German government doing about all this? The answer, regrettably, is that the federal authorities in Bonn are part of the problem.
In fact, U.S. officials charged with maintaining effective technology security through multilateral export control arrangements have long been confounded by Bonn’s reluctance to create real constraints on German trade in equipment and know-how with dual-use applications. What is more, where such constraints have been created (usually pursuant to agreements reached in the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls, or COCOM), the German government has resisted bringing charges against violators or failed to impose meaningful penalties on those that are found guilty of export crimes.
A particularly notorious instance of this phenomenon arose two years ago when Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher personally stonewalled U.S. requests for an investigation of Imhausen’s involvement in the Rabta scandal.
Worse yet, the German government has undertaken a strenuous effort in recent months to dismantle many of such export controls that have been imposed over the past decade. Citing reduced tensions with the Soviet Union and the need to resuscitate East European economies, the Germans have demanded (with considerable success) that whole categories of strategically sensitive technologies be decontrolled. As a result, the KGB and others bent on acquiring such technologies are finding unprecedented opportunities to secure targeted equipment, data and know-how.
In short, the view of both the German government and many German companies toward export controls might be best summed up as Profits Uber Allies. This reckless and irresponsible course was ill-advised when, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and prior to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, many in the West indulged in the naive belief that a new, threat-free world had arrived. But today it should be crystal clear that such a policy is unacceptably dangerous.
If Germany is to enjoy the status of a leading Western power it so clearly desires, the willingness of some unscrupulous German entrepreneurs to disregard elementary common security interests in order to make a profit — and of the Bonn government to tolerate, if not facilitate, such practices — must end.
President Bush can help bring this about by utilizing authority available to him under existing U.S. law to impose import sanctions against German companies judged to have violated regulations controlling exports. In addition, immediately upon its return from the August recess, Congress should hold hearings into German export practices. The model for these hearings could be the congressional inquiries of half a century ago when those who sold Japan scrap metal subsequently used to attack U.S. forces were held to account.
At the very least, the public has the right to know the extent of the risks posed to future U.S. and Western security interests — and the additional costs imposed on U.S. defense expenditures — likely to result from access to extremely sensitive technologies afforded the military establishments of the Soviet Union, Iraq, Libya and other potential adversaries by our German friends.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the director of the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a regular contributor to The Washington Times.