by Roman Deckert (BITS / RIB)
On August 17th, 2008, the ARD German TV investigative program “Report Mainz” revealed on the basis of research by the Berlin Information-Centre for Transatlantic Security (BITS) and the Armaments Information Office Freiburg (RIB) that Georgian special units were equipped with modern Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifles. Two months have passed since the first request by “Report Mainz” to the German government, yet the Federal authorities have not brought light into the question how the weapons ended up in the conflict area.
Immediately after the airing of the program Green MP Hans-Christian Ströbele filed an enquiry to the government. On August 26th Undersecretary of Economics Dr. Walter Otremba just repeated an earlier official statement that no licenses for the export of G36 to Georgia had been issued. He deliberately ignored Ströbele’s question on planned action to clear up the affair (Printed Documents of the Bundestag 16/10199, p. 22-23).
Meanwhile several rumours have sprung up about what illegal ways the G36 rifles may have taken to Georgia. For instance, there are serious indications that they might have been supplied by the USA. However, numerous countries have purchased G36 rifles in recent years. Each of those recipients could have broken the end user certificate. At least it can be excluded that the G36 rifles spotted in Georgia are from the Spanish license production that Heckler & Koch has set up with “General Dynamics Santa Bárbara Sistemas” in La Coruña. According to BITS-analyst Niels Dubrow the Spanish version differs from those G36 rifles identified on photographs from Georgia.
Moreover, information has turned up that the G36 rifles may have been funnelled to Georgia via Switzerland. This theory is supported by an undercover report which the British journalist Mark Thomas produced in 2002 for Channel4: he received an immoral offer from a Swiss dealer to assemble H&K weapons from imported components and to transfer them through Finland to conflict areas. In the past a number of such loopholes being exploited had been made evident when H&K evaded German restrictions by exporting kits.
Also, rumours have been circulating that the G36 rifles could have originated from the German army, the Bundeswehr. In fact, the official website of NATO shows pictures of Georgian soldiers with G36 rifles in Kosovo guarding the German army base Camp Prizren. Minister of Defence Dr. Franz Josef Jung (CDU), however, has replied to a concerned citizen on abgeordnetenwatch.de that the Georgian soldiers “who were trained by the Bundeswehr and/or operated in support of the German contingent of KFOR have returned all of their rifles”. Thus he confirmed that the Georgian military got to know the technical advantages of the G36 thanks to this cooperation.
Jung further stated that his Ministry had had “no knowledge” about the existence of G36 rifles in Georgia. This is embarrassing enough since Georgian elite units openly displayed their G36 rifles more than three years ago. AFP Getty Images has confirmed that a photograph of this operation had been taken in June 2005 during protests in Tibilisi. This means that the military attaché staff at the German embassy were so unprofessional to miss that important piece of information. The same would apply to the German diplomats and intelligence agents.
In the meantime BITS Director Otfried Nassauer and RIB Chairman Jürgen Grässlin have repeatedly stressed that it would be very simple to clarify the origin of the G36 rifles if the German government were willing to ask the Georgian government for the serial numbers. On September 16th MP Ulla Jelpke (The Left Party) has complained in a press release about the delaying strategy of the German government. She had received a statement from the Federal authorities that they were examining the affair “thoroughly” but that the Georgian government “has not yet been contacted on the matter”.
The German Foreign Office at the same time claims to play a leading role in the United Nations’ Programme of Action on Small Arms to establish “a worldwide effective control of transfers” by supporting the Biennial Meeting of States (BMS) which was held in July in New York and the negotiation of an “Arm Trade Treaty” (ATT) which is being discussed these days. The self declared focus of the Federal government is the marking and tracing of small arms.
So while the German diplomats see themselves as a shining example in combating illegal arms trade on the stage of the UN, they have not found it appropriate for two months to pressure the friendly government of Georgia to hand over the serial numbers of the G36 rifles. The scandal of the illegal transfer is a dangerous precedent for the uncontrolled proliferation of the G3 successor and hence a crucial test of credibility for the German claim to spearhead the international efforts to regulate the illicit trade of small arms. If the Federal government continues to ignore the demands of the German parliament, it will be bound to lose its credibility in the UN Programme of Action, especially since Russia is monitoring the affair closely.
Roman Deckert is an arms analyst at the Berlin Information-Centre for Transatlantic Security (BITS) and Board Member of the Freiburg based Armaments Information Office (RIB).