Full coverage: Mayor Pugh's 'Healthy Holly' books, UMMS board deals

Clearance Sale! Everything Must Go!


Pinnow, Germany. -- Ten miles from the Polish border, hidden in a forest of tall, spindly pines, the former East German munitions factory of Pinnow buzzes with activity. Today, the privately owned facility is responsible for destroying the same missiles, mines and ammunition that it manufactured for 30 years.

"A single kilogram of weaponry costs anywhere from $5 to $15 to process in an environmentally safe way," says engineer Klaus PTC Nachinovic, a former officer in East Germany's National Volksarmee. It left behind 300,000 tons of munitions, which the German government has already spent over half a billion dollars to dissemble along with other former East German hardware.

With unification, the Federal Republic inherited the entire arsenal of the East German armed forces, as well as the dilemma of what to do with it. That stock included more than 2,000 battle tanks, 500 armored combat vehicles, 2,000 artillery systems and 400 jet fighters. The federal Bundeswehr has been able to use only a fraction of the estimated $50 billion worth of material. The rest must be destroyed at great expense in facilities such as Pinnow -- or disposed of elsewhere.

The cheaper way to empty warehouses is to sell at rock-bottom prices or even give away the unwanted stock to third parties. Surplus systems that are useless to Western armies are at least a generation more advanced than systems in Asia, Africa and even southeastern Europe. Since 1990, over 50 countries have expressed interest in former East German systems, and where it can, Germany has been only too willing to unload its Cold War scrap for next to nothing.

The recipients of these systems, small arms and spare parts include countries as diverse as Sweden, Finland, Portugal, Botswana, Pakistan, Egypt, Hungary and Tunisia. Even the U.S. made purchases shortly before the Gulf War. Indonesia, a country with a poor human-rights record, now owns almost half of East Germany's Baltic warships. Its weapons have also surfaced on both sides of the barricades in the former Yugoslavia.

U.N. figures show Turkey as the largest recipient of East German surplus. It has collected armored personnel carriers, machine pistols, anti-tank mines and rocket launchers. After Ankara used German weapons against the Kurdish minority in Turkey, Germany banned military assistance to Turkey for six mnths in 1992.

As a NATO ally, Turkey also qualifies for higher-quality Western surplus. In 1993, Ankara received over 1,000 main battle tanks from Germany and the U.S. -- almost as much as the entire holding of the British army. Greece followed close behind, enlarging its tank fleet by the size of the Dutch army's total reserves. In addition, both countries procured record quantities of warships, combat aircraft, heavy artillery systems and missiles.

The transfers have made regional rivals Greece and Turkey the largest importers of arms in Europe. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Greece and Turkey to modernize their armed forces very quickly and at minimal expense," says Ottfried Nassauer, director of the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security. "Simultaneously, Germany and the U.S. save untold millions if not billions of dollars fueling a wild arms race in the Balkans."

The majority of deliveries have been through NATO's Cascade program, which enables member countries to send their unwanted stocks to smaller, poorer allies. At no cost at all, Germany presented Turkey with 250,000 former East German AK-47 assault rifles. Greece and Turkey have replaced their vintage 1950s tanks with far superior fleets of U.S.-made M-60s and West German Leopard-1s.

Any one of a number of scenarios could draw the two countries into conflicts in former Yugoslavia, northern Greece or Albania. But the recent acquisitions show Greece and Turkey "preparing for operations against a sophisticated, well-equipped opponent, not for the kind of conflicts in former Yugoslavia or the Caucasus," according to a study by the British American Security Information Council. In other words, the new systems are being acquired with one another in mind.

The East German materials have made Germany the world's third-largest exporter of arms, just behind Russia, despite the fact that German arms-export controls are the toughest in Europe. The U.S. is at the top of the list, far ahead of the rest of the pack.

Ironically, the availability of cheap, state-owned surplus has devastated the private armaments industry in Germany. With arms manufacturers struggling everywhere, the state has underbid and outsold the private sector.

It has also out-competed other European arms industries. There is no harmonization of arms-export guidelines within the European Union. "Countries like France and Britain object most strenuously," says Harald Bauer, arms-control expert for the German Greens, "because their own domestic military production is so closely tied to their exports. Without exports, their arms industries would die."

Even with Germany's tighter standards, Mr. Bauer points out that thanks to the arms give-away program, Germany has surpassed Britain and France in total weapons sales.

Paul Hockenos, a Berlin-based free-lance writer, wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad