In the wake of the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the eventual admission by Saudi Arabia that he’d been murdered in its Istanbul embassy, pressure has been building for governments to take a stand against the kingdom.
In the US, president Donald Trump has flip-flopped between vowing “severe consequences” for Saudi Arabia, praising the Saudi crown prince, and stressing the importance of the US-Saudi Arabia arms deal for the creation of US jobs—putting that number at 450,000, then 500,000, then 600,000.
Germany is the first country to make a concrete move against the kingdom. Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Sunday (Oct. 21) that Germany would stop exporting arms to Saudi Arabia for the time being, saying Riyadh urgently needs to clarify what happened to Khashoggi, whose body still hasn’t been found.
“As far as arms exports are concerned, they can not happen in the state we are in at the moment,” Merkel said. Economy minister Peter Altmaier asked other EU countries to suspend arms exports to Saudi Arabia too, noting that “it will not have any positive consequences if we halt arms exports but other countries at the same time fill the gap.” Berlin also has summoned the Saudi ambassador to Germany to ask for more clarification.
Saudi Arabia is Germany’s biggest arms customer after Algeria, purchasing €416 million ($477 million) worth of weapons from Germany so far this year, and around €250 million in the third quarter alone. Germany, meanwhile, is the world’s fourth-largest arms exporter to Saudi Arabia, after the US, Russia, and France.
Arms deals with Saudi Arabia already had drawn criticism from politicians due to the country’s role in a brutal war in Yemen. A clause in the coalition agreement between Merkel’s conservatives and their social democrat partners in the German government forbids arms sales to any country directly involved in a war—but it doesn’t affect arms deals already approved before the current agreement was put in place.