Coping with Surplus Weapons: A Priority for Conversion Research and Policy
Edward J. Lawrence and Herbert Wulf (ed.)
Bonn International Center for Conversion Research (BICC), Brief 3
June 1995

An Army Surplus-The NVA's Heritage

by Otfried Nassauer [*]


The fall of the Berlin wall and the succeeding German reunification left the Federal Republic of Germany's Bundeswehr with an additional, inherited army, the former East German National Peoples Army (NVA). The personnel, infra-structure, weapons, ammunition and all other types of equipment of the former East German armed forces-supplemented by weaponry former-ly owned by the East German Intelligence and internal Security Services (Stasi), the border troops and other armed units-ended up under Bundeswehr ownership, custody and responsibility. Later, the stocks of the East German arms trade company 'IMES' . Thus inter alia more than 20,000 additional sub-machine guns came under Bundeswehr custody about one year after unification (Deutscher Bundestag, Document 12/1448, p.21).

The Bundeswehr halted attempts of the newly elected democratic Ger-man Democratic Republic (GDR) government to sell large quantities of these weapons, ammunition and equipment under 44 last-minute contracts with foreign governments and international arms traders for extremely low prices between August and October 1990, by argu-ing that many of these systems might be incorporated into the armed forces of the unified Germany. However, soon after reunification increasing amounts of former East German weapon systems and mili-tary equipment came to be seen as a 'surplus' no longer necessary for the Bundeswehr.

Today the net results have become visible: except for a few weapon sys-tems which will be used for a short period of time-24 modern Mig-29 fighter aircraft and larger quantities of low-tech, general purpose equip-ment-all of the former NVA stock-piles became surplus.

This paper looks into several aspects of the NVA case:

  • the availability and reliability of data about the NVA-i.e., the size of the heritage
  • the system of decision-making concerning the future of NVA equipment
  • the exports from surplus stocks
  • the German obligations under the CFE Treaty.

The paper presents an overview by concentrating on the major cate-gories of weapons and military equipment. It looks at weapon sys-tems rather than military dual-use equipment, and on weapons exported or scrapped rather than those destined for static displays at exhibitions.

Defining the Size of the NVA Heritage

The answer to the fundamental question of how much and what exactly the Bundeswehr inherited from the NVA is surprising: although both armed forces were 'German' armies-thus reflecting a specific understanding about the necessity for bureaucratic correct-ness-there seem to be no reliable or conclusive books of record. It is therefore impossible to compile a comprehensive set of data on how many of which systems and items were available on 3 October 1990, when the Bundeswehr officially took command over the former NVA. Developing a clear understanding of the destiny of many of the inherited weapons has also proven to be ex-tremely difficult.

While some of differences have been sufficiently explained in open or closed sessions of parliament, it is highly unlikely that this is true for all-the Bundeswehr has argued that this task would be too complicated and time consuming. In principle, difficulties in keeping a clear record for transportable items may be imagined due to the circumstances under which bookkeepers had to work after reunification (i.e., lack of experienced and specialized per-sonnel, layoffs in personnel, sub-stantial relocations, exports, sales and constant changes); nevertheless, there are good reasons for a more skeptical approach. Most of the excuses for mistakes in accounting for transportable goods are not reasonable for immobile items. The German Ministry of Defense (MoD) provided parliament with varying figures regarding the total number of installations it took over in the former GDR-between May 1991 and May 1994 inter alia the follow-ing figures were given officially: 2,250, 3,320, 2,280, 2,235 and 2,288. Other aspects support a skeptical point of view; although the MoD produces regular reports for parlia-ment on NVA military equipment, it has not yet succeeded in producing them in a standard format that allows detailed comparison. From the author's point of view, an inten-tional lack of transparency exists. Even with extensive sources avail-able, therefore, there will be no clear and comprehensive set of data from which to start, when investigating the fate of surplus weapons from the former GDR stockpiles.

Indeed, the differences between the available data are large enough to encourage much speculation, includ-ing assumptions about stocks not justified, illegally exported or used for purposes of operational foreign policy.

This situation is due in part to a lack of political control over the armed forces during the unification process. The German Bundestag only lately decided to execute tougher control over the administration's decisions and behavior with respect to the former NVA equipment. Other topics were perceived as more im-portant by the newly elected parlia-mentarians during most of 1991. More detailed parliamentary control was executed only when in October 1991 the Hamburg harbor police seized a clandestine delivery of 14 military items to Israel, including two complete Schilka ZSU 23/4 air defense systems declared to be 'agricultural machines.' In the aftermath of parliamentary invest-igations, many other exports came to parliamentary attention (Deutscher Bundestag, 2 December 1991). As a consequence the Ministry of Defense was tasked in spring 1992 to regularly report on its activities with respect to the former NVA equipment.

Going out of business sales" of the former GDR

In several last-minute contracts, signed as late as 1-2 October 1990, huge amounts of weapon systems were sold by the GDR Ministry of Disarmament and Defense at very low prices.
Major contracts included:

  • MoD of Poland, DM 207.9 million, to include 2700 Fagott AT-missiles; 11 Mig-29s; 152mm ammunition; air-to-air missiles, etc.
  • MoD of Hungary, approximately DM 100 million, to include 200 T-72 MBTs for DM 180,000 each; 130,000 AT mines for DM 10 each; 50,000 AK-74 submachine guns for DM 60 each; and many other weapons as well as spare parts
  • CIC International Ltd (USA), DM 275.5 million or US $349 million, to include 3 ships project 151 for US $10 million per copy; 12 ships project 205 for US $100,000 per copy; Mig-21s and Mig-23s; 58 BM-21 and 100 RM-70 rocket launchers; 5,000 Sagger AT missiles for US $800 each; 1,200 T-55 for US $10,000 per copy; 200 T-72 MBTs for US $200,000 each
  • Beij-MA Military District (Belgium), DM 62.5 million, to include inter alia 32 Mi-24 helicopters for DM 300,000 per copy; 100 T-72 tanks for DM 180,000 per copy; 9mm pistols for DM 10 per copy including ammunition; light machine guns for DM 75 per copy; RPG-18 light assault weapons for DM 85 each; 100,000 anti-personnel mines for DM 25 each
  • OEG SUMER Handels- und Service Gesellschaft, different contracts regarding NBC equipment and decontamination materials for export to Saudi Arabia (export licensed by FRG)
  • Harlacher small arms and ammunition for DM 317,746
  • Heckler & Koch ammunition for DM 144,700
  • ALTKAM (USSR), DM 498,420 for vehicles
  • MAWIA GmbH, one demilitarized ship, later illegally exported to Guinea
  • Königsberg-Foundation, DM 1.5 million for three L-410 transport aircraft

The two large contracts with arms traders included a paragraph allowing both sides to withdraw from their obligations if the necessary official licenses, allowances, etc. could not be gained; thus, it is likely no actual transfers have been made. Whether and to what extent the contracts with Poland and Hungary were fulfilled is not publicly known.

Letter by which the Bundeswehr's liaison group at the GDR Ministry of Disarmament and Defense asked to withhold the systems listed in an Annex from the GDR's list of weapons for sale: Bundesministerium der Verteidigung/Ministerium für Abrüstung und Verteidigung (DDR), 6 September 1990; Vielain, 1991; Bauer, 1993, p. IV.2-1; author's archives.

Table 1: Estimated Holdings of the NVA

Main Battle Tanks                   






Helicopters (attack)                


Fighter Aircraft (incl. L-39 trainer)                                                   


Fighting Ships                      


Vehicles (incl. trailers)           


Fire Arms                            

         ca 1,200,000

Ammunition (metric tons)             

         ca 300,000 

Source: Deutscher Bundestag, 11 May 1992, pp. 5+. For details, see Annex 1.


The GDR Ministry of Defense and Disarmament maintained a list of weapon systems and major items held by the NVA. After taking possession, the Bundeswehr argued repeatedly that this listing was by no means correct or complete since the NVA did not keep reliable statistics on its holdings. Surprisingly the Bundeswehr never referred to an extensive database of the former NVA, which was run at the GDR MoD and contained data on the NVA military installations and their local weapon and equipment stockpiles.

A new computerized accounting and management system for a broader range of items was established by the Bundeswehr, but no comprehensive comparison of both accounting systems has been published. Nevertheless, in January 1992 the Bundeswehr reprinted large parts of the former NVA listing and preliminary figures on the differences between this list and the new accounting system. In trying to explain these differences, the Bundeswehr argued inter alia that the NVA normally updated its listing every two years; the latest completed update occurred in 1987, and therefore did not contain more recent changes. The 1989 update was allegedly canceled due to the political developments. Parts of the NVA list available to the author and representing a 30 June 1990 printout from the GDR MoD computer system, however, clearly show that an update including many 1989-1990 changes must have been accomplished by the NVA. A comparison with the list reprinted by the German MoD in 1992 reveals that the reprinted version lists data of 1989 and 1990 origin without attributing them to a post-1987 entry. Both listings reflect the same totals for most or all systems listed in both. The major difference between the two sources is that the printout in the author's archive lists the weapon systems by age, thus establishing when they were added to the NVA inventory. Additions to inventory up to 1990 are listed. Thus, the argument that no update was made since 1987 cannot be accepted.

The data published by the FRG government and given to German Parliament committees from both sources differ widely. Detailed comparisons between the figures also reveal differences between data published from the new Bundeswehr system at different times. Astonishingly enough, the new Bundeswehr accounting system figures have been corrected in many cases and in that way came much closer to the original NVA figures (see Annex 1 and Annex 2).

(Deutscher Bundestag, Verteidigungsausschuß, 19 December 1991, p.19; Wehrdienst 1303/1992, p.2; Deutscher Bundestag, Document 12/2026).(Deutscher Bundestag, Document 12/2026, Attachment 1; printout from the GDR's MoD computer, 30 June 1990)

Decisionmaking System Regarding the Future of NVA Weapons and Materials

During the early months after reunification, the Bundeswehr laid primary emphasis on ensuring control over the NVA's material heritage. Thousands of major weapons and thousands of tons of equipment were relocated and brought under a more centralized, easier-to-guard storage system. Thousands of military installations-often containing weapons, ammunitions or other dangerous goods-had to be guarded, despite a serious lack of personnel.

Because of the amount of weapons and items to be handled, the Bundeswehr established a specific selection system to make decisions about the future of these items. Three different categories of items were created:

  • Category 1: service with the Bundeswehr for the foreseeable future
  • Category 2: further evaluation or continued interim service with the Bundeswehr
  • Category 3: immediately in excess

A typical example of a category 1 weapon is the modern Mig-29 fighter aircraft, which the Bundeswehr will use beyond the year 2000. Other examples are two Tupolev aircraft converted into the German 'Open Skies' airplane. The Mi-24 attack helicopters and Mi-8 transport helicopters are good examples of category 2 material that was further used or evaluated and is or will be retired from service. The bulk of the major weapon systems-e.g., all other fighter and fighter bomber aircraft, 98 percent of the main battle tanks, 95 percent of the armored cavalry vehicles and 95 percent of the artillery systems and mortars-were decided to be in excess early in the process. About 80 percent of the non-weapon systems and major types of equipment were similarly resolved as early as 1991. Additional weapons and materials from categories 1 and 2 have since been recategorized to category 3. Among the weapons first considered for use with the Bundeswehr were the D-30 howitzers, the RM-70 missile launchers, the BTR-70 APCs and others. They were recategorized, as were 892 BMP-1, 2 SAM systems SA-5, 163,039 AK 74 submachine guns, 24 Mi-24 helicopters and many others (Schulte, 1990, p. 873; Deutscher Bundestag, 11 May 1992, p.5). Although recent official figures on which and how much of the former NVA equipment is still in use are unavailable, it is no longer very much. In addition to those arguments used in public for phasing out most NVA weapon systems (dependence on Russian spares, incompatibility with German technical standards, etc.) one argument may have also contributed to these decisions: the more weapons from the NVA the Bundeswehr continued to operate, the more NVA specialists it would have to continue to employ.

Category 3 weapons and materials were collected and stored in special depots. They have been used for one the following purposes:

  • service with another German Federal Ministry, e.g. the Ministry of Interior
  • service with the new Länder or community authorities to strengthen the buildup of infrastructure
  • export sales from government to government
  • foreign military aid programs
  • technical intelligence exchange programs
  • humanitarian aid programs
  • takeover by the government-controlled company VEBEG for scrapping or selling after partial or complete demilitarization
  • takeover by the Bundeswehr for technical intelligence purposes
  • use by the Bundeswehr as live targets on training sites
  • use as static displays in national as well as foreign exhibitions (Wehrdienst, 15 November 1993, pp.2-3).

Special interest was immediately given to those categories of weapons subject to the CFE regulations (Hartmann, et al., 1992; Zellner, 1994; Crawford, 1991; Institute for Defense and Disarmament Studies). The CFE Treaty, signed November 1990 in Paris, continued to be applicable in the new political situation when Germany accepted all limitations for the unified Germany that were originally intended for West Germany. This decision made Germany the country with the second largest obligations for reductions under the treaty. Nevertheless, the treaty allowed each signatory a period of time for corrections to its original notification figures. It allowed the earmarking of Treaty Limited Equipment (TLEs) as intended for export according to Article III regulations. Some types of TLEs could also be recategorized under the treaty regulations by making specific changes to their construction. As the CFE Treaty entered into force no earlier than November 1992, there was sufficient time to use those provisions that allowed reductions to the costs associated with fulfilling the signatories obligations to scrap weapon systems. There was also sufficient time to export treaty-limited weapons. Indeed, German government officials informed members of parliament that exports would become more difficult after ratification (Deutscher Bundestag, September 1991, pp.12+). Comparing Germany's 1990 assumptions about how many TLEs it would have to scrap with those given since shows that Germany has taken advantage of these regulations-it will have to destroy much less weapons than it had assumed in 1990.

Exports became a major means of ridding the Bundeswehr of the NVA's heritage. A number of factors contributed to this development. When the Bundeswehr took command of the NVA, no specialized dismantling facilities were available to immediately begin to destroy NVA weapons, ammunitions and toxic materials in accordance with environmental regulations. Although many environmental laws were suspended in the five new Länder for several years, only a few small or experimental facilities were available to immediately start the destruction of military equipment. During the time necessary to build up specialized facilities, only small amounts of the most dangerous types of ammunitions and weapons could be destroyed, e.g., liquid fuel missile types. The bulk of all weapons and equipment had to be guarded and stored. For months this caused serious complications for the Bundeswehr; they tried to implement a centralized and categorized storage system, but soon argued that these tasks would divert the armed forces for years from their normal defense, training and military tasks. An informal consensus was reached-the sooner reductions of these surplus stocks took place, the lower the costs of handling the NVA's heritage would be. It was simply cheaper and faster to transport a weapon to another country that paid for the transfer and maybe even for the weapon, than to first pay for storing it and then for destroying it.

To help the Bundeswehr win time for its military tasks, a newly established subsidiary of the government-owned company VEBEG, the MSDG (Material-Service-Depot-Gesellschaft), was assigned with guarding and operating those depots in which material was awaiting delivery for future in-country use, export or destruction.

Table 2: German Exports of Major Weapon Systems 1992-93

(according to origin)


1992-93 Exports

FRG Systems

FRG Surplus

GDR Surplus

Percentage GDR

Type of GDR Weapon Systems Included














BMP-1, BTR-60/70, MT-LB,PTS*







SPH122 and 152mm

Attack Helicopters







Combat Aircraft






Su-22, Mig-21/23

* This ACV/IFV was not identified clearly; although no equipment of West German origin is known to be designated PTS, it is accounted for in the NVA share. This table also makes clear that most of the exports from Bundeswehr stocks are surplus weapons. The tanks exported were Leopard 1s, the aircraft were Alpha Jets and F-4 Phantoms, and the 187 IFVs were M-113s.

Source: United Nations General Assembly, 1992 and 1993.


Exports from former NVA stocks largely contribute to Germany's rank as the second (or third) most important supplier of major weapon systems according to the 1992 and 1993 UN Registers of Conventional Arms. Substantial numbers of weapon systems as well as other military items have been exported.

In general, the rules for handling excess Bundeswehr items had to be applied for all surplus items of the former NVA; no special regulations were created with respect to German arms trade and export laws (Heyden, 1990, p.62). Indeed, during a meeting of the German Federal Security Council on 27 February 1991, it was decided that all exports should be handled in accordance with normal West German procedures as well as the 1982 political guidelines for arms exports (Deutscher Bundestag, 2 December 1991, p.26). The seizure of the covert delivery to Israel led on 23 December 1991 to a policy within the MoD of tighter control of the political leadership (Wehrdienst, 1300/1992, p.II).

Nevertheless, the process of preparing for these deliveries had started much earlier. Only two days after the March 1990 elections in the former GDR-which brought a CDU-led Eastern German government into power-a meeting took place within the West German Ministry of Defense to discuss when and with whom the inherited military equipment would be shared.

Many countries made requests for former NVA equipment; some of them did so even before reunification. In November 1991, a list was published naming a total of 44 countries that had requested NVA weapons (not including requests for humanitarian aid purposes). Among them were NATO allies Belgium, Denmark, France, Greece, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as Italy, Spain, Canada and Holland. A wide range of non-NATO countries from Europe and other parts of the world was listed as well: Finland, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, Bulgaria, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Hungary, the USSR, Egypt, Algeria, Botswana, Ecuador, Israel, India, Saudi Arabia, Peru, Tunisia, Singapore and many others (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär, 21 November 1991).

Exports to the Gulf War Allies

Preparations for the Gulf War partly coincided with the process of German reunification. Since Iraqi forces operated mainly Soviet types of military equipment, the United States, the United Kingdom and-outside of the Gulf alliance-Israel approached the German government early on for various types of military equipment with which they might be confronted. Requests were mainly driven by 'technical intelligence' needs, i.e., testing and evaluation purposes. Therefore only small numbers of individual systems were necessary.

Germany, because of internal policy reasons and constitutional problems, could not contribute troops to the war. It therefore decided to give financial support and to supply military equipment in order to avoid increasing political pressure from its allies. This compensation strategy proved to be costly, totaling some DM 17-18 billion, or roughly US $10 billion at the time (Wehrdienst, 1258/1991, p.1). NVA equipment, at cost estimated by the German government, made up a significant part. This policy largely contributed to early and major exports of NVA weapons. The Commander of the Bundeswehr Command East at the time, Jörg Schönbohm, later wrote: "I have witnessed former NVA soldiers to be laid off by 1st of January 1991, working over the Christmas Holidays of 1990, to ensure that material for our allies operating in the Persian Gulf could be provided timely" (Schönbohm, 1992, p.43).

While the United States received a wide range of weapons for technical evaluation and larger numbers of different trucks, logistics and medical supplies for operational purposes, France obtained mine clearance and mine laying equipment. Egypt secured 30 NBC reconnaissance vehicles and a 250-ton spares package in October 1992 (Deutscher Bundestag, Document 12/1999, p.15). Israel received NBC decontamination equipment, firefighting equipment and other dual-use supplies. Turkey was the only country that showed interest in obtaining substantial numbers and a wider range of actual weapon systems. Supplies to Turkey ultimately led to the necessity of similar deliveries to Greece, thus creating a new military aid program for both countries (see extra section below).

Table 3: Examples of NVA-Equipment Delivered to the Gulf-War Allies*

Type of Equipment


Number Delivered*

Recipient Country

Engineering Equipment

T 130




Tatra 813 8x8




Tatra 815 6x8




Tatra 815 8x8



Trucks (POL)

Tatra 815 CAPL 16



Trucks (POL)

Tatra 815 CA 18




Tatra 815 VI



Trailers for Tatra 815 VI




Trucks (POL, 5,000 l)




Trucks Maintenance

Ural 375C



Heavy Load Trailers

P 50 and P 80



Trailer (Water)




Trailer (POL)




Medical Cars

LO 2002 A/C



Trucks with Showers

W50 LA/A/C



Water Bottles




Containers (20 ft.)




Tents (8x15 m)




NBC protection masks




Mine Clearance Equip.




Mine Clearance Equip.

KMT 6M 2



Mine Laying Equip.





Tatra 815 6x6



Heavy Load Trailers




NBC equipment




SPW-40 NBC rec. veh.




Spares Package

250 tons spares



* This table is deliberately incomplete, as it does not include exports covered in other sections. Excluded are deliveries to the United States for testing and evaluation as well as for training purposes; deliveries to Turkey; and deliveries for technical intelligence purposes to Israel. Israel also requested other NVA equipment but detailed and official figures are not publicly known.

Source: Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 22 February 1991.

Exports for Technical Intelligence

Former NVA weapons were given as loans or as gifts to foreign countries for technical intelligence, i.e., testing and evaluation purposes. These types of exports were said to be limited to the NATO countries and Israel. Other countries-"several Arab countries"-may also have benefited from such exports (Deutscher Bundestag, 2 December 1991, p.5). While such deliveries were implemented on a regular basis according to agreed NATO guidelines with the United States, the United Kingdom and France, each delivery to Israel was decided on a case-by-case basis (for details, see Annex 4).

The deliveries of former NVA equipment to the United States are somewhat unique in this context. On the one hand, they covered a broader number of types of equipment than deliveries to any other country. In fact, the United States is the only country that received large numbers of complete major weapon systems. On the other hand, the United States is the only country that received substantial numbers of weapons from the former NVA for training purposes. The US military maintains complete 'red flag' units, equipped with Soviet/Russian weapons, in order to conduct its military training as realistically as possible. The opportunity to equip these units with more modern equipment from NVA stocks was not passed up. It can not be clearly determined in all cases whether deliveries of NVA equipment to the United States served technical intelligence or training purposes.

According to official statements, Israel is the only country outside of NATO participating in this exchange; several clandestine operations were set up by the West German Foreign Intelligence Service to secretly transport NVA weapons to Israel in cooperation with the Mossad.

Israel (Deutscher Bundestag, 2 December 1991; Deutscher Bundestag, Verteidigungsausschuß, 10 December 1991; Kolbow/Stoltenberg, 1992) was one of the first countries to informally show interest in NVA equipment. Based on a 1967 general agreement and case-by-case cooperation between the armed forces of Israel, the German Bundeswehr and the two countries' foreign intelligence services, this type of cooperation already had some practice. Historically, the FRG had benefited greatly from cooperation, since Israel had provided the FRG with some complete major weapon systems captured during the wars in the Near East, including an AA-2 air-to-air missile and a BMP-2. The German side did not have much hardware to give in return. Even before the unification date, however, the Israeli military attaché in Bonn had tabled preliminary requests for weapon systems of interest to the Mossad and the Israeli armed forces. In mid-1991, the Israeli list contained 274 positions, of which the German government had fulfilled some 68 positions by December 1991 and was preparing to fulfill an unknown number of additional ones (it had also turned down an unknown number of wishes). The weapons seized in Hamburg (14 positions) were finally delivered in October 1992. Examples of deliveries to Israel can be found in Annex 4.

While in public it was argued that these deliveries occurred as part of the German Gulf War effort and as part of the normal, intra-alliance cooperation, one possible additional motive must be mentioned. With Germany no longer a front-line state and thus having significantly less-valuable COMINT, ELINT and other intelligence information to share, transferring relatively modern, Eastern-style weaponry and equipment from NVA stocks was clearly a possibility for interim compensation.

From what is known about exports, loans and deliveries for technical intelligence purposes, a few conclusions may be drawn.

  • Much of the equipment requested and received by the United States, France, the United Kingdom and Israel was identical. All countries were obviously looking for a number of the same items, which seem not to have been well known to the Western world. Ship-to-ship missiles of the P21 and P22 'Styx' types are good examples, as are modern air-to-air missiles.
  • There was some reluctance in the FRG about giving Israel complete weapon systems or large numbers of the same item, while the United Kingdom and the United States obtained complete major weapons if requested.
  • Israel and the United States both were obviously interested in land-mine technologies used by the NVA.
  • Only the United States looked into many major weapons systems, such as different types of aircraft (Su-22M4, Mig-23 and Mig-29), different tanks or a complete fighting ship, such as the Tarantul class missile corvette. The United States also seems to be the only country with the resources necessary to operate complete 'red flag' type military units.
  • From what is known publicly, the recipient countries appear to have had only limited interest in electronic counter-measure (ECM) or electronic counter-counter-measure (ECCM) equipment from NVA stocks. This is either due to the assumption that these items were not very capable or is an indication that relevant information has been withheld from the public for secrecy reasons.

Since cooperation in technical intelligence is normally subject to intense secrecy, the seizure of the Hamburg weapons for Israel caused investigations that allowed a first glimpse of German practices as well as of some of its partners' behaviors in this field. To the author's knowledge, this case is unique. The size and the wide range of the deliveries discussed during the investigations clearly raise the question of whether more transparency in this field could make a unique contribution to confidence building.

Arming Allies and Fueling a Regional Conflict

Turkey and Greece are among the largest recipients of former NVA weapon systems. As noted above, supplies to these two countries originated from the Turkish requests in the Gulf War context. Both countries contracted for new, large, military aid packages (Materialhilfe III), consisting of a wide mixture of surplus NVA and Bundeswehr weapons to be delivered until 1994/1995. Thus, these programs became rather independent from the Gulf War.

Greece received inter alia 21,675 RPG-18, more than 7,000 guided anti-tank missiles, 3 OSA air defense missile systems (12 launchers with 924 missiles), 306 ZSU23 air defense guns, 501 BMP-1 armored personnel carriers plus 158 RM-70 rocket launchers (including some 205,000 rockets). At one point the country, pressed by its debts, had to delay deliveries as it could no longer pay for the transport (Deutscher Bundestag, 21 January 1994, p.12).

Deliveries to Turkey are similarly impressive: 4,996 RPG-7 light assault weapons were exported together with 197,139 rounds of ammunition; 303,934 Kalashnikov rifles with at least 83 million rounds of ammunition, more than 2,500 machine guns, and 300 BTR-60 armored personnel carriers including large stocks of ammunition were also delivered. In addition, both countries received other military equipment. Parts I and II of Annex 3 show the major exports from NVA stocks; in addition, major deliveries from Bundeswehr surplus stocks within the same aid package are listed in parts III and IV of that annex.

Both countries are the major recipients of military aid within NATO. They are seen by their allies as important factors of stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and with respect to the Muslim world-Volker Rühe, the German Minister of Defense, has argued, "since the end of the east-west confrontation Turkey and Greece are growing into the role of stabilizing regional powers bordering crisis areas" (Bundesminister der Verteidigung, 7 March 1994)-and they have received substantial amounts of surplus weapons for decades. German military aid programs for Turkey totaled DM 6.243 billion for the 1964-1994 timeframe; German programs in support of Greece totaled DM 2.572 billion (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, RüT II 1, 5 October 1991; Wehrdienst, 13/1993, p.2). While deliveries before the ratification of the CFE Treaty were normal military exports, later transfers had to be made under the treaty provisions which allow 'cascading.' Within this program, the more modern armed forces with troops deployed at the former Central Front-i.e., in Germany-are allowed to transfer substantial amounts of destined-to-be-destroyed equipment to the countries at NATO's flanks, thus modernizing the equipment standard of their allies within the agreed equipment limits for these countries. If these deliveries cause the recipient country to exceed the agreed holdings in a CFE category, the respective country is also obliged to destroy older TLEs of the same category to meet its treaty commitments. Since not all these limits were met prior to the cascading, this process could led to substantial increases in national holdings in some cases.

Deliveries to both countries are accompanied by the risk of fueling an arms race among poor NATO allies, who have a wide range of potentially conflicting interests (Aegis, Cyprus, Balkans) and whose governments have regularly used foreign policy disputes to overcome internal difficulties. Therefore the main suppliers, Germany and the United States, both apply a policy in which delivered equipment is carefully divided between Greece and Turkey on a proportional basis.

The supply of huge amounts of small weapons and ammunition to Turkey may well contribute to Turkey's war in the Kurdish provinces as well as to severe human rights violations. While the German government argues that Turkey committed itself to not using these weapons for purposes other than NATO defense, the Turkish government has repeatedly pointed out that fighting the Kurdish PKK guerrilla is well within the common tasks of all NATO countries, since they agreed to cooperate in fighting terrorism.

Although the bilateral treaties between Turkey and Germany on the military aid programs clearly state that Turkey is not authorized to re-export weapons received from Germany without Germany's written approval (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, RüZII 2, 11 November 1993; Bundesministerium der Verteidigung/Ministerium für Nationale Verteidigung der Republik Türkei, 1994, Art. 7, para. 2.), it is possible that Turkey supplied Iraqi Kurds with small arms from former NVA stockpiles. Conversations of the author with humanitarian relief workers, who worked in Iraqi Kurdistan for several years, led to the conclusion, that AK-47s in use with Kurdish militias in Northern Iraq originate from NVA stocks. NVA ammunition also has turned up with with Northern Iraqi Kurdish units. It cannot completely be excluded that Turkey also used deliveries from the former NVA stocks to covertly supply Azerbaijan in its conflicts with Armenia.

Exports to promote exports

Several of the exports of NVA equipment were intertwined with procurement programs of the recipient country from German arms industry. Sweden and Indonesia serve as examples.

In 1994, the German arms industry won a major competition. Sweden, searching for its future main battle tank, evaluated the newest versions of the German Leopard 2, the US M1A2 Abrams, the French Leclerc and the British Challenger tanks. After a lengthy process Sweden finally contracted with German industry for 120 new production tanks for DM 1.2 billion (Wehrdienst 4/1994, p.3), with a possible second lot of 90 vehicles to follow. The choice was allegedly made on the basis of the conditions Germany had offered. The Swedish arms industry would participate in the tank production, and Germany would buy additional equipment from Sweden. Finally-but never directly mentioned-Sweden contracted for cheap surplus weapons of German origin as well. Sweden had already gained an additional 160 ex-German Leopard 2 tanks (out of 200) under a favorable contract in 1994. Roughly 800 of the NVA's MB-LT multi-purpose armored vehicles were also sold to the country for an extraordinarily low price; Sweden will also receive spares from the cannibalization of 228 2S1 self-propelled howitzers (Björck, 1994, p.268; Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 6 April 1994; Foss, 1995, p.13).

Indonesia is another example-39 former East German Navy vessels were sold to Indonesia by January 1993 in a deal very controversial for human rights reasons. The remarkably low price of some US $13 million for all these ships was accompanied by a commitment to partial demilitarization and refurbishment in a German yard-at a cost of US $314 million-and the German company Ferrostahl training 1660 Indonesian naval soldiers. The World Bank criticized the deal, noting that the total costs of the project for Indonesia would be even higher, since remilitarization of the ships at an Indonesian yard would cost another $339 million. The Indonesian yard itself had to modernized for that purpose at the expense of approximately US $119 million and a new harbor had to be built for US $179 million for operating the ships (Deutscher Bundestag, Document 12/6512; Wehrtechnik, June 1993; Ziller, 1994; Dudde, 1994; Der Spiegel, 27 September 1993; Dauth, 1993; Dohnany, 1993; Schmalz, 1992).

Despite the process of demilitarization, on four ships the launchers for modern air-defense missiles were 'accidentally' left aboard, and a 5,000 ton spares and ammunition package accompanied the deal. The Indonesian government also decided to order three new submarines from the German company, Howaldt Deutsche Werk AG, that normally cooperates with Ferrostahl when selling submarines abroad.

Similarly, both Turkey and Greece are long-established and well-known customers of the FRG's arms industries, especially naval industries.

The massive exports from German surplus stocks are somewhat double-edged from a German arms industry perspective. While the German government on the one hand is a cheap competitor for its own arms industries, it also supports the export sales of German industries with cheap, additional equipment. Sometimes this surplus equipment needs to be upgraded or brought up to the recipient country's technology standards by German companies before delivery (Heckmann, 1989, pp.49-50). From an industry perspective, deliveries of very modern equipment may also be perceived as creating a need for next-generation weaponry by the German Bundeswehr earlier than otherwise anticipated.

Examples of additional exports are given in combination with exports supporting actual sales in Annex 5.

Spare parts deliveries (selection)

  • 38 spare tubes AK-230 (30mm naval air defense gun)
  • 51 tubes AK-725 (naval AD-gun)
  • 3 30mm AD-guns AK-230 A
  • 2 30mm AD-guns training
  • 2 30mm AD-guns AK-230 B
  • 7320 link for 30mm ammunition
  • 44 spare tubes AK-725
  • 34 spare tubes AK 230
  • 3 gun mounts for 30mm AK-230 A
  • 2 gun mounts for 30mm AK-230 B

Source: Marinekommando Rostock, 1993, p.3.

Exports for Humanitarian Aid

Large parts of the dual-purpose equipment of the NVA have been exported for civilian or humanitarian use. Trucks, maintenance equipment, clothes, telecommunications or medical and NBC equipment, food and tents have been delivered since 1990. A wide range of countries requested and received former NVA equipment as humanitarian aid-most of the successor states of the former Soviet Union plus 34 other countries and hundreds of organizations from the private sector were listed by the German government in answering parliamentary questions during 1991 and 1992 (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, Parlamentarischer Staatssekretär, 21 November 1991). In addition to the positive aspects, it must be mentioned that in some cases humanitarian aid was delivered together with the trucks transporting it, simply because the costs of destruction for the trucks according to German laws would be relatively high.

CFE Obligations

Reductions in Treaty Limited Equipment under the CFE categories are occurring through both export and destruction. Thus, the unified Germany continues to fulfill its treaty obligations. By the end of 1993 it was expected that all weapons to be dismantled could be scrapped before 16 November 1995, the deadline by which the CFE signatory countries are committed to completing their reductions.

CFE limits would have allowed the unified Germany to keep some additional TLEs, since the stocks in the former West Germany were below the upper limits allowed for aircraft and attack helicopters. Some last-minute exports and recategorizations contributed to reduced needs for expensive destruction as well. It is not officially known whether exports of former West German TLEs (e.g., Leopard tanks to Turkey, Greece, Sweden, Denmark and Norway; RF-4 aircraft to Greece and Turkey; Alpha Jets to Portugal) have also been used to further reduce the number of weapon systems to be destroyed. As no intention exists to operate the additional weapon systems allowed and therefore even more former West German weapon systems are destined for surplus-of some 2054 Leopard 1, 2124 Leopard 2 and 648 M48A2G tanks available to the Bundeswehr in 1991, it will need only 672 Leopard 1 and 1712 Leopard 2 tanks for the new Army Structure Five (without war reserve stocks) (Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 1994, Attachment 7)-the German government may store at least some valuable surplus NVA equipment for possible future export and has primarily scrapped older NVA weapons in each category to meet its commitments. Originally the destruction of substantial numbers of modern GDR equipment had been planned (Wehrdienst, 1322/1992, p.4).

Combat aircraft serve as a good example. Under CFE, Germany had to scrap about 140 aircraft and contracted with a subsidiary of DASA, Elbe-Flugzeugwerke in Dresden. The destruction has since then been completed. All aircraft destroyed were older Mig-21 models; not one Mig-23, Su-22 or even Mig-29 has been scheduled for destruction. At the end of 1993, 24 Mig-29s were kept in service with the Bundeswehr, while more than 139 aircraft were either scheduled for export or awaiting a decision. These included most of the later-production Mig-21s as well as all available Mig-23s and SU-22 fighter bombers.

The same procedure can be demonstrated in other areas. CFE obligations are met by destroying the older systems first: T-54s and T-55s instead of T-72s; BTR-152s, BTR-40s and BTR-50s instead of BMP-1s or BMP-2s; 120mm mortars HM and HD-30 howitzers instead of the more capable HD-20, 2S3, RM-70 or BM-21 rocket launchers. It is not yet known whether these more modern system will be dismantled later. The NVA's Mi-24 attack helicopters will also not be scrapped but probably exported, since there is no commitment to destroy them under CFE limits (Zellner, 1994; Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 6 April 1994; Wehrdienst 3/1994, p.4).

One reason for the decision to scrap the older technology systems may have been the lower expense; another reason surely was that newer technology weapons are easier to sell. Thus, only relatively small numbers of TLEs with higher military value may have to be destroyed during the final stages of the destruction period. Consequently the budget proposal for 1995 contains a reduced allocation of DM 219 million for CFE destructions (Deutscher Bundestag, Document 13/50, Einzelplan 14, p.105; Wehrdienst 17/1994, p.1).

While it is not yet clear whether inheriting the NVA has led to a restructuring of Germany's plans to reduce its stockpiles according to CFE, it is possible that a decision to retain older Western equipment and instead destroy Eastern technology weapons has been made.

Other Methods of Demilitarization

Some TLEs from the former NVA have been rendered useless in other ways. During the early months of reunification, a number of major weapon systems were converted into firefighting equipment and other heavy duty civil machinery in former GDR armaments industry facilities for testing purposes. Several aircraft, tanks and other types of equipment have been demilitarized for static display in exhibitions in Germany and other countries (Wehrdienst 13/1993 p.3; Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 6 April 1994, p.13). This includes individual sales to private collections, as well.

Some weapon systems will be used as targets on Bundeswehr training ranges. In some cases, this will affect substantial numbers; for example, 104 T-72 MBTs, 86 heavily armed PT-76s and 50 2S1 self-propelled howitzers were allocated for use as live targets by the end of 1993 (Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 6 April 1994, p.13).


Roughly 300,000 tons of ammunition were inherited from the NVA by the Bundeswehr. While government and media reports concentrate on successful new technologies for dismantling ammunition, analysis shows that at least one-third and maybe more than 40 percent of the former NVA's ammunition stocks have already been exported or are designated for export. The munitions available at the time of unification were listed by the NVA as belonging to the following categories.

In addition to category 1 weapon systems, the Bundeswehr initially intended to use about 30,000, then 16,400, metric tons of NVA ammunition. This figure was reduced to approximately 14,000 tons. No lower figure has since been given publicly, although the number of NVA weapon systems in Bundeswehr use has been consistently reduced.

The future of roughly 280,000 tons of ammunition had to be decided. The larger portion of this ammunition has been dismantled, while the smaller part has been exported-as a general rule, exports took place in combination with deliveries of the weapons for which the ammunition was intended. Examples of such deliveries can be found throughout the tables and annexes of this paper. Not listed in these tables are the exports of ammunition (e.g., torpedoes) to Sweden, where they were destroyed according to Swedish Ordnance, since environmental regulations did not allow Germany to do so domestically within acceptable costs (Wehrtechnik, 21 October 1991, pp. 1-3).

By 31 December 1993 a total of 60,500 tons had been exported, while 109,100 tons had been destroyed. An additional 57,400 tons were awaiting export, while 54,100 tons were awaiting destruction. No explanation is given for the difference of 300 tons from the estimated total (Deutscher Bundestag, Verteidigungsausschuß, 6 April 1994, pp. 11-12; Annex 5).

The ammunition disposal is expected to be finished by the end of 1995. Since, for security reasons, the Bundeswehr does not intend to transport other countries' surplus ammunitions to the new facilities for ammunition disposal built in the five new Länder, it intends to help the companies who developed these techniques to aggressively market their unique capabilities in other countries.

Table 4: CFE Related Destruction of Weapon Systems (1993)

CFE Category

Holdings notified 1990

Holdings notified 1992

Reduction Commitment

CFE Limit for FRG 1993**

Scrapped by December 31








2,834 (2,834)


956 / 1,432

959 additional MBTs contracted





5,304 (5,474)


2,074/ 2,087

2014 additional ACV/IFs contracted





2,006 (1,897)


814 / 842

290 additional contracted

Attack Helicopter












140  (118)


140 / 140

 140 Mig-21, none contracted

* Notified reduction commitments are given in two ways

a) as reported by Hartmann (1994)
b) as calculated by the author by comparing holdings in 1990 and FRG limits. the latter is shown in brackets.

 ** It is astonishing that two widely different sets of figures were given to Parliament in early 1994 about the numbers of weapons destroyed by the end of 1993: Deutscher Bundestag, Verteidigungsausschuß, 6 April 1994 is in direct contradiction to Deutscher Bundestag, 8 February 1994, p.3. The figure for tanks in that letter was corrected in April 1994. These data are different from those listed by Crawford, 1991 and 1993. The official figures from the Bundeswehr with respect to CFE-related equipment to be destroyed have been reduced several times. See: Ulrich Weiser, Head of the German MoD's Planning Staff, quoted in Defense News (25 March 1991, p.61), as saying that "4,500 main battle tanks, 6,000 armored vehicles, 50 armed helicopters and 150 combat aircraft will have to be destroyed." Additional sources: Hartmann, et al., 1992, p.397; Frank, 1992, p.31., Hartmann, et al, 1994, p.598.

Table 5: Ammunition Stocks of the NVA

Category of Ammunition              


Metric Tons



Small Arms Ammunition                        



Artillery/Grenade Launchers                  



Rocket Launchers                              



AD-guns and SP-AD guns                        



Tanks, AFV, IFV                              






Guided AT-Missiles                            



Short Range AD-Missiles                       



Hand Grenades                                 



Engineer Ammunition                           



     850,000 AT-mines                                                    


     500,000 Directional Mines                                           


Additional munitions & parts                 



Air and Air Defense Forces                                          


1080 Air Defense Missiles                     



17,564 Air-to-Air Missiles                    



711 Air-to-Surface Missiles                   



177,346 Air-to-Surface Rockets                






Ammunition for Aircraft Guns                  



Naval Forces                                                        


Naval Arty/Naval AD-guns                      



Naval Mines                                   



Depth Bombs                                   



Large explosives/Torpedoes/Parts              



Pyrotechnical Ammunition                                             










Sources: Machon, 1991, p.38; Heckmann, 1990, p.76. While the Bundeswehr first used figures significantly lower than the NVA numbers (Preißler, 1991), it returned to the NVA estimates and continues to use them. In some cases, the Bundeswehr estimated the ammunition heritage to be even larger, i.e., 350,000 tons. See: Erbe, 1991, p.413.

Costs and Revenues

The income from sales of weapons from former NVA stocks are used to finance the defense budget and especially the dismantling process, which was expected to cost about DM 1.5 billion. According to 1994 figures the Bundeswehr predicted the earnings from sales would total roughly DM 1.5 billion by 1997. As the process of ridding the Bundeswehr of NVA equipment is scheduled to end in 1996, this is also the estimate for the overall total.

Exports of NVA equipment and weapons, even if the estimates for 1994-1997 are too optimistic, thus roughly totaled the price of a single US B-2 bomber.

The German MoD hopes to finish managing the NVA's heritage by the end of 1996. In 1994, several initiatives were begun to make this a realistic date. Whole storage sites containing old NVA equipment have been offered to civil industries willing to empty them and scrap the rest of the equipment still available. Companies accepting these offers will receive the infrastructure plus guards paid by the government for the time in which they commit themselves to emptying a site.

From a Bundeswehr perspective, there is another good reason for speeding up the process of managing the NVA's heritage. The Bundeswehr already must prepare itself for the next round of reductions of weapons and equipment in service. In the post-Cold War era, its manpower has been reduced to 370,000 soldiers; a reduction to 340,000 has been decided and further cuts-possibly to less than 300,000 soldiers-will have to be made during the next years if no significant increases in the defense budget are decided. Constant pressure exists on the defense budget, leading to the investments share falling from a Cold War third of the budget to a fifth under current conditions. With new reductions, substantial numbers of weapon systems will again become available as surplus weapons. The reduced Bundeswehr will no longer need them, and has neither the manpower to operate nor the money to stockpile and maintain them for long periods. They will therefore fuel the surplus weapons market.

Preliminary preparations for future stock reductions are already underway. Indications of this trend include Turkey's receipt of a FH-70 155mm howitzer and a more modern Leopard 1A5 version for field trials and possible future export (Bundesminister der Verteidigung, 10 January 1994).

Table 6: Estimated Earnings from Selling NVA Equipment (Official estimate for 1990-1997)


Income from Sales (in DM) 













* Estimate.

Sources: Wehrdienst 13/1994, p.4; Wehrdienst 17/1994, p. 1. At the end of 1993, DM 903 million had been spent (DM 170 million for storage and safeguarding; DM 733 million for destruction). In the budget for 1995, the estimated costs for destruction of weapons have been reduced by DM 209 million to DM 178 million, because of reduced needs to scrap weapons and equipment. Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, FüS IV 2, 1994, p.5. The figures given by the Bundeswehr for 1990 to 1993 sales are contradictory, since in another document (Wehrdienst, 13/1994, p.4) the total given was only DM 338 million for the same period.

[*]This article reflects data as available in late 1994, i.e., as of 31 December 1993. The author is especially indebted to a number of jounalists and research colleagues who allowed him to analyse materials they used for their stories. Among them, colleagues of Der Spiegel, Berliner Zeitung and Süddeutsche Zeitung were especially helpful. Research colleagues Erich Schmidt-Eenboom and Hans-Joachim Gießmann, who authored a major book on the NVA in transition (Das unliebsame Erbe, Baden-Baden, 1992), also provided substantial assistance.


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