Foreign Military Sales Shipments through the European Union: It's Not Just a Ramstein Air Base Issue
Engberson, Lieutenant Colonel Douglas H., DISAM Journal
For many years, the Department of Defense has used Ramstein Air Base (AB) Germany as an in transit point for foreign military sales (FMS) shipments These shipments carry U.S.-produced or provided military equipment to the armed forces of another country or international agency through sales or grant transfer. FMS equipment can include any military supplies: uniforms, small arms, aircraft parts, munitions, and even "big ticket" items such as armored personnel carriers, tanks, or aircraft. The equipment carried on these shipments legally belongs to the foreign purchaser; ownership transfers from the U.S. Government to the foreign purchaser at the point of origin (the U.S. depot or vendor facility). Thus, the equipment belongs to the foreign purchaser when it arrives in Ramstein, not to the United States or Germany. These shipments typically travel to Ramstein via the Defense Transportation System (DTS) (U.S. Air Force [USAF] flights or chartered commercial flights) and from there would move overland to their final destinations throughout Europe.
Until October 2007 these FMS shipments into Ramstein were handled in the same way as shipments of any U.S.-owned equipment into the airbase in keeping with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Although this was incorrect according to both German law and U.S. FMS shipment procedures, German customs authorities at the time were not focused on differentiating American-owned and FMS equipment and had previously accepted the U.S. Customs Clearance Form 302--detailed below--as a means of transshipping the third party equipment into and out of Ramstein AB. In October 2007, however, German authorities began enforcing customs inspections of U.S. flights into Ramstein AB. The customs authorities noted that FMS equipment being carried on these flights was not American-owned and subsequently refused to accept the U.S. Form 302 as an appropriate method of customs clearance for flights entering German territory carrying FMS equipment. The United States was notified by the German Ministry of Finance (which controls German customs) that the current method of conducting FMS shipments through Ramstein would not be acceptable in the future. Citing emerging concerns about compliance with European Union (EU) customs regulations, the German Ministry of Finance enforced this decision and refused a number of U.S. flights carrying FMS equipment to the foreign purchaser (Timm 2009).
Up to October 2007, deliveries of FMS equipment via Ramstein AB were handled identically to shipments of U.S.-owned material into Ramstein. Shipments of American-owned equipment or any other NATO member territory are normally customs cleared and moved under the NATO SOFA adopted by the NATO signatories 19 June 1951 which regulates the conditions for the presence of NATO forces in the territory of other NATO members. According to Article XI, Paragraph 4 of the NATO SOFA, member nations' forces "may import ... equipment for the force and reasonable quantities of provisions, supplies, and other goods" into and out of other member nations "free of duty." Article XI, Paragraph 4 states in full:
A force may import free of duty the equipment for the force and reasonable quantities of provisions, supplies, and other goods for the exclusive use of the force and, in cases where such use is permitted by the receiving State, its civilian component and dependents. This duty-free importation shall be subject to the deposit, at the customs office for the place of entry, together with such customs documents as shall be agreed, of a certificate in a form agreed between the receiving State and the sending State signed by a person authorized by the sending State for that purpose. The designation of the person authorized to sign the certificates, as well as specimens of the signatures and stamps to be used, shall be sent to the customs administration of the receiving state. …