Over the last 18 months, Finland’s Ministry of Defence has awarded domestic companies 50 permits to sell weapons to countries in the Middle East. Finland is currently supplying arms to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, for example, both of which have recently bombed civilian targets in Yemen.
The weapons market in the Middle East is heating up and Finland wants its share of the market - at least if arms export figures from the last 18 months are to be believed.
From the beginning of 2015 to the end of June 2016, 522 permits were granted to Finnish defence manufacturers to export their products abroad. 50 of these were approved to Middle Eastern countries, raising the 2012 proportion of 1.8 percent of total sales to 3 percent.
A permit to export the arms does not necessarily mean that the buyer will clinch the deal, but in terms of euros, most of the trade agreements become a reality. SaferGlobe, an independent peace and security thinktank operating out of Finland, monitors the arms trade. It says that Finnish contractors received permits amounting to 1.7 billion euros between 2004 and 2014, with 1.2 billion in transactions eventually carried out.
In terms of euros spent, the amount of arms exports to the Middle East has increased manifold in recent years. The latest figures indicate that the trend shows no signs of slowing.
“It is hard to say if it’s a permanent trend, but for the time being, it seems we are living in extraordinary times,” says SaferGlobe researcher Mert Sasioglu.
AMVs to the UAE, armoured steel to Turkey
The start to the Middle Eastern export boom in Finland is seen to have started in 2011, when Finnish defence contractor Patria signed a deal to deliver 36 Nemo mortar systems to Saudi Arabia. The sale was one of Finland’s largest in its arms export history, and explains why Saudi Arabia rose to second position behind Sweden in arms export figures for 2014.
Other significant deals were secured in 2015. For example, Patria sold 40 armoured modular vehicles (AMV) to the United Arab Emirates. Permits were also granted to supply the country with Sako sniper rifles and two Boomeranger boats.
An export permit has also recently been granted to sell Patria AMVs that are fitted with Nemo mortar systems to Qatar.
Salo-based boat manufacturer Marine Alutech has also reached a deal with the Royal Oman Police to deliver 14 Watercat K13 interceptor boats, suitable for patrolling, by the end of 2017.
Permits to sell tens of thousands of tonnes of armoured steel to the highly volatile region have also been approved. Turkey alone has been green-lighted to receive 16,800 tonnes of the specially-adapted steel, ideal for protecting armoured vehicles.
Finland also continues its long-term cooperative relationship in the arms trade with Israel, although in this scenario, Finland plays more of a role as a buyer and product developer, and less of a provider.
Finland’s Defence Ministry issues the permits for arms trade, but the Foreign Ministry is responsible for determining whether the exports comply with the country’s foreign and security policy. The ministry’s unit for arms control says each agreement with Middle Eastern countries is considered carefully and case-specifically, as it is a “conflict-sensitive area”.
But not all of Finland’s arms export partners are using their weapons for defence only. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are both heavily involved in Yemen’s civil war, for example.
“According to the UN Commission for Human Rights, the union has been found guilty of several attacks on multiple civilian targets,” says SaferGlobe’s Sasioglu.
Isn’t this activity seen as a red flag at the ministry? Sannamaria Vanamo, head of the arms control unit, replies:
“The situation is worrying when it comes to Yemen. But in the figures in question, it was not determined that the permits should be denied because of the prevailing situation. It is also worth noting that the countries (Saudi Arabia and UAE) are in Yemen at the request of the country’s government.”
The dismal economy in Finland is also a key factor in the ministry’s deliberations.
“Of course we also consider the impact on Finnish business operations and employment in our overall assessment,” Vanamo says.
Odd man out
Not one single permit has been approved for selling weapons to Russia in the last 18 months. Why would Saudi Arabia pass the litmus test and Russia not?
“There is no absolute ban on exports to the Middle East. The EU and many other countries have imposed an arms embargo against Russia as a result of the Ukraine crisis. Finland complies with the EU mainstream in this respect,” says the ministry’s Vanamo.
But how can Finland be sure that the arms it is selling don’t end up in the wrong hands? Vanamo has an answer to that question, too.
“It can’t be ruled out completely, but over the last few years we have had no knowledge of any abuse of Finnish military equipment that has been exported.”