In the past 15 years, Finland’s arms exports have skyrocketed and undergone a change of pattern. The Middle East is becoming a focal point for Finnish weapons manufacturers, to the dismay of local peace activists, who consider it unbecoming of a nation that styles itself a mediator.
Between 2002 and 2016, Finland’s exports of military equipment have doubled, according to a recent report from independent think-tank Safer Globe. Over these years, Finland has sold military equipment to the tune of €1.5 billion ($1.76 billion), coupled with a €700 million ($822 million) worth of weapons for civilian purposes, such as hunting weapons.
The export of arms and defense equipment is part of Finland’s foreign and security policy. Between 2003 and 2016, the government and the Defense Ministry have granted some 3,000 export licenses for military equipment.
As far back as 2003, North America and Europe were the most important export destinations, but in recent years the Middle East has started overtake these traditional buyers, accounting for 63 percent of Finland’s total arms export. In 2016 alone, Finland sold armored vehicles to the United Arab Emirates for over €60 million ($70 million), following a much sought-after 2007 arms deal.
All in all, armored vehicles constitute 38.2 percent of the total exports, which is attributed to the high cost of a single vehicle compared to other types of military equipment, Finnish national broadcaster Yle reported.
In the Middle East, Finland exports most military equipment to the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, all the three of which have participated in operations associated with the civil wars in Yemen and Syria.
“Exporting arms to the Middle East contributes to instability in the area and does not increase security. <…> An increase in arms exports is not a suitable solution for a country that wants to profile itself as a peacekeeper,” the organizations said in their joint statement, quoted by the Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet.
The Finnish pacifists also expressed concern about local arms manufacturer Patria’s attempts to broker a €100 million deal with Qatar, which involves armored vehicles and grenade launchers and may become, if successful, Finland’s largest arms deal.
“Non-democratic Qatar, a country in the midst of Mid-Eastern political conflict, accused of supporting terrorists and participating in the Yemeni conflict, is a prime example of a country that should not even be considered as a recipient of arms,” Laura Lodenius of the Peace Union of Finland said.
According to a survey conducted by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), from 2012-2016 exports of defense equipment to the Middle East have increased by 86 percent.
Defense Minister Jussi Niinistö noted an increase in the number of applications for export authorizations in Finland, admitting the government’s role as promoter of the arms trade. Niinistö stated that arms deals with Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been finalized and will be completed.
”Arms deals take a long time to prepare and we have worked hard to get into the markets in the Middle East,” Jussi Niinistö said, as quoted by Yle.
Despite the fact that Finland’s export figures may be easily dwarfed by major arms manufacturers such as the US, the Nordic country of 5.5 million nevertheless placed 13th on the list of weapons exporters per capita, according to Safer Globe.