Finland’s Weapons Trade: Middle East Market Grows

Countries with bad human rights records and military action against civilians are Finland's top customers.

File photo: Patria XA-220 armoured vehicle / Credit: @patria_group Instagram

The share of Finnish weapons exports going to the Middle East reached a new high last year, according to a report by the SaferGlobe think tank.

Some 63% of Finland’s total military exports last year went to the region, with Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Turkey the top buyers.

Overall, the value of arms exports from Finland doubled between 2002 and 2016, and growth is likely to continue with several Finnish companies reporting that sales activity has picked up pace.

Last year, Finnish companies exported military products worth more than €133m, and civilian weapons worth more than €78m. During the 21st century so far, Finland has been the world’s 13th largest arms exporter, in proportion to the population, according to SaferGlobe.

Negative Export Decisions

Finland’s arms exports to the Middle East hit the headlines when it was reported that most military hardware had gone to Saudia Arabia, UAE and Turkey – three countries that have participated in military action that resulted in civilian casualties, in Yemen and Syria.

Finland’s Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö (Blues) says that not all the applications for exports to the Middle East are approved.

“There is a growing number of applications for export permits and requests for approval submitted to the licensing authority […] negative decision on Middle East exports have also been made, they are kept confidential” he says.

The permit review process in Finland follows the EU’s common position on the subject; and in line with the obligations of the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. It also takes into account the legitimate right of the end user country to develop its own defense.

Peace Protest

A number of organisations  that promote peace say they consider Finland’s growing exports to the Middle East as likely to fuel instability in the region, and not to increase security.