Finnish arms exports to Turkey have grown quickly

Last year Turkey was Finland's most important arms sales partner.

Turkish armoured vehicles patrolling near the Syrian border in March. Finland has sold protective steel used on such vehicles to Turkey. Image: AOP

Finland's defence materiel exports to Turkey have expanded rapidly in recent years. In 2018 Turkey was the most important export country for Finnish arms, based on the value of export permits granted.

Following the Turkish attack on Syria, Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne decreed that the government will not approve any new arms export permits to Turkey or any other country waging war.

Finland has however already sold tens of millions of euros worth of defence equipment to Ankara in recent years, according to Finnish Defence Ministry figures.

The freeze on new permits does not mean a halt to Finnish arms exports to Turkey, as current contracts will still be honoured. These sometimes include deliveries spaced out over 3-4 years, for instance. Meanwhile not all licenses necessarily result in actual sales and deliveries.

Defence Minister Antti Kaikkonen says that Finnish authorities are looking into whether it would be possible to reconsider any licences that have already been granted but that "cancelling permits is not simple".

Ministry: Growth not necessarily tied to policy

According to the Defence Ministry, the growth in exports to Turkey is not necessarily the result of a conscious decision by Finland. It notes that any exports are affected by the laws of supply and demand, and that a single delivery can distort annual sales figures.

"Then it seems from outside that something has changed policy-wise, but that's not necessarily always the case," says Selina Kangas, a senior advisor on export control at the Defence Ministry.

The most recent arms exports license to Turkey was granted three weeks ago to Robonic, a Tampere firm specialised in launch systems for unmanned aircraft.

Before Finnish authorities approve a permit, the Defence Ministry looks into how the products are to be used. Last September, a Finnish company's application to sell ammunition to Turkey was rejected.

"But in general negative decisions are rare," says Kangas.

Some 95 percent of Finnish military exports to Turkey are classified as armour or protective materials or equipment, including steel sheathing for armoured vehicles. Finland has also exported equipment for identifying various types of chemical, biological or radioactive materials.

Not all exports are defensive in nature though. For instance in 2015 Nammo Lapua received a permit to export 76,200 cartridges.

From 2015 to 2018, exports to Turkey soared from 3.6 million euros to 17 million euros annually.

Meanwhile Turkey's share of Finnish defence materiel exports rose from 3.6 percent to 13.2 percent. In the early 2010s, Turkey was not even close to being among Finland's most important defence materiel export countries.