Finnish materiel exports reached a record 133.4 million euros in 2016, according to the SaferGlobe peace and security think tank. The organisation said Monday that the bulk of exports – some 84 million euros -- were sold to countries in the Middle East.
Last year’s record sales includes a major deal including 40 8x8 Armored Modular Vehicles, sold by Finnish defence contractor Patria to the United Arab Emirates.
"Finland has long had ambitions to stimulate exports to the Middle East. They have been realised," said SaferGlobe researcher Kari Paasonen.
The Finnish arms trade is part of a wider global trend, in which arms contractors have been focusing on regions experiencing unrest and where there is a greater demand for military hardware, the report indicated.
"A central factor for the exports has been growing instability in the Middle East. Conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Libya have prompted countries to take precautions."
Finland arming countries targetting civilians
Some of Finland’s new partners in the arms trade, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are currently waging war in Yemen.
"The Saudi-led coalition has repeatedly struck civilian targets. The United Nationals has condemned the strikes as violations of international law," Paasonen pointed out.
According to research from the non-aligned Yemen Daya Project, one-third of offensives in Yemen have targeted civilian holdouts.
SaferGlobe said that questions also arise over what will happen to the armaments in ten years.
"The life cycle of the weapons is decades and difficult to predict in states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Arms exported from Finland have also ended up on the illegal arms market before," he noted.
Qatar waiting in the wings?
Finnish arms exports to the Middle East may be poised to expand. The state-owned defence contractor Patria said it is currently courting Qatar over a major deal. If it goes through, a contract to supply AMVs and accompanying grenade launchers could earn the company hundreds of millions of euros.
"It could be Finland’s biggest deal since the turn of the century and it would show up as an even larger portion of exports to the Middle East," the researcher added.
These sums are peanuts compared to the contracts sealed by the world’s major arms exporters, such as the United States, Russia and even Sweden, which is the biggest exported in the Nordics. However in terms of per capita figures, Finland’s military exports are nothing to sneeze at.
"In per capita terms, Finland is the world’s 13th biggest arms exporter."
Politicians at odds
Social Democratic Party MP and former Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja has condemned the increase in the sale of arms to the Middle Wast. Tuomioja questioned the decision to sell material to countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are involved in the conflict in Yemen.
The ex-minister also said that selling munitions to Qatar was problematic. He said that while the country is not currently involved in any regional conflicts, its politics are very volatile and is curently at odds with neighbouring countries.
Meanwhile chair of the Parliamentary Defence Committee, National Coalition Party MP Ilkka Kanerva defended Finland as an exemplar in the arms trade. He noted that the size of exports last year was due mainly to the large deal with the United Arab Emirates.
Kanerva, who also held the post of Foreign Minister, acknowledged that arms sales to Qatar were problematic, saying that it is important to know which groups will take possession of the arms sold.
He called for accurate information about the buyers and users of weapons at all stages, and to make such information part of the terms of trade going forward.