HELSINKI — Finland’s arms sales to Middle Eastern nations has surfaced as a hot political topic in the run-up to the country’s presidential election on Jan. 28. All eight candidates support a ban on weapons sales to Middle Eastern countries engaged in civil or cross-border military conflicts.

In particular, the candidates would like the government to impose an immediate arms sales ban on the United Arab Emirates.

The special focus on the UAE emerged after multiple sightings of Patria-produced armored modular vehicles being used in combat roles against Houthi rebels in Yemen’s ongoing civil war. The AMVs in question were sold by Finnish state-owned defense group Patria to the UAE in 2016.

The export permit was granted to Patria despite strong reservations expressed by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in 2016. The ministry’s concern was largely centered on the UAE’s militarization program and the possibility that the Patria AMVs might be used in neighboring conflicts.

The Finnish state owns 50.1 percent of Patria’s shares. The other 49.9 percent are held by Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace, the Norwegian state-controlled defense group.

Patria’s 2016 deal with the UAE, which comprised delivery of 40 eight-wheel drive Patria AMVs, included a provision that the AMVs not be used in cross-border conflicts. The deal excluded weapons and other combat systems, but included a provision for spare parts negotiated under separate agreements.

The Finnish government recently issued a license to Patria allowing the company to proceed with the export of spare parts.

“It would appear the customer, the UAE, has violated the conditions imposed on the end-user agreement that covered the sale of the AMVs. This country’s arms exports must be subjected to more rigorous scrutiny going forward,” said Paavo Väyrynen, an independent presidential candidate and a former leader of Finland’s Center Party.

Finland needs to review its arms export licensing policy to the Middle East, said former prime minister Matti Vanhanen, the Center Party’s candidate in the upcoming election.

“The political and military landscape has changed greatly in the Middle East since 2016. The situation in Yemen has escalated over the past two years. Finland should discontinue all arms exports but maintain the option to continue exporting spare parts,” said Vanhanen, who served as prime minister from 2003-2010.

Vanhanen added that a Finnish prohibition on the export of spare parts might violate the terms of Patria’s original contract with the UAE and place the Finnish government in a “difficult position.”

Norway suspended arms exports to the UAE on Jan. 3, fearing that weapons sold could end up being used by the country’s armed forces in Yemen. The UAE is part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group.

The Middle East accounted for a larger share of Norway’s total exports in 2017. Norway’s arms exports rose 40 percent to $500 million last year. Export deals included the sale by Kongsberg of its Norwegian Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System to Oman, which is not involved in the conflict in Yemen. The deal was worth $130 million.

Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.

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