UPDATE: Though four ministers voted against granting the permit, the Finnish government has granted an export licence for 36 Patria mortar systems to be shipped to Saudi Arabia, the government-controlled arms maker said in a statement.
The Finnish research group SaferGlobe Finland released a statement in late November that questioned Finnish government approval of 36 heavy mortar systems for the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG).
The release states that the Finnish mortar deal is part of a larger arms agreement approved in 2006 under the U.S. Government’s Foreign Military Sales program. As one component of the agreement, General Dynamics Land Systems Canada (GDLS-C) in London, Ontario closed a $2.2-billion deal in November 2009 to provide armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
GDLS-Canada has never released the name of the customer for 724 armoured vehicles supplied via the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. Several industry sources have confirmed the end destination as the SANG. The vehicles will be shipped in 10 variants, including a mortar carrier. The Finnish company Patria builds Nemo heavy mortar systems and it is seeking export approval from the Finnish government to supply 36 of these for use on the Canadian-built vehicles.
As SaferGlobe Finland points out in its release, there are risks associated with exporting arms to Saudi Arabia. It is a dictatorship with a weak human rights record where civil society organizations such as labour unions are prohibited. There are allegations of corruption in previous Saudi arms deals. There also have been recent attacks by Saudi Arabia on the territory of neighbouring Yemen. Earlier this year Saudi Arabia sent troops and equipment – including Canadian-built armoured vehicles — to Bahrain to assist in the violent suppression of civil dissent. Any one of these risks is grounds for denying the sale under the European Union Common Position on Arms Exports to which Finland is party.
These risks are also grounds for the Canadian government to deny the export of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Yet industry reports indicate that deliveries of some variants of the vehicles began in 2011.
The Saudi sale appears to be another example of economic incentives overriding Canadian export control standards. Canada likes to boast of the comparative strength of its controls on the export of military goods. But too often Canadian controls have holes large enough to drive mortar carriers through.