teleSUR, 13 October 2014 **** Front Page

Finland Eager to Deepen Arms Trade Collaboration With Israel

By Airin Bahmani and Bruno Jäntti

Military trade between Finland and Israel goes back for more than 60 years. Finland exported weaponry to Israel already in the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's. The major imports from Israel took place in the 1990's and during the very first years of the 21st century.

It would probably be an exaggeration to claim that more than a relatively tiny part of Finns are aware that Finland is conducting arms trade with some of the most egregious human rights violating countries in the world. However, the issue has received scattered coverage. In particular, Finland's arms trade links with Israel keep drawing a lion's share of the overall criticism.

Indeed, the fact that Finland continuously seals new military deals with a state that so openly breaches international law, that is the state of Israel, as well as conducts trade with, and produces economic benefit to, private Israeli weapons companies which are complicit in Israel's abysmal human rights breaches has arguably elicited more domestic criticism than Finland's arms trade with any other state.

Over 250 Finnish dignitaries from the arts, sciences and politics have signed a petition demanding an immediate discontinuation of all military trade and cooperation between Finland and Israel. Among the signatories are foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja, world-renowned international law expert Martti Koskenniemi and distinguished professor at the University of Helsinki, forensic dentist Helena Ranta. They are joined by Finnish MEPs and MPs, a number of Finlandia Prize winners, film and stage directors, writers, actors, scholars and more than 40 university professors.

The Finnish film director Aki Kaurismäki encapsulated some of the reasons why Finland's arms trade with Israel is such an abomination: "What makes the arms trade between Finland and Israel particularly disgraceful is the fact that it is carried out with companies and weapons which have had a central role in the killing of civilians in the territories illegally occupied by Israel."

"What makes the arms trade between Finland and Israel particularly disgraceful is the fact that it is carried out with companies and weapons which have had a central role in the killing of civilians in the territories illegally occupied by Israel."

Professor of legal history and Roman law at Helsinki University, Jukka Kekkonen, who has been an ardent critic of the Finnish-Israeli arms trade for a number of years, similarly observed that "Finland's arms trade with Israel supports an illegal occupation."


Information protection law

In the midst of mounting domestic opposition towards Finland's love affair with Israel's occupation-powered military equipment, the Finnish government passed a bill that enables further integration between the Finnish and Israeli military industries. Also, the new law makes it possible for the Finnish government and private defence companies to hide details of the Finnish-Israeli arms trade as state secrets. It is possible that such secrecy, which is the new agreement now requires, might curtail the prospects for the civil society to find out about the trade.

After the Defense Committee had finished processing the bill it passed into law when voted on in the Finnish Parliament in March, 2012. Besides the obvious support from the government, including the Left Alliance, all but one of the Defense Committee members favored the bill. This was the first time Finland signed an agreement with another state on information protection with an exclusively military and security focus.

One of the stated goals of the bill is to give a boost to Finnish weapons industry. The agreement gives an opportunity for the Finnish defense and security companies to take part in projects that require access to Israel's Classified Information. Reciprocally, Israel's private military sector will be granted the opportunity to participate in projects that require access to Finland's Classified Information.

The timing of the law merits closer scrutiny. Military trade between Finland and Israel goes back for more than 60 years. Finland exported weaponry to Israel already in the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's. The major imports from Israel took place in the 1990's and during the very first years of the 21st century. Thus, one is tempted to ask, why pass such an information protection law on the Finnish-Israeli military cooperation in 2012?

A plausible factor behind the timing is the highly publicized campaign launched against the Finnish-Israeli military trade in 2010. The exact simultaneity between domestic opposition to Finland's arms trade with Israel, on one hand, and the new law that enables deeper integration of the two countries' military industries and has the ability to hide details of the trade from public scrutiny, on the other, is perhaps not a coincidence.


The revealing plenary session of the Finnish parliament in March 14, 2012

On March 14, 2012, during the Finnish parliament plenary session that dealt with the bill and the petition, altogether 26 addresses were presented by Finnish MPs from across the political spectrum. Hence, the March 14 plenary session provides the most comprehensive account of the MPs' positions for and against the bill. Perhaps more importantly, the plenary session clarifies and reflects, in terms of party politics, the Finnish discourse on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The March 14, 2012, plenary session is one of the few occasions in which a specific BDS campaign has been elaborated in a national parliament.


Positions against the bill

Several well-reasoned addresses were given by MPs Anna Kontula and Silvia Modig from the Left Alliance and MPs Markus Mustajärvi and Jyrki Yrttiaho from Left Faction Parliamentary Group. MP Pentti Kettunen from the True Finns and MP Tuula Väätäinen from the Social Democratic Party of Finland also spoke critically of the bill.

MP Jyrki Yrttiaho, who is also a member of the Defense Committee and its only member who was opposed to the bill, said:

"Mr. Speaker! The military trade between Finland and Israel is emerging as an important foreign policy issue in Finland. While significant EU Member States, such as the UK, or Nordic countries, such as Norway and Sweden, are re-evaluating and cutting their ties to Israel's weapons industry, the Finnish government and MOD have adopted the opposite approach. /.../

Public opinion in Finland: for instance, more than 250 Finnish dignitaries of politics, culture, arts and sciences demand that Finland stop trading arms with Israel. The current foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja signed the petition in autumn of 2010. The then-MP Tuomioja told Helsingin Sanomat that he signed the petition against the arms trade because Israel could not and should not be treated as a normal arms trade partner. "Not as long as it continues to expand the settlements and illegal occupation in the Palestinian territories and doesn't show credible signs of genuine attempts in creating a peace agreement." This is what the current foreign minister noted in October, 2010.

For above-mentioned reasons, the Left Faction Parliamentary Group is of the opinion that, on the basis of the conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinians, the government's proposal should not be endorsed."

MP Anna Kontula from the Left Alliance reminded that,

"Instead of an appropriate debate in committee the bill has only been processed in the Defense Committee, and even there the expert assessments were given by just two officials. The agreement's provisions' interrelationship with the principles of transparency cry out for constitutional review."

MP Kontula emphasized that,

"According to both the U.N. and the most authoritative human rights organizations, Israel has repeatedly committed serious human rights violations, war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Among international law experts both in Finland and abroad there is a unanimity on Israel's affronts to human rights and violations of international law.

What makes all of this even less convincing is that precisely the Finnish-Israeli arms trade has had a lot of bad press. For this reason, any attempts to hide it are especially problematic in terms of democracy and human rights."

Not surprisingly, the many problems and drawbacks of the bill raised by a number of MPs went completely unanswered by those advocating for the bill.

 

Arkisto: Airin Bahmani, Bruno Jäntti, Middle East, Robert Fisk, Patrick Cockburn, Noam Chomsky

 

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