Soldiers (Image by Daniel Hadman)

Licensing to Kill?

Friends will be friends

In Scandinavia, the EU Code of Conduct’s criterion of not exporting arms to a country at war does not present a new concept. It has been a long-standing, though obviously relative, policy in Sweden, and Norwegian law contains a sentence eerily similar to that in the code. As widespread inbreeding and subsequent dyslexia in Europe’s royal families can testify to, however, friendship and alliances have been more important than rules and policies for millennia, and there are plenty of signs that this may still be the case. Relativity is not exclusive to Sweden.

“There’s a similar problem with Norway’s exports to a country like Turkey,” Anthony says. “As a fellow NATO member, Norway has certain obligations to assist Turkey in its self-defense. At the same time, there are issues raised when it comes to exporting weapons to continue the war in Kurdistan.”

Again, whether there is actually a war going on in Kurdistan is a question of definition. Nevertheless, arms exports to Turkey is a controversial issue. According to Tjäder, the ISP rarely approves licenses for companies in formerly neutral Sweden to sell arms or ammunition to Turkey, and he sounds genuinely apologetic when he admits to one incident in which they approved a shipment of competition ammunition for a championship.

Sweden is not the only country to be skeptical about selling arms to Turkey. Even if the conflict in Kurdistan does not qualify as a war, the situation raises definite human rights issues, and criterion 2 in the EU code is devoted to “the respect of human rights in the country of final destination.” Since the country that connects Europe to the Middle East wants to become a member of the European Union, however, a political discussion has been going on for some time about Turkey as a customer of weapons.

The European Union is using membership and arms trade as an incentive to get Turkey to clean up its human rights record, but so far it has had little effect. Meanwhile, Norway and the other NATO members are faced with a dilemma when it comes to dealing with Turkey. Marsh argues that it wouldn’t make much sense to expect help from Turkey, even in the context of the defense alliance, if the other members refused to sell them the equipment.

“To deal with this,” Anthony says, “[Norwegian licensing authorities] try to differentiate on a system-by-system basis. A delivery to the Turkish navy, for instance, may not be especially dangerous to the Kurds, and not so difficult to get licensed, whereas a license to export ammunition to the Turkish ground troops in Kurdistan may be denied.”

This differentiation gets understanding from the Norwegian arms producers, if perhaps under some grumbling.

“You have to wonder sometimes about Turkey,” says Vinghøg, summing up the situation in a few sentences. “They’re a considerable NATO country, yes. But that Kongsberg gets to sell their Penguins [missile systems] there – I guess they may not be able to use them on the Kurds, or even willing to use a million-kroner kapow against them – but it sort of makes you wonder. That’s our foreign policy, though, and there isn’t too much we can do about that.”

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