Peace builder Norway is the world’s seventh largest exporter of weapons and ammunition, according to recent figures. Some of the ammunition are produced by Norwegian companies in Malaysia.
Norway, a country which prides itself on its peace building credentials, was the world’s seventh largest exporter of weapons components, ammunition and tanks in 2006, according to recent figures based on earnings from Norway’s Central Statistics Bureau (SSB), writes ipsnews.net.
In 2007 Norwegian weapons exporters earned 425 million dollars, an 18 percent increase on the previous year, and the largest in Norwegian history. This was 3.5 percent of the global weapons trade, although the secretiveness of the global weapons industry and the illegal weapons trade makes exact measurements impossible.
According to the Norwegian foreign department’s legal guidelines, weapons should not be exported to countries at war, where there is a threat of war, or where there is a civil war. But a recent report from the NGO Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) lists a series of controversial arms and ammunitions transfers from Norway in the past two decades.
In the 1990s large amounts of weapons equipment was exported to Turkey, where the military has been accused of human rights abuses in its conflict with the Kurdish guerrilla organisation PKK. Political debates led parliament to cease the exports in 1995, although they were resumed later.
The Turkey debates led to the establishment of an annual reporting mechanism for the foreign department’s export section that is meant to give parliament an overview of weapons exports.
“I would say the level of transparency has improved a lot”, researcher Nicholas Marsh at the Oslo Peace and Research Institute (PRIO) told IPS.
“The foreign department releases a lot more information now than in the 1990s, and that information is a lot more useful, so I’d say the quality of debate in parliament has definitely improved”.
“I think that Sweden is one of the only countries with a stronger system. The Swedish parliament gets to debate the arms exports before they happen, and they have a special committee for that. This is not the case in Norway, where the parliament is normally only told of the exports after they have happened, and then there’s not much that you can do.”
The Turkey debates also led to a parliamentary declaration that democratic and human rights principles should be taken into account before exporting weapons. The principles were formally incorporated into the foreign department’s guidelines in 2007.
However, Norwegian weapons exports continue to cause controversy.
“On one level the situation in Norway is a lot better than for a lot of other major arms exporters, in that Norway for the most part exports the more lethal equipment to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) countries,” Marsh said.
“The problem is that some NATO members are involved in wars, such as in Iraq or Afghanistan. Depending on your position on the morality of those conflicts, you may perceive arms exports to countries fighting there as problematic. Norway of course has its own troops in Afghanistan, and that makes things even more complicated”.
One major challenge is preventing importers of Norwegian weapons from re-exporting them to undesirable countries. In the case of Nordic countries and its NATO allies, Norway does not require end-user declarations that prevent re-exports.
The Czech Republic import
and export Scandinavian weapons
The Czech Republic, the main importer of Norwegian ammunition, exports to countries such as Sudan, Angola, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to name a few. The U.S. exports weapons to a large list of countries that Norway would not, including Colombia, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. Weapons exports to Sri Lanka from the U.S. and other NATO allies continued even during Norway’s peace negotiation efforts there.
Further, even more lax export rules from the countries that import from Norway’s customers, as well as smuggling routes, increase the risk that weapons will end up in some of the world’s worst trouble spots.
Limiting ammunition sales can have a particularly positive impact, according to the NCA report. A central reason for this is that firearms, once acquired, last for many years, but will not work without a constant supply of new ammunition.
The report examines a series of African civil wars, demonstrating that many militant groups tend to choose weapons that fit commonly available ammunition types instead of the other way around, in order to avoid getting stuck with stockpiles of weapons that cannot be fired because of unreliable flows of new ammunition.
“It’s quite easy to ignore ammunition. Focusing on guns is much more obvious, but if people run out of ammunition they have to stop shooting, so it’s absolutely integral to the issue. Also, most other Norwegian weapons exports are components for weapons systems. They are not something that you could immediately pick up and use to kill somebody,” Marsh said.
Nammo production in Malaysia
Scandinavian ammunition is mainly exported by the company Nammo. It is the largest exporter of civilian and military ammunition from Norway, Sweden, and Finland, as well as one of the world’s leading exporters. Nammo’s head office is in Norway, with daughter companies in Sweden and Finland, and licensed production in several countries, including Poland, Malaysia and the U.S.
Nammo is jointly owned by Norway’s Ministry of Trade and Industry and the Finnish defence company Patria. However, the Norwegian ministry declined to be interviewed directly regarding Nammo’s ethical responsibilities, instead choosing to reply to questions from IPS via e-mail. In the e-mail state secretary Øyvind Slåke simply states that the ministry “discusses such issues” with Nammo, and that it expects Nammo to follow the foreign department guidelines.
One major challenge with ammunition that ends up in undesirable places is that it is often even more difficult to trace than guns, as companies do not engrave enough information on the casings.
“You often get markings showing the country of origin, the producer or the year of manufacture, but that tells you very little. If the company is producing millions of rounds every single year, then just knowing what year it was produced really doesn’t help you trace how it might have ended up somewhere,” Marsh said.
State secretary Slåke writes that his discussions with Nammo have led him to conclude that the company’s marking practice, based on a NATO standard, is sufficient. “Nammo can trace ammunition if necessary. In recent years the level of transparency has been considerably strengthened,” according to the statement.
However, the NCA report argues that the NATO standard does not give enough information, and recommends that Nammo is made to mark its ammunition with information on the producer, production date, lot, and first buyer.
The UN established a non-binding global agreement on the marking of firearms in 2005, and is currently examining the issue of ammunitions marking. In October 2007 Norway’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee said it supported this work, which is a part of negotiations for a global arms transfer treaty. A new parliamentary report released on Mar. 30 expresses Norway’s support for the treaty negotiations.