• Sweden edition
 
Sweden 'arms dictators' as defence exports soar
The Jas Gripen fighter aircraft. File photo: Wikimedia

Sweden 'arms dictators' as defence exports soar

Published: 20 May 2014 07:03 GMT+02:00
Updated: 20 May 2014 07:03 GMT+02:00

Ranked the third largest arms exporter per capita after Israel and Russia, Sweden's booming industry has stirred up ethical concerns among Swedes about some countries it is doing business with.

In a hangar in the heart of Sweden's military-industrial complex, Saab technicians are building an assembly line for the next generation of Gripen fighters -- at least 60 destined for the Swedish airforce -- equipped with state-of-the-art warfare systems and larger weapons bays.

The Gripen E, designed to stand up to Russia's best warplanes, boasts a unique networking system allowing planes to communicate and divide up tasks such as detecting, electronic jamming and firing, Saab operations chief Lars Ydreskog told AFP during a recent visit to the plant in Linkoeping.

"It was this tactical way of working that was noticed by Brazil and Switzerland," he said, referring to the recent selection of Saab's fighter jet over stiff French and US competition -- even though Swiss voters rejected the deal in last weekend's referendum.

Saab and other Sweden-based firms including BAE Systems and Bofors have been hugely successful in the 2000s, last year alone selling weapons and defence material to 55 countries to the tune of $1.8 billion.

But critics charge that Sweden has become more inclined to arm regimes accused of human rights abuses, including Saudi Arabia, UAE and Pakistan, as demand from Western nations has declined since the Cold War ended.

"Swedes see themselves as very ethical and restrictive when it comes to giving human rights violators or dictators things that help them stay in power. But the reality is that has happened," said Siemon Wezeman, an arms expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

"In the last decade or so they've been more open to it, because those are the markets," he added.

"In the past they wouldn't have done business with Saudi Arabia due to human rights concerns -- it's obviously a place that rings all kinds of alarm bells -- but that has changed... They've sold them Eriye (radar tracking systems) and anti-tank missiles and marketed other weapons there."

Other sales have been clandestine.

In 2012, Swedish public radio revealed that the national defence research agency has provided Saudi Arabia with covert technical support for a missile factory, leading to the resignation of a defence minister and the launch of an inquiry into new ethical criteria for weapons sales.

One of the most controversial Swedish exports, the Saab-made Carl Gustav rocket launcher -- used by US armed forces and other armies around the world -- has reportedly fallen into the hands of groups that Sweden would not normally trade with, including Myanmar's military and al-Shebab Islamists in Somalia.

Peace activist Martin Smedjeback said Sweden's original reason for developing a large weapons industry -- the desire to be self sufficient and independent -- has vanished, along with the country's policy of neutrality as it develops closer ties to NATO.

"Politicians raise the issue of jobs and technology because there are all these other arguments that they cannot use, like 'it's macho and I like macho things'," said Martin Smedjeback.

"And they also can't say that the weapons industry is powerful and they have influence over the decisions of politicians."

Several leading defence analysts argue that Sweden could buy fighter jets and other defence material more cheaply and efficiently abroad but that commercial interests stand in the way.

"The Swedish government, like many others, knows that advanced defence industry technology will spill over to other areas," said Gunnar Hult, deputy head of military studies at the National Defence College.

"And the jobs issue is quite big. People care more about local jobs than about what we do in Saudi," he added.

Some 30,000 people are employed in the Swedish defence industry, many of them in towns where arms factories are the largest private sector employer.

Hult believes at times Swedish foreign policy becomes entwined with commercial arms export interests, citing the example of Sweden's participation in enforcing a NATO no-fly zone over Libya in 2011.

"Our participation in the Libya campaign was quite beneficial to the Gripen. This is something no politician would ever admit, but it's true. People saw it participating in air campaigns. It's good for business."

Allan Widman, a prominent member of the governing centre-right coalition, said that successive governments have had good reason to focus state support on two particular parts of the industry: jet fighters and submarines.

"I think we've had this strategic idea in Sweden that these two weapons represent our national security interests," he told AFP.

"I think there's a view among politicians in Sweden that defence technology and industry represents (one)...  of the most essential parts of the Swedish economy."

But many defence analysts and peace activists reject that view, arguing that weapons represent just one percent of total Swedish exports and that government support is more a question of national pride -- particularly when it comes to selling Saab fighter jets.

"Saab is seen as one of the crown jewels of Sweden," said Wezeman at SIPRI.

"There is a strong feeling of pride and nationalism -- that this is a good Swedish product -- they're proud of it and that plays a major role."

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Business & Money
American sales squeeze Ericsson profits
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg presents the third-quarter earnings report at the company's headquarters in Kista. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

American sales squeeze Ericsson profits

Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson reported a decline in net profit in the third quarter despite an increase in sales, boosted by business in emerging markets. READ  

Interview
'Too many concerts feel the same'
Sofar hosts secret gigs in Swedish apartments. Photo: Sofar

'Too many concerts feel the same'

Kattis Bjork founded Stockholm's secret gig scene - Sofar - a year ago. The Local caught up with her as she prepared to celebrate the project's anniversary this weekend and revealed the concept will spread to other Swedish cities in 2015. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden calls off suspect submarine search
Ships are returning to shore in Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden calls off suspect submarine search

The core search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters has been called off. The armed forces said they remained convinced foreign underwater activity had taken place but had not identified an intruder. READ  

Business & Money
US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks
Ed Carbaugh prepares to install parts on a truck engine on an assembly line at Volvo Trucks' powertrain manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, March 2014. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks

Sweden's Volvo, the world's second-largest maker of trucks, said Friday it saw a spike in profits in the third quarter, boosted by thriving sales in the US and Japanese markets. READ  

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery
Cigarettes and beer photo: Shutterstock

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery

Inspectors who were sent to shut down a doctor’s surgery in Gothenburg were physically attacked and fled the premises to get help from the police. READ  

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water
A Swede loads a car with alcohol in northern Germany. File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water

Swedish police say they will pay a man 16,000 kronor ($2,200) in damages after much of the alcohol they confiscated from him was stolen, while many of the bottles they returned were filled with water. READ  

Diplomacy
US to get first female ambassador in Sweden
File photo: Athena Center for Leadership Studies

US to get first female ambassador in Sweden

The United States Embassy in Stockholm is set to get its first female ambassador after the White House announced it was nominating the Iranian-American ex-investment banker Azita Raji to take over from Mark Brzezinski. READ  

Neo-Nazi attacks
Neo-Nazis cleared of knife attack on Nigerian
Police intervene after neo-Nazis attack an anti-Nazi rally in Kärrtorp, December 2013. Photo: Hampus Andersson/TT

Neo-Nazis cleared of knife attack on Nigerian

A Stockholm court has cleared three neo-Nazis of stabbing a Nigerian man in an unprovoked attack. But two of the men will face jail after they were convicted of racial agitation at a riot. READ  

Julian Assange
Assange court ruling expected on Monday
Julian Assange at Ecuador's embassy in the UK. Photo: Anthony Devlin

Assange court ruling expected on Monday

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can expect the next court ruling on his case to take place on Monday October 27th in Stockholm. READ  

Politics
Sweden to get EU 'Christmas present'
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven at an EU summit in Brussels this week. Photo: TT

Sweden to get EU 'Christmas present'

Sweden is set to get 1.2 billion kronor ($168 million) back from the EU on December 1st, according to leaked EU documents which suggest that other European countries will have to make large top-up payments this year. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
Blog updates

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 

24 October

Is darkness weather? (Blogweiser) »

"I try very hard not to talk about the weather. This has come after a decade..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

979
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN