• 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
Elections 2014
Reinfeldt in US for first post-election speech
Fredrik Reinfeldt after a previous meeting in the US. Photo: TT

Reinfeldt in US for first post-election speech

Outgoing Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt is at a UN climate summit in New York where he is making his first public appearance since election night. READ  

Elections 2014
Loophole lets neo-Nazis onto Swedish councils
Members of the Party of the Swedes march in central Stockholm in August 2014. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

Loophole lets neo-Nazis onto Swedish councils

Two neo-Nazis who received only a handful of votes have won seats on Swedish councils thanks to a kink in the country’s election laws. READ  

Assange extradition battle
Sweden pours doubt on Assange extradition
Julian Assange is currently living inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Photo: TT

Sweden pours doubt on Assange extradition

Swedish prosecutors said it was "far-fetched" to think that fugitive Wikileaks founder Julian Assange could be extradited to the United States if he returned to Sweden, in a statement released on Tuesday. READ  

Police drop case of thief caught on camera
Happier times at Park Lane: Charles Simonyi and Lisa Persdotter celebrate thier wedding in 2008. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/Scanpix

Police drop case of thief caught on camera

Damning video evidence and an apology from an alleged thief’s daughter were not enough to convince police that a well-known criminal had stolen hundreds of thousands of kronor worth of equipment from one of Gothenburg’s most popular night spots. READ  

Opinion
Sweden 'missed' global opportunities
Sweden's outgoing Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. Photo: TT

Sweden 'missed' global opportunities

As Stefan Löfven attempts to form a coalition government, Social Democrat MEP Jytte Guteland says her party needs to focus on Sweden's international image. READ  

National
Politics 'most shared' topic in Sweden
Photo: Shutterstock

Politics 'most shared' topic in Sweden

Swedes are more likely to share posts or articles on politics than on any other issues, according to a new report from Mid Sweden University. READ  

National
Fears schoolboy murdered in Sweden
Photo: TT

Fears schoolboy murdered in Sweden

Police in Halmstad say the results of forensic tests suggest a 16-year-old boy found dead in a creek was murdered. READ  

National
Elk hunters risk injury in Sweden’s woods
Hunter Ingela Olsson loads her rifle at sunrise in Norrbölla, northern Sweden. File photo: Gunnar Lundmark/SvD/Scanpix

Elk hunters risk injury in Sweden’s woods

Sweden’s vast annual elk hunt spells danger not just for the majestic animals but also for hunters, with crumbling towers and over-tiredness just two of the season’s perils. READ  

Malmö
Rat invasion closes Malmö preschool
Rats like this one have been found in a kindergarten. Photo: TT

Rat invasion closes Malmö preschool

Children in central Malmö are staying at home on Tuesday after a rat infestation was discovered at their kindergarten. READ  

National
Sweden's benefit agency site restored
Photo: TT

Sweden's benefit agency site restored

UPDATED: Sweden's Social Insurance Agency website is working again after being out of action since Monday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
Property of the week - Torslanda
Finest
Gallery
People-watching: September 20th
The 'black gold' of Sweden's west coast.
National
West Sweden prepares for the 2014 lobster premiere
Society
What's on in Sweden
Politics
How Sweden Democrats went mainstream
Blog updates

22 September

Welcome National Geographic! (Stockholm in my American Heart) »

"What comes to mind when you think of the “The Arctic”? Crystal-encased cliffs jutting from the sea, baronial Polar bears scavenging over sheets of cracked ice or a lone explorer heading north into the night. The image my mind invokes is of three sparkling green lines splashed across the sky like graffiti— the Aurora Borealis— our..." READ »

 

19 September

Editor’s blog (The Local Sweden) »

"Happy Friday readers! It sure has been a exciting week in Sweden, where we’re set to get a new Prime Minister after Fredrik Reinfeldt stepped down following Sunday’s elections. The Local blogged live from the key political gatherings across Stockholm. Why not re-visit the action by taking a look at our photos, tweets, videos and analysis? Since the..." READ »

 
 
 
Politics
Scandinavia and Scotland: closer links?
Gallery
Property of the week - Eskilstuna
Sponsored Article
How to start a business in Stockholm
Society
How I became a surf blogger when I moved to Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Society
Why is Stockholm's Södermalm so cool?
Gallery
People-watching: September 11th
Gallery
People-watching: September 13th
Politics
Five possible election outcomes
Politics
Sweden elections: How do they work?
Politics
Sweden elections: Who's who?
Gallery
Property of the week - Hornstull, Stockholm
Analysis
Five differences between the UK and Sweden
Welshman Jonny Luck is now a chef in Sweden
Society
How I opened my own restaurant in Sweden's Malmö
Sponsored Article
Stockholm tech fest: relive the magic
Gallery
People-watching September 8th
Photo: TT
Politics
Feminists fight for first seats
Politics
Immigration cut push from Sweden Democrats
Sheryl Sandberg says women have "low expectations"
Tech
Facebook exec talks women's limits in Swedish business
Politics
Left Party calls for justice and equality
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
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

841
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