• Sweden's news in English
 

Sweden 'arms dictators' as defence exports soar

Published: 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
Lagercrantz 'born to write Millennium sequel'
David Lagercrantz. Photo: Peter Lydén/TT

Lagercrantz 'born to write Millennium sequel'

David Lagercrantz, commissioned to write the upcoming sequel to the late Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millennium trilogy, wrote in the Dagens Nyheter newspaper on Sunday that he lived "day and night" with Larsson's characters. READ  

Calais migrants
Sweden critical of UK policy on Calais migrants
Migrants step over a fence as they escape from railway police officers in Calais. Photo: Thibault Camus AP/TT.

Sweden critical of UK policy on Calais migrants

The Swedish justice and migration minister, Morgan Johansson, has accused David Cameron of "playing politics" with the migrant crisis in Calais. READ  

Sweden’s sharks heading towards extinction
Swedish spiny dogfish stocks are not recovering. Photo: AP/TT

Sweden’s sharks heading towards extinction

According to the Swedish Species Information Centre, the Swedish shark population is severely depleted and there are no clear signs of recovery. READ  

Older Swedes 'see the benefits of immigration'
Older Swedes are more positive about immigration than their European counterparts. Photo: Stig-Åke Jönsson / TT

Older Swedes 'see the benefits of immigration'

Swedish pensioners are significantly more positive about immigration than other older people in Europe, according to a new study from the World Bank. READ  

Increase in violence in Swedish asylum centres
The surge of migrants into Europe fleeing war-torn regions has increased the pressure on the Swedish migration system. Photo: Soeren Bidstup / AFP / Scanpix Denmark

Increase in violence in Swedish asylum centres

The Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket) has so far this year recorded almost as many reports of threats and violence in asylum accommodation as throughout the whole of 2014, according to the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter. READ  

Wet July dampens Swedes' summer spirit
Rain in Stockholm. Photo: Marcus Ericsson/TT

Wet July dampens Swedes' summer spirit

Swedes complaining about the disappointing summer were vindicated after meterologists revealed on Friday that July indeed finished wetter – but warmer – than normal. READ  

Swedes get set for new money, money, money
Christina Wejshammar of Sweden's central bank. Photo: Vilhelm Stokstad/TT

Swedes get set for new money, money, money

A new smartphone app is set to help Swedes navigate the biggest switch in bank notes the country has ever seen with only two months to go before the new cash is introduced. READ  

Bananas free Swedish man from speeding fine
These are not the bananas on trial. Photo: Leif R Jansson/SCANPIX

Bananas free Swedish man from speeding fine

A Swedish driver has escaped speeding tickets in court – because the offender was eating a banana. If that sounds bananas to you, keep reading. READ  

Swedish farm mystery as pigs vanish without trace
Schörling suspects that the swine, which have a value of around 65,000 kronor, were stolen. Photo: Lars Pehrson/SvD/SCANPIX

Swedish farm mystery as pigs vanish without trace

UPDATED: A Swedish farmer is mystified about the disappearance of 64 pigs from his farmyard in the town of Vingåker, central Sweden. READ  

Snoop Dogg's initial drug test positive say police
Snoop Dogg in concert in Uppsala. Photo: Marcus Ericsson / TT

Snoop Dogg's initial drug test positive say police

Initial tests suggest that US rapper Snoop Dogg was under the influence when he was arrested by Swedish police after performing at a gig last weekend, a police spokesman told The Local on Friday. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Technology
Modern mugging: Swedish thieves use smartphone app to rob man
Lifestyle
Five fun festivals to get you partying in Sweden this week
National
How a century-old Russian sub wreck got Sweden into a frenzy
Gallery
People-watching: July 29th
National
How to become a Swedish woman
Blog updates

31 July

Editor’s blog, July 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Dear readers, As the Stockholm Pride Festival kicked off this week, we spoke to the chairman of..." READ »

 

15 July

Climate Change: A New Risk Assessment (The Diplomatic Dispatch) »

"Climate change is one of the most serious threats facing the world today.   The UK is..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Free bus cards for refugees in Sweden
Lifestyle
New snaps of Sweden's baby prince
National
Why are Swedes so scared of Russian submarines?
Gallery
Property of the week: Simrishamn, Skåne
National
Why has Snoop Dogg said he will never return to Sweden?
Sponsored Article
Getting pregnant the Swedish way
Features
Five outrageously harsh tourist comments about Sweden
Sponsored Article
Why is Sweden still working with Russia?
Gallery
People-watching: July 24th-26th
Travel
Seven ways to beat the Swedish rain
National
Should Sweden's alcohol stores be open on weekends?
National
How to become a Swedish man
Gallery
People-watching: July 22nd
Lifestyle
How to never miss your favourite features on The Local
National
Royal husband on 'breadwinner' role
National
Stockholm to ban all cars for one day
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Gallery
Property of the week: Sölvesborg, Blekinge
National
Questions over who would replace Swedish PM in a crisis
Gallery
People-watching: July 17th-19th
National
Why are Swedish women joining Isis?
Travel
Ten Stockholm streets you just have to walk down
Sponsored Article
'Swedish women must demand their partners use a condom'
Sport
Did UK football parents threaten Swedish kids?
Technology
Stockholm scientists find world's oldest sperm
Gallery
People-watching: July 15th
National
Angry Swede uses bird nest as fake speed camera
National
Meatball row as Ikea changes recipe
National
Sweden's new princess in spotlight
National
Slimy slugs go on sale to raise cash for EU migrants in Sweden
National
Crown Princess Victoria turns 38
Sponsored Article
Harstena: Life in Sweden's secret archipelago
National
Is this the best marriage proposal story in Malmö's history?
Sponsored Article
'Biofuels critical for climate-friendly flights'
Sponsored Article
Gaps don't have to kill your Swedish CV
National
Why summer could be the best time to invest in a Swedish property
Gallery
Property of the week: Bollnäs, Hälsingland
National
Swedish house on sale for one krona
National
Would you give this ugly food a home?
Gallery
People-watching: July 10th-12th
Travel
Foreign hikers in Sweden set to get more help in English
National
Prince Nicolas enjoys first summer
National
Meet the amazing Swedish granny who loves theme parks
National
Stockholm to host Eurovision 2016
Sponsored Article
'Swedish industry needs US trade deal'
Sponsored Article
Sweden's 'incredible' chance to connect
Sponsored Article
'Today's refugees could be tomorrow's Zlatan'
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Sponsored Article
‘I don’t feel Swedish, I feel international’
Sponsored Article
VIP Mingle at Almedalen's hottest event
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

3,259
jobs available
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:
psdmedia.se