• 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."

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Music
The five best Swedish songs of the month
Swedish singer Tove Lo. Photot: TT

The five best Swedish songs of the month

The summer may be (almost) over but the music will keep on playing here at The Local. Our resident music guru Paul Connolly will be selecting his top new Swedish tracks for us in a new monthly feature. READ  

Hedgehog pet craze sweeps Sweden

Hedgehog pet craze sweeps Sweden

African pygmy hedgehogs are being bought by growing numbers of Swedes, as a trend for keeping exotic pets sweeps the country, the Department for Animal Welfare and Health tells The Local. READ  

Poisonous mushrooms cause stir in Sweden
The mushroom in this picture is not the same as the one from the story. Photo: Shutterstock

Poisonous mushrooms cause stir in Sweden

A person selling freshly-picked mushrooms in Gothenburg has come under fire after it turned out the delicacies were not only poisonous but also hallucinogenic. READ  

Pirate Bay founder case starts in confusion

Pirate Bay founder case starts in confusion

The largest hacking case in Danish history began in confusion on Tuesday, after lawyers representing Swedish Pirate Bay co-founder Gottfrid Svartholm Warg accused the prosecution of "unreasonable" tactics. READ  

Swedfund joins H&M in Ethiopia expansion

Swedfund joins H&M in Ethiopia expansion

As H&M expands into Ethiopia, Sweden's state venture capital unit Swedfund has announced that it will back the clothing giant, in a move hoped to create more jobs for local women. READ  

Elections 2014
Social Democrats reveal election manifesto
Photo: TT

Social Democrats reveal election manifesto

UPDATED: Sweden's main opposition party the Social Democrats has revealed its election manifesto at a press conference at a high school in Stockholm, with a key focus on education and welfare benefits. READ  

Teen run over by train after 'shoplifting' chase

Teen run over by train after 'shoplifting' chase

A teenage boy is in a critical condition after he was hit by a passing metro train in Stockholm. The accident ground rail traffic to a halt, and has police suspecting attempted murder. READ  

Swimrun
Record win at Sweden's tough island race
Photo: Jakob Edholm/ÖTILLÖ14

Record win at Sweden's tough island race

Two Swedes crushed last year's course record at the Swimrun world championship in Stockholm's archipelago on Monday. READ  

Sweden reveals Academy Award submission
Swedish director Ruben Östlund on set. Photo. TT

Sweden reveals Academy Award submission

The movie set to represent Sweden at the 2015 Academy Awards was revealed on Monday, a film that has already won awards abroad. READ  

Amphetamines
Hidden forest drug stash leads to prosecution

Hidden forest drug stash leads to prosecution

A 53-year-old man has been prosecuted after police in western Sweden made one of their largest drug seizures in the area. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Introducing… Insurance in Stockholm
National
Huge clear up underway after Skåne floods
Politics
Sweden's Alliance reveals full manifesto
Tech
Sweden's highest peak to lose title next year
Politics
How immigration became a key election issue
Blog updates

02 September

America night (Blogweiser) »

" There was an event this weekend for the ‘Americans in Sweden’ Facebook group. I’m a member, and I brought my girls to the evening. The gathering was at a Boston-themed sportsbar in a mall. There were loads of screens, a bowling alley, a game room and a jumbotron. It was as good a place as any to..." READ »

 

25 August

Hit och dit, här och där (The Swedish Teacher) »

" Hej igen! A common challenge for Swedish language students are the location adverbs hit/här, dit/där, hem/hemma etc. Some of the location adverbs come in two versions. We should use one type of location adverb when we use a verb describes where we are, and we should use the other type of location adverb when we the verb..." READ »

 
 
 
Society
Brit's life in Sweden becomes BBC radio show
Gallery
People-watching August 27
Gallery
Top ten false friends in Swedish
National
Roma advocate scoops Wallenberg prize
Society
Meet the man who made a Swedish store recall its high heels for kids
Business & Money
'How I came to run my own business in Sweden'
Politics
Expert explains why Sweden's election oozes uncertainty
National
City plays Schindler's List theme at Nazi rally
Society
For Stockholm Fashion Week, here's the A-Z of Swedish fashion
National
'Amnesiac' man avoids deportation for ten years
Gallery
Princess Estelle through the years
Business & Money
Swedish city all set for six-hour workday trial
Business & Money
Five golden rules for the Swedish job hunt
Sponsored Article
Graduates: Insure your income in Sweden with AEA
Gallery
People-watching August 22-24
National
Armed royal guards caught (very) drunk on the job
National
Sweden orders textbook on Roma discrimination
Gallery
Violent anti-Nazi demonstrations in Malmö
Society
A closer look at Sweden's five official minority languages
Gallery
See the destruction from the southern Sweden floods
Sponsored Article
Find out what gives this Swedish school executive appeal
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing...Housing in Stockholm
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

746
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