• 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
Sport
Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is Sweden's top scorer in history. PHOTO: TT/Maja Suslin

Sweden's star striker Zlatan 'recovering well'

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is recovering well from the nagging heel problem that has stopped him playing for Sweden during its Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. READ  

International
Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir
A shot from the video on YouTube.

Swedish sisters create viral Syria stir

Two sisters from Södertälje near Stockholm are celebrating getting more than 1.3 million hits on YouTube, with a video calling for peace in war-torn Syria. READ  

Pirate Bay
Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison
A 2013 image of Svartholm Warg. Photo: TT

Pirate Bay founder gets three years in prison

Swedish "hactivist" Gottfrid Svartholm Warg has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison for hacking crimes. READ  

Royal family
Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback
Princess Madeleine at a previous Nobel banquet. Photo: TT

Princess Madeleine to make Nobel comeback

Sweden's Princess Madeleine is scheduled to appear at the Nobel Festival in Stockholm in December, after taking time out from her royal duties to focus on looking after her daughter. READ  

Politics
'We knew that Israel would be critical'
Foreign Minister Margot Wallström (left), with Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Photo: TT

'We knew that Israel would be critical'

Sweden's Foreign Minister has told The Local she respects Israel's decision to recall its ambassador after Sweden officially recognized the State of Palestine, and laughed off comments about IKEA furniture made by her Israeli counterpart. READ  

Analysis
'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'
Doctors say we should make the most of the autumn sunshine. Photo: Shutterstock

'Store up your sunlight hours before winter'

Spending time outdoors this autumn will help you survive a cold, dark Swedish winter. Baba Pendse, Head of Psychiatry at Lund University shares his top tips for battling the seasonal blues with The Local. READ  

Sports
Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid
Skiers hit the slopes in Åre, western Sweden. Photo: TT

Plot for shared Scandi Winter Olympic bid

Norwegian sports officials have said they want to co-host the winter Olympics with Sweden in 2026. But there has so far been no official response from Sweden. READ  

National
Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court
Photo: TT

Anti-Israel graffiti 'not a race crime': Court

A teenage boy who painted anti-Israel slogans and symbols on the Concert Hall in Gothenburg has been convicted for the damages he caused, but he walked free from racial agitation charges. READ  

Entertainment
A closer look at Sweden's rising stars
Swedish actresses Sandra Huldt and Julia Ragnarsson. Julia (right) has been nominated for a Rising Star award. Photo: TT

A closer look at Sweden's rising stars

Like to be ahead of the game when it comes to the next big thing on the silver screen? We find out more about the Swedish nominees for the Rising Star award to be presented at Stockholm's International Film Festival next week. READ  

Science
Swedish women in two-year sex pill study
Contraceptive pills have been linked to mood swings. Photo: Shutterstock

Swedish women in two-year sex pill study

Three hundred women from across Sweden are taking part in a study designed to demonstrate that modern contraceptive pills don't lead to decreased libido or mood swings. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
Stockholm's shocking take on Halloween
Sport
Top ten quotes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
People-watching: October 30th
National
Sweden remains fourth best for gender equality
Blog updates

31 October

Editor’s Blog, October 31st (The Local Sweden) »

"Hello readers, Welcome to our latest 60-second round-up of the week’s news. First, Sweden made headlines around the..." READ »

 

29 October

Scariest day (Blogweiser) »

"This is what’s frightening me on Halloween. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4OFZVCu8J0&list=UUJu5J7jG4uoYSjWbpFsJBuQ Follow my posts on FB. ..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Timeline: Julian Assange sex allegations
Sport
World Cup ski race on 'fake' Stockholm slope
Society
An Arctic tradition: hunting and handicraft
Society
Stockholm taxis offer free therapy sessions
National
The Local meets Health Minister Gabriel Wikström
Gallery
Property of the week: Österåker
Society
Homeless turtles get Stockholm police ride
National
Construction worker has 'Sweden's best beard'
National
Italian musician jazzes up Sweden's Lapland
Gallery
Zlatan's career in pictures
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching: October 25th and 26th
Lifestyle
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
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
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
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
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
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
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

989
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