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Broad political backing of Gripen deployment

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Broad political backing of Gripen deployment
Eight JAS Gripen fighters may be deployed to help NATO keep up the no-fly zone.
16:46 CEST+02:00
The Left party agreed Wednesday to vote through the government proposal that Sweden send fighters to Libya when the Riksdag votes on Friday, but continued to support the Greens' and the Social Democrats' line of restricting Sweden's involvement.

“When the UN is urging the world to protect the civilian population of Libya, we feel it is important that Sweden plays its part in keeping the Libyan air force from attacking its own people, “ they said in press release Wednesday.

The Left party welcomed the chance for the Riksdag to consider to what length Sweden should go in their contribution to the Libya crisis and that the Swedish fighters are restricted in what they can do.

“This way we'll do what we do best and are best suited for,“ Left Party leader Lars Ohly said to news agency TT regarding the restrictions.

The Social Democrats have argued for the fighters not to take part in anything other than the upkeep of the no-fly zone. They fear that the allied attacks will turn into something Sweden can't support.

“So far, the attacks have stayed within the framework of the resolution, but they are touching upon the line of what separates acceptable from unacceptable,” Urban Ahlin, the Social Democrat spokesperson for foreign policy, told TT.

The Greens want Sweden to work as a restraining force if other countries want to make a wider interpretation of the resolution.

Spokesperson Peter Eriksson told TT that it is important that NATO considers the resolution carefully so that it does not seem like the western powers are taking over the Libyan people's rebellion.

According to Swedish military expert Robert Egnell from the department of security and strategic studies at the National Defence College (Försvarshögskolan), there is a broad spectrum of possible interpretations of the UN resolution.

The most extreme view would be to give military support to the rebels and the more held back view to uphold the no-fly zone and perhaps attack land-based targets if there was a risk that civilians would otherwise be hurt.

“Many discussions have arisen in the Riksdag around the importance of not taking sides but almost everyone agrees that it is necessary to stop Qaddafi from using his own air force on civilian targets”, Egnell said.

When it comes to foreign policy, Sweden wants to show a willingness to contribute when the international community calls, according to Egnell.

This is a trend visible since the country took part in the peacekeeping action in Afghanistan, or perhaps as far back as Kosovo in the 1990's.

And whether this trend will continue is highly dependent on what happens in Libya.

“If Sweden takes sides in what looks like a civil war, we may well loose our credibility in the Arab world. That might hurt our international standing. But for the moment it is seen as important to be a credible and dependable international partner, “ Egnell said.

Gripen fighter jets are made by Swedish Saab and are currently in the running with the French Dassault and American Boeing for a multi-billion-dollar contract to supply the Brazilian air force.

There have been many voices in Sweden claiming that sending Gripen is an endeavour to showcase the fighters in action to a hitherto rather lukewarm weapons market.

Egnell does not want to speculate into how much truth there is in those claims.

"But it is no secret that there are many interested parties who would be pleased to see the Swedish air force taking part in Libya," he told The Local.

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