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'Neutrality to blame in Saudi arms scandal'

16 Mar 2012, 12:54

Published: 16 Mar 2012 12:54 GMT+01:00

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Many are rightly outraged over the fact that Sweden has an arms trade agreement with the Saudi theocracy.

How can it come to pass that we have a state-to-state relationship with a terrible dictatorship based on the trade in capacity to commit violent acts?

There is an historical explanation.

For decades - during the Cold War - Sweden had a hard time choosing between communist oppression and democracy, and instead a sort of middle ground.

At the same time, we had to protect ourselves against a possible attack from the Soviet Union, and therefore needed a strong defense.

Since we were not part of a larger alliance, we had to build a huge, private industry that could provide the Swedish military with materiel.

Keeping an industry like that afloat cost a lot of money.

Developing an aircraft (JAS) or an anti-tank missile system (BILL) was extremely expensive. In order to make it work, we had to export a substantial amount of armaments.

Our neighhours, like NATO-members Denmark and Norway, could use NATO-integrated systems and thus buy equipment from other Western countries, and thereby gain all the specialization and economies of scale that entails.

So it is Sweden's policy of neutrality that is the original culprit: it was the Russians and our inability to decide between decency and oppression that lies behind the Saudi arms deal scandal.

And this policy and practice – to secretly sell arms to dubious regimes – is a hangover from that.

This is quite unreasonable, of course.

Saudi Arabia is a harsh, religious dictatorship; an inhumane theocracy without the rule of law and the total lack of basic freedoms and rights.

Freedom House, which assesses the world's countries for civil liberties and political rights, classifies the country as a completely non-free, giving it a score of 6.5 out of worst possible 7 in its rankings.

As recently as March 2011, Saudi forces took part in beating down the Arab spring of Bahrain.

Sweden should not have military cooperation agreements with such countries, but with like-minded people.

We should cooperate with states that stand for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Then we can share the cost of development and production of weapons systems. If we can buy weapons from democracies, we don't need to sell them to dictatorships.

One positive aspect of Saudi scandal, however, is that an increasing number of commentators who have previously been extremely vague with respect to their stance on the democracy-dictatorship have now opened their eyes to this crucial difference.

They have realized that we need to distinguish how a state and its regime should be valued, depending on how it is controlled.

Our ability to make that distinction has been notoriously inconsistent for decades.

Finally, those who now shout the loudest about arms exports are the same people who strongly defend the United Nations (UN) and international law.

Story continues below…

They have trouble with selling arms to Saudi Arabia, but not with "cooperating" with the state on matters such as human rights and women's rights in the UN.

One moment they reject Saudi Arabia, only to give the state legitimacy as reformers the next.

It's time to take the issue of Sweden's relations with dictatorships more seriously.

In all contexts.

Fredrik Segerfeldt is a libertarian Swedish commentator and author. He has previously been affiliated with the liberal Swedish think tank Timbro as well as the New Welfare Foundation (Den Nya Välfärden).

This article was originally published in Swedish on the Newsmill opinion website. English translation by The Local.

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Your comments about this article

13:48 March 16, 2012 by sberger
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
23:25 March 16, 2012 by Nemesis
The weapons should be made in Sweden and exported to Saudi Arabia.

That way jobs stay in Sweden.
03:57 March 17, 2012 by jomamas
This post is kind of racist.

A) There is definitely 'rule of law' in Saudi.

B) It's a 'dictatorship', but what's the difference if it is a 'religious' one or not? You realize that Sweden has a state Church? Are you a bunch of 'evil people'? UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Spain, Denmark, Sweden - all have 'official religions' that have played a part in establishing cultural norms and all have benefited from it.

C) Saudi is a benign state. There is no uprising or revolution. They are not in the habit of turning their howitzers on villages - quite the opposite.

D) Saudi is not an 'Empirical' state, they don't have ambitions beyond their own borders. Sweden has more of an Empirical history than Saudi.

E) The issue here is Iran. The only reason Saudi is stocking up on arms is to defend against Iranian belligerance. If the US is going to war with Iran, then this time around they are going to depend more upon local actors, i.e. Saudi.

Sweden 'got it wrong' when they stayed neutral in WW II. My family fought the Nazis while you cooperated.

Sweden 'got it wrong' during the cold war by not recognizing the evils of the 'communist' Empires.

Sweden is getting it wrong again.
08:20 March 17, 2012 by RobinHood
Saudi may not be a paragon of human rights, gender equality and democracy, but it is not the worst place in the world, by far.

Afghanistan, for example, is much worse, and Sweden actually has boots on the ground there supporting the government.

All this selective neutrality is most confusing to an outsider. Thanks for trying to explain it Mr Segerfeldt, but I confess, I still don't understand it.
09:46 March 17, 2012 by rise
#3 "My family fought the Nazis while you cooperated."

Who cares? We aren't living in the 1940's.

"Sweden 'got it wrong' during the cold war by not recognizing the evils of the 'communist' Empires."

"Sweden is getting it wrong again."

How so? The Swedish defense industry need the money.
10:09 March 17, 2012 by sberger
Neutrality made Sweden a broker, with access to markets and industries that were closed to many other countries and their businesses. That is the root of Sweden's development of specifc industries, such as armaments which specialized in this form of trade (mostly barter)with highly regulated markets. The other problem is that the exchange of goods and services in its fundamental character is "neutral" or rather amoral - the suppliers and consumer find each other on the basis of demand and supply. That's it. While generally trade leads to many positive outcomes, it is not inherently benevolent or automatically adheres to moral principles. These have to be introduced from the outside. The general attitude of big business is that the potential damage done by supplying repressive regimes is far outweighed by the overall positive longterm effects of trade, which lifts all boats, enhances living standards and education and ultimately topples dictators. Problem is -- it's not so simple. How we make money should indeed matter, not just the fact that trade is happening at all. So, thank you for taking on this important subject - excellent commentary.
10:32 March 17, 2012 by Reason abd Realism
Post WWII neutrality in Sweden was not a 'struggle' on whether to choose between Soviet style oppression and democracy, it was more likely a consequence of witnessing the Axis and the Allies murdering and bombing each other to near-oblivion for 6 years, and then deciding that political alignment (rather than neutrality) was somewhat more likely to lead to the destruction of Sweden if the cold war turned into a hot war (particularly in this border region between the SSR's and the West).

@ jomamas

Agree that Saudi Arabia is an important regional military counter-weight to Iran, and agree also that many western nations have a national religion that has influenced the civil laws that now govern those countries, but the problem most of us have with the 'rule of law' in Saudia Arabia is that this 'law' can condemn someone (as happened last year to at least one foreign national, and maybe to countless others) to 500 lashes for 'insulting the relatives of Mohammed'. This is utterly barbaric. No one gets 500 lashes for insulting Jesus in the West.

You are free to defend Saudi Arabia, but if you are from that region and you want to promote a more accepting view of Saudi Arabia to others, then we would appreciate it if you took a leadership role in attempting to modernize or remove the religious nonsense within the crime and punishment system in Saudi Arabia and all nations that terrorize and torture their civilians this way.
00:29 March 18, 2012 by Cephalectomy
D) Saudi is not an 'Empirical' state, they don't have ambitions beyond their own borders. Sweden has more of an Empirical history than Saudi.

are you kidding me ?

15:48 March 18, 2012 by OUIJA
Are we talking here about arms to Saudi Arabia or about their religion, or what. It seems to me that some posters use the thread to lecture others how Sweden and Saudi Arabia are.

Sweden has never been neutral, no matter what it shouts about it. Ask the Norwegians, the Wallenbergs and all of those Nazi lovers that pulled down their pants to honour Hitler, Goering and his Swedish wife, Himmler, Heydrich, Mengele, Borman, Von Ribbentrop and the whole Nazi family.

In my opinion, Sweden is a pretender always bragging to be the best in this and that in the world. Sweden took advantage of its relation to the Nazi Germany in many forms, and that is a fact, not a fiction story.

And like Al Gore said, no more debate.
22:35 March 18, 2012 by zooeden
Like the article says, in all context you have to be a retard to blame it on neutrality, what about call it plain business, take it as it is, heavy as led...
03:57 March 19, 2012 by millionmileman
When things soon get out of hand with Iran in the whole region I would rather see the Saudis be able to defend themselves from Iran with Swedish quality.
11:52 March 20, 2012 by skogsbo
if you are a neutral state, can't you sell arms to anybody? it means you don't differentiate between sides and treat all equally, not getting involved. That doesn't mean you will sell arms to those nations like Zimbabwe, but why not other nations who haven't started any wars, like Saudi? If you want to be an arms dealer with honour then nobody could ever sell anything to the US or UK. It's a double edge sword or arguement.
02:14 March 22, 2012 by philster61
Neutrality is another way of saying chicken
09:09 March 27, 2012 by rise

On the contrary. NATO-countries are feeling strength through the alliance of theirs. Sweden stands alone, and stood alone during the Cold War. I wouldn't call that cowardice. Every day there was the threat of Soviet coming over Sweden as an avalanche. But did Sweden run for NATO like a dog with the tail between its legs? No.
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