Nr 2-3 2012
On Exporting Weapons Systems
A previously little-known bilateral governmental agreement has caused much debate recently in Sweden, and has led to the defence minister resigning, and another minister being in deep trouble. The 2005 Memorandum of Understanding between Sweden and Saudi Arabia surfaced some time ago, when it was revealed that a shell company had been created, with the apparent tacit approval of the government, in order to establish an ammunitions factory in Saudi Arabia.
In addition to the attempt to conceal these activities, the debate focused on whether weapons systems should be exported to nations with less palatable ideas concerning governance, human rights and treatment of women. The “Arab spring”, and Saudi participation in crushing the rebellion in Bahrein, also contributed.
The government’s position, which surprisingly few politicians had the will to clearly enunciate, is that weapons exports may be beneficial, provided that they meet the formal criteria of supporting Sweden’s security and defence policy, don’t go against Sweden’s foreign policy, and take into account the humanitarian criteria above. The logic on the governmental side is as follows, using air defence as an example: Either Sweden outsources its air defence to someone else (i.e. NATO, which politically, at present, is completely unrealistic), or relies on its own resources, where the only financially viable alternative is to continue relying on the SAAB JAS39 Gripen fighter. Maintaining and upgrading the Gripen requires a competent industry (SAAB), which can only survive through exports in an era of financial austerity and declining defence budgets. This idea of exporting your way out of a domestic financial hole is in no way unique to Sweden, but is shared by most countries in the Western hemisphere, recently also the U.S.
The outcome of the Saudi affair is likely to be a more restrictive Swedish weapons exports policy, and a protracted and difficult debate on what constitutes a democracy.