HELSINKI — Opposition parties are criticizing the Swedish government for dragging its feet on tightening arms export laws while the center-right administration also is under pressure to legally reclassify “authoritarian states,” including Saudi Arabia, as “dictatorships.” This would allow the blacklisting of arms sales.
Although countries such as Iran, North Korea, Bahrain, Armenia and Saudi Arabia are legally designated by Sweden as “authoritarian states with undemocratically elected” governments, the country's export rules allow for the controlled sale of arms to those countries once contracts are examined and approved by the state's Arms Export Control Committee.
The Ministry of Trade (MoT) had promised to present a draft directive to the parliament in June but delivery now is not expected until September. The MoT is also under renewed pressure from opposition parties to reclassify blacklisted states as “dictatorships” in the final Arms Export Control Bill. The new classification would be more explicit than the authoritarian definition and is intended to draw a sharper line between democratic and nondemocratic states
The government's legislative framework envisages a final arms export control bill reaching parliament by June 2013. A new law is expected to come into force in January 2014.
The Swedish government appears to be moving toward such a legal redesignation, which could have serious implications for Sweden's defense sector, effectively ending its arms sales to a host of states in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
“Authoritarian states must be reclassified in the new law. Saudi Arabia is one of the world's worst dictatorships and there should be no confusion as to Sweden's stand on that,” said education minister Jan Björklund.
In a landmark statement released on Aug. 14, Defense Minister Karin Enström indicated the legal definition that Sweden applies to authoritarian states could change in the new arms exports control bill.
“Saudi Arabia is an authoritarian regime and an absolute monarchy, where serious crimes against human rights are committed. The [Swedish] government does not categorize the countries of the world into democracies and dictatorships but if one can only choose between describing Saudi Arabia as a democracy or as a dictatorship, Saudi Arabia should be described as a dictatorship,” said Enström.
The political sensitivity of Swedish arms exports to so-called authoritarian states was evident in March when the defense minister's predecessor, Sten Tolgfors, resigned in the wake of revelations that state defense agencies were engaged in talks to build, equip and operate a $200 million weapons manufacturing plant in Saudi Arabia producing radar, missiles and rocket launchers.
Figures released by the MoT in February showed that 15 percent of Sweden's arms exports in 2011, amounting to $400 million, were sold to “authoritarian” states.