Swedish arms exports - an obstacle to feminist foreign policy

Sweden must stop patting itself on the shoulder and become more self-critical. It is time to see the problems that Swedish arms exports create, not least for women around the world. Make feminist foreign policy a reality and abolish Swedish arms exports, writes Gabriella Irsten, an expert on disarmament and security issues.

“The thing about Sweden is that we in Sweden love to pay tribute to ourselves. We love to give each other a pat on the back and say god we are good… ”. This was host Gina Dirawi's spotless analysis of the Swedish self-image during "All of Sweden Rattles" earlier this autumn. She used this as an example to explain how Sweden has handled (or not handled) the current refugee situation.

I can only agree, and add that we are also very good at comparing ourselves with other countries to really persuade ourselves about how good we are.

Recently, for example, we have been able to see reports on several news channels that compare how many refugees Sweden has "welcomed" in comparison with other countries in Europe. A special example seemed to be a little extra close to our hearts, namely Finland! How Finland has at least barely received any refugees at all.

When we are still going, we also squeeze in how we were so merciful and received Finnish war children during World War II to really persuade ourselves that we are the best in the world.

Boasts of our commitment to global peace

The same thing happens when Sweden talks about global peace and security. We boast that 1 percent of gross national income (GNI) goes to aid, about our significant role in the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, about Folke Bernadotte and about Jan Eliasson who was a successful mediator of conflict and peace. Just to name a few examples. But those parts of Swedish politics and Swedish society that are less good - or contribute to harm - often shine with their absence.

Disarmament in particular is one such issue that is often forgotten in the debate on peace and security issues. This is extremely devastating because the proliferation of weapons is both a trigger and a contributing factor to armed conflict (hence the term "armed"!). In addition, this is something that Sweden can influence as we are one of the world's largest arms exporters per capita.

Once Swedish arms exports are discussed, there is often talk about how responsible and transparent Sweden is as an arms exporter, and this is usually in comparison with other arms exporters. Unfortunately, this only shows how irresponsible and unregulated the global arms trade is.

Many scandals surrounding arms deals

Sweden has a long history of scandals when it comes to arms exports. An example is the Bofors scandal where Indian politicians received 11,7 million US dollars from Bofors to in return import Swedish weapons. Swedish weapons were also sold to both Iran and Iraq during the Kuwait war, bribes were used in the JAS deal with South Africa, Sweden had secret arms deals with the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia and now last week the journalist group Blank Spot Project revealed that a Thai officer received free university education in Sweden of the sale of JAS planes to the country. The latter will now be investigated whether it is bribery or not.

It has long been known that Swedish arms exports also go against our own legislation. Swedish law states that trade in munitions is basically prohibited and that such trade may only take place if it is in accordance with Swedish foreign policy.

So despite the fact that Sweden has now concluded an agreement with Saudi Arabia, there are many countries to which Sweden continues to sell weapons that should be questioned. Some examples are Belarus, China, Russia and the United Arab Emirates. Swedish weapons are also all too often misguided and have been used in Myanmar, Libya, Syria, Colombia, Somalia, Iraq and Lebanon.

Incompatible with feminist politics

The arms trade and Swedish feminist foreign policy are also something that is difficult to see as compatible. The World Health Organization's (WHO) investigation into female homicide shows that there is a strong link between gun ownership and homicide. Studies have also shown that if there is a weapon in the home, the risk of women being murdered is three times greater. Data collected from over 111 countries show that 66 women are killed violently every year, which corresponds to about 000 percent of all intentional murders. One in three of these murders is committed with firearms (Small Arms Survey; 17). That is why the WHO has, among other things, recommended that weapons possession be restricted to all people.

We also see how gender-based violence is increasing in today's conflicts and how weapons enable this violence. Today, it is more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in many conflicts. But the proliferation of weapons during conflicts affects not only women's physical security, but also their political and economic rights as it becomes dangerous to move freely in public spaces.

It is clear that women are affected by the arms trade

It is clear that the global arms trade contributes to increased gender-based violence and prevents women from participating fully in public and political life, as well as their economic autonomy. This has also been clarified in many multilateral frameworks to which Sweden has acceded. For example, the final document from the 57th session of the UN Commission on Women, UN Security Council Resolution 2117 on small arms and light weapons (2013) and the Arms Trade Agreement (ATT) which has a specific criterion banning arms exports when there is a risk that they will used for gender-based violence.

It is clear that weapons and women's security do not go hand in hand, either in conflicts or peacetime. Our government has also understood this because feminist foreign policy was one of the arguments for ending cooperation with Saudi Arabia earlier this year. But unfortunately, it is not only Saudi Arabia that discriminates against women here on earth.

We have an obligation to criticize ourselves and Sweden as a global player on a daily basis. We must hold our politicians accountable and ensure that Sweden works to prevent conflicts and poverty. One way is to abolish Swedish arms exports and incorporate some critical thinking!

Gabriella Irsten

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

Do you also want to write a debate article for Uttvecklingsmagasinet? Contact us at

Share this: