International arms deals are often very fascinating. They form a curious mix of military and industrial policy and when the Nordic countries are involved, human rights issues also join the mix. When I’ve taught exchange students about Swedish politics, I summarised the Swedish position as “We are happy to sell our weapons as long as you don’t use them”.
One of my favourite show-stoppers was showing the students a photo of this jetfighter and have them guess what it was.
The Eurofighter was the obvious guess and, let’s face it, the idea that a country of 9 million people produces its own fighter aircraft would seem a bit far-fetched to most people. But Sweden does so and the latest generation of aircraft is called JAS39 Gripen.
Now, developing a jet-fighter is a pretty expensive undertaking, and this means that Sweden – or rather SAAB AB – has to export the things. This is all the more necessary as Sweden is in the process of decommissioning most of its armed forces.
SAAB has enjoyed some successes in convincing other countries in adopting JAS Gripen as their weapon of choice and as Denmark, Norway and a number of other European countries will be replacing the ageing F-16s in the coming decade, JAS Gripen may have a bright future ahead of it.
But according to Svenska Dagbladet, Norway has presented SAAB and the Swedish government with an unusual demand: “We will consider buying the next generation of your aircraft, the Norwegians say, if you commit yourself to deploying them on an equal basis”. In case you wondered, the usual demand in arms sales is of cause: “We will buy your product, if our national industries get a substantial amount of subdeliveries”.
So it seems that we have an upside-down situation: Rather than using military exports to create economies of scale by having the exports support national commissions, Sweden could be forced to either abandon JAS Gripen in favour of either the Eurofighter or a US produced alternative, or to buy a series of next-generation JAS Gripen planes to the Swedish air force in a situation where the government is in fact already trying to offload spare aircraft to third countries.
Maybe we are seeing a new Swedish-Norwegian Union forming, only with the slight twist that the Norwegians are calling the shots this time around?