A recent Op-Ed contribution ( 'Sweden Says: No speech, No Weapons' ) made us look into facts about arms exports from Sweden.

Swedish arms development goes back a long time — remember Alfred Nobel? That said, arms exports are in principle prohibited by Swedish law. However, exceptions are made according to the law on military equipment for security or defense reasons and if there's no conflict with Sweden's foreign policy.


From a historical perspective, the Swedish arms exports are founded in Swedish neutrality policies. To stay out of alliances that could affect Sweden's ability to remain neutral in armed conflict, it was essential to have a strong military defense and an industry that could produce all the munitions and arms that Sweden needed. To be able to afford this policy it was considered necessary to also export military equipment to others to offset the high development costs. In that way, Sweden would be independent from other states for its defense while also increasing trade.

Sweden’s neutrality policies have changed since joining the EU but the basic argument for Swedish arms exports are still the nation’s security policy. According to parliamentary guidelines, export of military equipment is to be allowed if it is deemed necessary to meet the Swedish Armed Forces' equipment or know-how needs and does not conflict with the principles and objectives of Swedish foreign policy.
Government guidelines say briefly that arms exports should not be granted if a country is involved in, or at risk of being drawn into, armed conflict or if there are gross and massive violations of human rights in the recipient country. Since the Swedish regulatory framework leaves much room for interpretation, it is not uncommon to get export approved despite buying states' records for seriously violating human rights or involvement in armed conflicts.

The international arms trade has so far increased during the 2000s as have Swedish arms exports up to 2014. In the period 2009-2013 international trade was 14 percent higher than in 2004-2008, according to the Peace Institute, SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute). Sweden was ranked in 12th place on the list of most arms exporting states during the period 2003-2013.
In 2013 arms exports represented slightly under 1.2 percent of Sweden’s overall export; in 2014 it was much less than 1 percent, so the number in the short term is going down, but the 2014 level is still double what it was in the early 2000s. Also, calculated per capita, Sweden is one of the countries that sells the most weapons in the world. The country topped the list in 2011, and was in third place in 2012 and 2013, behind Russia and Israel. The five largest recipients of military equipment from Sweden in 2013 were Thailand, USA, Norway, Saudi Arabia and India. These five countries accounted for 58 percent of exports. More than a third of the Swedish military equipment exports in 2013 (40 percent) went to 22 countries that the U.S. organization Freedom House that year rated as Partly Free or Not Free. In 2014 that number was 17 percent and included countries such as Algeria, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Thailand, Singapore, Oman, Qatar, Mexico and Brunei. They are non-democracies or are considered with large democratic shortcomings. Some of them are clearly dictatorships.
A total of 61 Swedish companies and government agencies, some of which are part of international conglomerates, were exporting arms in 2013. Saab AB (not the former car company) as a whole is by far Sweden's largest producer and exporter of military equipment. Other large companies exporting military equipment are BAE Systems Hägglunds, BAE Systems Bofors, FFV Ordnance AB, Nammo, Kockums and Volvo Aero.

Sources: Swedish government communications on Strategic Export Controls, SIPRI, Freedom House and Svenska Freds.