Strategy behind Swedish disarmament


On 22 March 2009 Annika Spaide, Pelle Strindlund and Martin Smedjeback entered the Saab factory in Linkoping, Sweden. The aim was to disarm the Gripen fighter, the military aircraft that Sweden currently exports to South Africa and Thailand. The three disarmers were stopped by a security guard before they reached the aircrafts after having been inside the factory area for about five hours. At the trial on 14 April they were sentenced to four months in prison for "attempted sabotage". Annika and Martin are currently serving their sentences at two different prisons in Sweden and will be released in July (Annika 22 and Martin 2. Pelle was released 11 June. In this article Martin writes from prison what led up to these events and why they chose to use the method of direct disarmament.

The network Ofog (meaning mischief in Swedish) started in 2002 as an anti-militarist network for a nuclear free world. Inspired by the Trident Ploughshares campaign in Great Britain we used mainly blockades in our actions but also other forms of direct action, like penetrating weapon factories and swimming out to nuclear submarines. Seeing how the Swedish weapons exports were growing continually, we activists in Ofog felt a need to address also our own national contribution to world militarisation of the world.

Ofog started like a week long peace camp in 2006 in Karlskoga, the weapon capital of Sweden. Camp participants held town meetings about the weapons export, workshops and did "weapon inspections" inside of the weapon factory, sit-ins, painted a tank and made banner to hang from one the buildings of the factory. Arrests and legal charges were brought against all the participants in these actions. The peace camps were every year, but the weapons export also grew every year ...

Although information about Swedish weapons export is readily available, it is not talked about very much at all and the public debate was almost nonexistent. We felt that it was time to show that there is some wealth that most Swedes take for granted.

I have learned from the US civil rights movement that many African-Americans were rather passive politically until there were some students who risked arrest by doing sitting in at segregated lunch counters. When these young people were put in prison, it ignited a new spirit of struggle for the issue among the people. Could this effect manifest itself around Swedish weapons export in 2009?

Up to this point no one in Ofog had done any "direct disarmament" - ie destruction of a weapon. There had been very few people who had actually resisted weapons factories in Sweden or the politicians who support Sure, the peace movement had made the usual complaints about the irresponsible export to dictatorships and wars, but the weapons industry was not even close to being challenged. The problem was not only the fact that the export increased but also that the authorities and politicians even gave permission to weapon trades that went against our own guidelines decided by the Swedish parliament. We felt that when the politicians didn't even follow democratic decisions like these, then we as citizens have a responsibility to intervene and physically stop these weapons.

The hope was that these actions of disarmament also would generate a much needed discussion in Sweden about the illegality of particular weapon deals and weapons export in general. Now after the third disarmament action in this campaign, the Gripen fighter disarmament action, being the latest, we can conclude that weapons worth more than 100 000 € have been stopped. The actions have generated some interest, but not nearly the debate that we would have hoped for. But maybe it is too soon to evaluate the outcome and better to see these actions as work in progress.

One very tangible outcome is that - regardless of their influence on the actual weapons industry - these actions seems to inspire and give hope to many people, judging from the letters we have received here in prison. That in itself is very rewarding because we need to be more people taking concrete steps against war profiteering. So if these actions function as mobilising events perhaps we in the long run can count on a stronger resistance against the weapon producers in Sweden and elsewhere.

Martin Smedjeback is a peace activist and nonviolence trainer. He worked for seven years as a nonviolence trainer for the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation. In the current Disarm campaign he has been charged for peace actions at four different weapon industries in Sweden. He will be incarcerated until 2 July.

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Related peace activist(s): Martin Smedjeback
Related peace activist(s): Annika Spalde
Related peace activist(s): Pelle Strindlund