Why I chose to disarm Swedish weapons

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Martin Smedjeback

Anna and I hid in the bushes at Saab Bofors Dynamics in Eskilstuna. I whispered to her “Do you see anyone?” No, she couldn’t and neither could I. The coast was clear. We had breached the fences encircling this weapons factory. We were ready to break into the factory where they make grenade launchers. It was at 2 o’clock in the morning of 16 October 2008.

The most basic human right is the right to life. The act of murder carries harsh prison sentences in most countries. But in one case, a case of systematic and large scale murder, the state gives impunity. That exception is war. It is a mystery to me that we are willing to accept murder by soldiers and at the same time we condemn murder in times of peace.

Sweden does not send many soldiers to war, but my country contributes to wars in other ways. Swedish politicians brag about Sweden as a nation of peace but fail to mention that our country is one of the biggest weapons exporters in the world. We were the second biggest weapons exporter per capita in 2007 (source: www.sipri.se). Our politicians are proud about our “strict idelines” for weapons export but the problem is that they are disregarded over and over again.

One of the guidelines is that we ought not export to countries in war. One of many breaches of this guideline occurred in 2003 with the invasion of Iraq, an invasion harshly condemned by the government of Sweden as a violation of international law. However, instead of stopping weapons exports to the USA, the main actor in the invasion, in line with the guidelines, Sweden increased them by 88 percent in 2003. To this day Swedish weapons are shipped to the USA and used in Iraq. We send Swedish made weapons to around 60 countries each year and our weapons exports have quadrupled from 2001 to 2008.

”We are ready to enter the factory” Alvin said in the hands-free to Annika who was sitting in a hotel room in Karlskoga. Annika was in contact with our colleagues Catt"s and Pelle in Karlskoga who simultaneously did a disarmament action at BAE Systems. I held the heavy crowbar and put on mysafety goggles. “Now or never” I said to Alvin and we headed for a steel door. Both of us struggled to get the door opened. Sweating profusely with my muscles aching, I said to Alvin after 20 minutes “I don't think we can open this door." We went for a window instead which proved to be a much better choice. After a few minutes of smashing the reinforced window we got it open. We were inside!

The Swedish peace movement has been struggling for decades to stop Swedish weapons exports. Personally I have been working for seven years as staff for the Swedish Fellowship of Reconciliation, which tries to stop Swedish weapons exports with conferences, workshops, vigils, articles, talks with politicians and similar methods. But when lives are at stake all nonviolent means should be at our disposal. Imagine yourself walking past a burning house. You hear a child cry out inside trapped in the flames. Wouldn't you think that it was acceptable to break a window or force a door open to be able to save the child from the fire? Since human life is of greater value than inanimate objects, an act like this is accepted by most of us. In legal terms it is called the “defence of necessity” and is accepted by most countries. A similar argument can be made about saving lives taken by Swedish weapons. Weapons to be used in wars are shipped from Swedish harbours and airports in dramatically increased numbers. Among the destinations you find dictatorships like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, countries at war like the US and poor countries like South Africa and Pakistan. Many of these weapons will kill and maim men and women, adults and children, soldier and civilian alike.

Anna and I stood in the well-lit construction hall. We saw rows and rows of Carl Gustaf M3 grenade launchers. For a peace activist it was almost like a child coming into a candy store. We did not waste a minute, but started directly to disarm the deadly weapons in front of us. We used simple tools like hammers to disarm the grenade launchers. We worked for about twenty minutes, surprised not to be interrupted by guards or police. Anna called the police and told them that we were peace activists disarming weapons inside Saab and that we would wait for them. Sitting in the middle of the big construction hall, we welcomed the police when they arrived with weapons drawn and a police dog.

Narcotics take thousands of lives every day on the planet. The same goes for weapons. In Sweden it is criminal to both sell and buy drugs. The highest sentence goes to the seller. Why don’t we have the same laws for weapons? Today the Swedish state gives permission for weapons exports without a second thought. The Swedish guidelines for weapons exports, that were supposed to make sure that the trade was kept civilised, have collapsed in favour of profit and hunger for power. You will not find a dealer of weapons on the corner in a dodgy neighborhood making a few hundred bucks. He sits in a fancy office at Saab Bofors Dynamics making millions of dollars while the politicians choose to look the other way.

I was dressed in a white shirt and a jacket on this important day – 9 March 2009, my first appearance in a Swedish court room. I had more than 30 supporters behind my back. That gave me strength and calm. I was not only talking for myself, but for many. For my concluding speech I stood up and said: “To live in a democracy is not only about having greater rights and security. It is also means that every citizen must take a greater responsibility. In a dictatorship one person or a few can be held responsible for the politics of the country. In a democracy every citizen is responsible for its politics. That is why we as citizens in a democracy have an obligation to intervene when our representatives fail to follow the decisions of the parliament or to respect human rights, for example when people are killed by Swedish weapons never meant for export.”

The court gave me four months in prison for my peace action. It is a small price to pay if our disarmament can save only one life. At least the weapons that we disarmed will not kill anyone. But we aim for all Swedish weapons exports to stop. The campaign will go on with this aim in mind. We invite anyone who wants to join in any form or size.

(For more information about the campaign see www.avrusta.se
and go to English)

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