Swedish defence minister resigns over Saudi weapons plant
Sten Tolgfors may have resigned. But no one has so far taken responsibility for the scandal of the Saudi arms factory. The fundamental problems do not disappear with the resignation of the Minister of Defence. This is a systemic crisis on full public display, where the problems inherent in the Swedish defence and arms export policy have been made unambiguously clear to all, writes Anna Ek, president of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society.
Sten Tolgfors resigned today. Thanks to sterling investigative work by Swedish Radio and others, officials within the government and its agencies are being held responsible. Slowly but surely, the truths are emerging.
But it’s essential that we do not forget the core of the matter. Sten Tolgfors may have resigned, but we have yet to see someone take responsibility for the scandal involving the Saudi arms factory.
We must remember that the fundamental problems do not disappear with the resignation of the Minister of Defence. This is a systemic crisis on full public display, where the problems inherent in the Swedish defence and arms export policy have been made unambiguously clear to all.
From initially disputing claims that were never relevant to the issue in the first place, to refuting claims on inaccurate grounds, the whole spectacle has become increasingly absurd. The government’s smoke screens have been obvious and the latest press release is yet another case in point. The discussion centred on matters that were never relevant to the scandal.
The fundamental problem is that Sweden under the former social democratic government entered into a military co-operation treaty with Saudi Arabia in the first place, and that the subsequent right-wing government chose to take it even further by secretly initiating plans for a missile factory in one of the world’s most repressive dictatorships. It’s a serious failure of democracy that policy does not follow public opinion and that decisions are made behind closed doors so that no one will have to answer for them.
This lack of transparency must be corrected. It must no longer be possible to escape responsibility by blaming various subordinate agencies and saying that the information is classified. We also cannot continue to have a system where government agencies are given so much discretionary power over decisions concerning arms exports. We need legislation that once and for all puts paid to arms treaties with dictatorships. We must have the power to demand responsibility for defence policy and arms exports at a much earlier stage of the process than is possible today. The lack of transparency is a serious threat to our democracy.
A common denominator in the Saudi arms scandal is that those involved in it have deliberately created a system designed to circumvent public insight. By using money from military intelligence to set up a company that would serve as a front for the operation, unwanted transparency and public insight was avoided. By not entering documents into archives according to the usual procedures, the Minister of Defence was supposed to remain untarnished by sensitive information. In this manner, democratic insight into defence policy was rendered increasingly difficult.
Obviously, this is not how a democracy should function. This is a systemic error that must be changed. A new spirit of openness and responsibility is needed.
The investigation of the Saudi arms scandal must continue so that the full truth of who else has been involved finally emerges.
What roles did FOI, the research institute serving under the Defence Ministry, and the Agency for Non-Proliferation and Export Controls, play in this? What other dictatorships have received ingratiating letters from Minister of Trade Ewa Björling? Has Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt made other secret decisions to build arms factories in dictatorships?
It’s impossible that Sten Tolgfors could be the only guilty party in this.