01:57 GMT +316 August 2018
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    Saab JAS 39 Gripen (Griffin) fighter aircraft taxi out for start during the NATO exercise Loyal Arrow outside Lulea in northern Sweden, on June 10, 2009

    Arms Race Fears Roused in Sweden by Saab's Indiscriminate Campaigning

    © AFP 2018 / Patrick Tragardh / SCANPIX
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    As the Swedish manufacturer Saab experiences growing problems trying to market its Gripen fighter jet, the company is forced to try and woo previously unbeknown markets. This, however, has attracted criticism from peace researchers, who claim the move contradicts Sweden's long-lasting foreign policy goals.

    A group of peace researchers from Uppsala University condemned Saab's campaigning in Botswana, saying the move was in direct conflict with Sweden's foreign policy goals. These are peace, human rights and poverty reduction, according to an opinion piece published by the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet.

    In 2016, a high-ranking Swedish delegation, led by Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist, toured Botswana. The subsequent scandal involving ballooning costs diverted Swedes' attention from more pressing issues, such as Sweden's plans to market JAS 39 Gripen fighter jets to the African nation. According to peace researchers Johan Brosché, Kristine Höglund and Sebastian van Baalen, the deal is highly controversial, especially given the bribery scandals that followed a similar deal with South Africa.

    Firstly, in Botswana, which was long been touted as an African success story in terms of equality, human rights and economic development, democracy has gradually eroded. The country's government is hardly an eligible partner for Sweden, which is trying to emerge as a champion of human rights on the international arena. Botswana, according to Uppsala University researchers, is clearly heading in an authoritarian direction, with growing surveillance, reduced opportunities for freedom of expression and reprisals against anti-government views.

    Secondly, a Saab deal would contradict Sweden's goal of combating poverty, as Botswana is facing major economic problems. Over a fifth of its population of two million live in absolute poverty and subsist on less than two dollars a day, despite the country's large diamond resources. The billions to be invested in fighter jets would undermine efforts to curb unemployment, and fight drought and corruption.

    Third, the idea of Botswana acquiring a fleet of advanced fighter aircraft may trigger a regional arms race, with Namibia and other neighboring countries to follow suit, with detrimental consequences for everyone but the arms dealers. At present, Botswana is not faced with any direct external threat and it is unclear why huge sums must be invested in the acquisition of advanced fighter jets. Whereas the need to protect the country's tourism industry, combat poaching and monitor the flow of refugees previously were indicated as reasons, none of these problems can be solved with advanced fighter jets.

    The Swedish researchers concluded that the arms deal with Botswana would worsen the economic and democratic development in the country, undermine regional security and mar Sweden's reputation in Southern Africa.

    The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a light single-engine multi-role fighter aircraft in the same class as Airbus' Eurofighter Typhoon, the Rafale by Dassault and Lockheed Martin's Joint Strike Fighter.

    Despite Saab's ambitious hopes for the Gripen to "dominate the market," the company's bids were consequently rejected by Norway, Poland, Denmark and the Netherlands. The Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon are also regarded as favorites in Malaysia, where the government will decide on an aircraft fleet upgrade.

    So far, Sweden remains the largest consumer of the Gripen, with an order on 60 new-generation Gripens placed by the Defense Ministry. Saab's agreement with Brazil on 36 planes worth 40 billion SEK ($4.5bln) remains the company's largest overseas success. Other Gripen consumers include South Africa and Thailand, while the Czech Republic continues to rent Gripens from Sweden.

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    Tags:
    arms export, arms race, democracy, Saab, Africa, Scandinavia, Botswana, Sweden
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