Formalized military cooperation between Sweden and Saudi Arabia began in 2005

Saudi military delegation to Sweden causes a stir

4:08 min

A Saudi Arabian military visit to Sweden highlights the unlikely military cooperation between these two very different countries.

The Saudi delegation has come to Sweden to visit two military bases and meet with several defense companies. 

Sofia Karlberg from the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency, whose primary task is to promote exports by the Swedish Defence Industry, says the Saudis were the ones who initiated the Swedish visit. “There was a wish from Saudi Arabia to come for a study visit and see the Swedish arms industry,” she says.

This formalized military cooperation between Sweden and Saudi Arabia began in 2005 when the two countries signed an agreement on military cooperation. That agreement was automatically renewed last fall.

Both countries have been secretive about their arms exports, says Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “Both the Swedish government and the Saudi have decided not to disclose information about this,” he says. “But as it is now, it looks like Saudi Arabia has bought anti-tank missiles and an advanced airborne early warning system, radar on top of a plane, you can say.”

The Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Defense, Håkan Jervell, defends Sweden's dealings with Saudi Arabia. He says the agreement is not out of the ordinary, and describes it as a valuable military cooperation between two countries.  “This government did not take a decision to cancel this memorandum of understanding,” he says. “The Ministry of Defense’s view on this cooperation is that it’s beneficial to both sides.”

But not everyone agrees.

“The Saudi delegation has been visiting here on a shopping visit on our tax money,” says Anna Ek, the president of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society. “It’s really upsetting. I think they should stop selling weapons to regimes that oppress their own population.”

She says the Saudi delegation has come to Sweden to discuss business with three of Sweden's largest arms manufacturers, the defense company Saab, Kockums, and BAE Systems Hägglunds.

Last May, the Swedish Parliament discussed passing a law to make it more difficult to exports arms to undemocratic regimes. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is reviewing their policy.

By Gabriel Stein