You are currently viewing From Pacifism to Armament: Unravelling the Paradox of Swedish Arms Trade

From Pacifism to Armament: Unravelling the Paradox of Swedish Arms Trade

Written by: Catarina Silva

Edited by: Clelia Vettori

Supervised by: Syuzanna Kirakosyan

‘It is a human right to feel safe’ (Saab, 2020). This is how Sweden’s primary arms manufacturer, Saab AB (hereafter referred to as Saab), has recently articulated its vision and mission.

Most security branding studies have primarily concentrated on examining the methods employed by state and non-state entities to cultivate secure and safe perceptions of a location. However, there has been less investigation into how the established brand reputation of inherently safe, secure, and tranquil places is leveraged to promote security-related goods or services. This gap in research is particularly noticeable in the context of the Nordic region. Apart from Iceland, most Nordic nations boast significant security sectors.

While initially focused on serving their domestic markets, these industries have gradually expanded their operations over the last three decades. Consequently, certain Nordic nations have emerged as significant suppliers of security technologies and weapon systems internationally. Simultaneously, these countries are widely perceived and labelled as the ‘do-gooders’ in global affairs (de Bengy Puyvallée & Bjørkdahl, 2021). This perception is supported by many characterisations of the Nordics as ‘agents of a world common good’ (Bergman, 2007) and ‘moral superpowers’ (Dahl, 2006).

In this article, the focus is directed towards Sweden. Sweden presents an intriguing case study due to several notable factors: until its recent accession to NATO, it had boasted a lengthy tradition of military non-alignment and had been generally perceived as a ‘neutral’ nation. Additionally, Sweden has not engaged in armed conflict with another state since 1814, which is one of the lengthiest periods of uninterrupted peace among all nations worldwide (Bjereld & Möller, 2016).

However, since the mid-1990s, Sweden has maintained a substantial arms industry in support of its ‘total defence’ model. Remarkably, despite its size, the country has produced weapon systems for all military branches – air, land, and sea – mainly due to substantial investments in military research and development (Stenlås, 2008). With the reprioritisation of Sweden’s security policy and reductions in defence budgets during the 1990s and 2000s, major arms manufacturers like Saab were compelled to internationalise and focus on exports. This shift positioned the Swedish industry as a significant participant in today’s global arms trade alongside some of the most influential states worldwide (Burja, 2022).

While academics have extensively examined Sweden’s foreign and security policies, its defence industry has been neglected within branding literature. Therefore, this article seeks to fill this gap by bringing attention to current research on Nordic branding – specifically its practices and impacts – and shedding light on its link with security. The focus then shifts to analysing how actors within the defence industry, both public and private, utilise symbolic representations to shape a specific interpretation of ‘progressive’ national branding tropes for commercial objectives.