(First published in Norwegian 25 March 2007)
By Erik Hagen
The report “Norwegian Export of War Materiel to Arabian Dictatorships” pdf (download the report in Norwegian here), which Norwatch launched April 26th 2007, examines the main features of Norwegian export to the Gulf area during the past 10 years. The numbers speak for themselves.
Undemocratic Arabian states have emerged as extremely important customers for the Norwegian arms industry. Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s least democratic countries, is the most important importer of Norway’s war materiel outside NATO. The report shows that Norwegian firms in the period from 1997 to 2005 exported war materiel to these dictatorships for more than 150 million euros.
One firm stands out with especially large deliveries to the region: the state enterprise The Kongsberg Group. It is, among other things, a big supplier to Saudi Arabia.
“What we have exported to Saudi Arabia is equipment to be used for radio links. We therefore have problems understanding how our equipment can be used to commit assaults,” Corporate Director Even Aas in The Kongsberg Group wrote in an e-mail to Norwatch.
The independent American organization Freedom House considers Saudi Arabia one of the world’s worst dictatorships by far. Every year the country uses more than 10% of its national budget on armaments. Since the early 1930s Saudi Arabia has been ruled despotically by one family. Both political parties and unions are prohibited, and women have been denied the right to vote. The human rights organizations Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch constantly report about torture and extrajudicial executions.
This is obviously no obstacle against Saudi Arabia importing Norwegian-produced war materiel for millions of euros every year. The Norwatch report was written by Alexander Harang and shows that Norwegian firms have exported war materiel for 57,5 million euros to Saudi Arabia in the period 1997 to 2005.
The most important Norwegian firm exporting to Saudi Arabia today is Kongsberg. The company in The Kongsberg Group that has been most involved in this trade since the early 1990s is Kongsberg Defence Communications. This company is today part of Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, after a fusion in December 2006. Altogether this part of The Kongsberg Group has exported war materiel to Saudi Arabia for tens of millions of euros. The previous contract, worth 10,1 million euros, was signed in September 2006.
The main part of Kongsberg’s deliveries to Saudi Arabia has consisted of military communications systems. The product, which has been especially popular among the Saudi Arabians, is known as EriTac. The country’s armed forces can use this system for, among other things, communications between troops and between ground and air forces.
“Ask the Politicians”
“Because the Norwegian market alone is too small to develop the competence and technology we possess, we are dependent on exporting our products on the world market,” Corporate Director Aas told Norwatch. He claimed that all Kongsberg’s customers are equally important.
On being questioned whether human rights in Saudi Arabia have been discussed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or whether the Norwegian state as a Kongsberg share owner has discussed the ethical problems of export to Saudi Arabia with the company, or whether it is problematic to export to undemocratic countries with breaches of human rights while the Parliament says it is wrong, Aas answered as follows: “We believe that these are political questions and that they should be addressed to Norwegian politicians. We follow the regulations that the Norwegian authorities lay down and the export regulations for defence materiel, which are among the strictest in the world,” Aas wrote to Norwatch.
The table below – derived from the report – shows the total value of Norwegian war materiel export to the Arabian dictatorships in the period 1997-2005, in millions of kroner (1 euro = 8,3 kroner).
Defies the Parliament
Since 1997 a unanimous Parliament has insisted that a stable democracy and a well developed human rights situation in the recipient countries were to be prerequisites for the export of war materiel.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has to grant licences for every Norwegian sale of war materiel abroad. Every spring the Minister of Foreign Affairs submits a report to the Parliament which describes which countries the Norwegian war materiel has been sold to during the previous year. As licensing authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs answers directly to the Parliament’s political regulations. According to the report, the Ministry has for many years granted licences for sale to countries like Saudi Arabia, whereas the Parliament, for its part, is presented with the sales through the yearly report to the Parliament, without reacting.
The report contains a thorough description of the political debates in Norway with regard to arms export control during the past decade and sheds light on the Norwegian war materiel export to dictatorships.
The state holds the controlling interest in Kongsberg and has not utilized this opportunity for active ownership with regard to this export.