Gripen International’s estimated $1 billion JAS fighter order from Thailand caused a political stir in Sweden. Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt has welcomed the sale, although he did concede that the country’s strict arms export laws prohibit the sale of arms equipment to “non-democracies.”
Thailand has agreed in principle to buy six JAS Gripen C/Ds from Sweden. An extended agreement for six more aircraft would await the outcome of December national elections in Thailand, Chalit Pookpasuk, the Royal Thai Air Force’s air chief marshal, said at a news conference in Bangkok on Oct. 17.
Sweden’s Arms Export Control Regulations (AECM), which are operated by the Foreign, Justice and Defense ministries under direct supervision of the Prime Minister’s Office, ban military exports to “undemocratic states” or countries engaged in civil unrest. Thailand is described in the AECM as a “country moving towards a democratic rule.”
The leader of Sweden’s main opposition party said difficulties may lie ahead for the Thailand deal.
“The Reinfeldt center-right government must surely be aware that Sweden bans the sale of weapons to dictatorships or to nations where internal civil war or conflict exists,” said Mona Sahlin, the leader of the Social Democrats party. “The question, ‘Is Thailand a democratic state?’ may need clarification before this sale is approved.”
The local press reported Oct. 15 that the Royal Thai Air Force had petitioned for government funds to purchase 12 JAS Gripen aircraft. Amid negative reaction, Reinfeldt said that his government would support a sale, adding that Thailand was making “constant progress” in moving toward, and establishing, democratic political systems.
“I accept that Thailand cannot be classified as a true democracy, but rather as a nation that is moving towards democratic rule,” Reinfeldt said. “We must not ignore this development, and we must be encouraged by its progression. We must also welcome Thailand’s interest in Swedish technology.”
Gripen’s impending success in Thailand follows five years of intensive marketing efforts by Saab and often discreet political lobbying drives by the Swedish government. Then-Prime Minister Göran Persson and Defense Minister Leni Björklund visited Thailand in 2004 and last November to push the sale.
One MoD source said the Swedish government will seek to remove barriers to the sale: “The Gripen has incurred large production costs, and export sales are vital to the success of the venture. A good deal can be done with Thailand, and I believe a deal will be done, regardless of what opposition might arise from some [Swedish] opposition parties.”
The MoD source discounted this explanation. “Only the Thai administration really knows why the Gripen is preferred. … I would view this explanation as speculative, as I’m not aware of any embargo between the U.S. and Thailand in this military category.”