Newspaper article The Canadian Press

The Uneasy Co-Existence of Arms Exports and Feminist Foreign Policy

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

The Uneasy Co-Existence of Arms Exports and Feminist Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

The uneasy co-existence of arms exports and feminist foreign policy


This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.


Author: Srdjan Vucetic, Assoc. Professor, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa

In recent years, we've seen a number of depressing political shifts in the Euro-Atlantic area -- but the rise of feminist foreign policies is not among them.

The trend was set in 2014 when Margot Wallström was named foreign minister in Sweden's new centre-left coalition government. First came the sound bites: Helping provide women everywhere with 3 Rs --resources, representation and rights, for example.

Four years later, there is an actual policy in place, one that is being closely watched, analyzed and in some cases imitated -- one that contains lessons for Canada in its own efforts to enact feminist foreign policies.

The policy reads:

Equality between women and men is a fundamental aim of Swedish foreign policy. Ensuring that women and girls can enjoy their fundamental human rights is both an obligation within the framework of our international commitments, and a prerequisite for reaching Sweden's broader foreign policy goals on peace, and security and sustainable development.

Some believe Sweden's feminist foreign policy is here to stay even if Wallström and her government are voted out of office later this year.

In opening up new political possibilities, Wallström's policies have often made headlines.

In February 2015, when Wallström stood up in Sweden's parliament to denounce the Saudi state for its oppression of women, the political and diplomatic world sat up and took notice.

Half-excited, half-shocked, Sweden's media swiftly linked this unprecedented move to the Swedish government's separate decision not to renew a memorandum on military collaboration and weapons technology exchange with the sheikdom.

Then, in June 2015, when a parliamentary committee recommended that Swedish arms exports should be made conditional on "democracy criteria," Wallström's speech was interpreted as a call for a "moratorium" on the arms deals with the Saudis.

The policy's critics, and not just those on the left, did not buy it, however.

Swedish arms in Yemen

According to a 2017 report released by a group of 19 Swedish civil society organizations called Concord, Sweden never actually gave up on Riyadh. Svenska Freds, a 135-year-old Swedish arms control group, also notes that billions of Swedish arms have gone to Saudi allies in the bloody Yemen war.

What's happening in Sweden is directly relevant to Canada's own feminist foreign policy and the Liberal government's upcoming statement on that policy expected to be released this year.

For one, Canada's record of military exports is similar to Sweden's in several respects, including from the hypocrisy perspective.

Ottawa's recent arms deal scandals with Saudi Arabia and the Philippines underscore this point rather vividly.

However, the Swedish situation contains even deeper predicaments: Sell weapons to the likes of the Saudis, and you fail as a feminist. But stop those sales and you'll be a hypocrite again, this time for your status quo dealings with, for example, Iran.

The latter is precisely what happened in February 2017, when Sweden's minister of trade and her female colleagues were pictured wearing the hijab during a state visit to Tehran (days after Sweden's deputy minister and her female colleagues staged a photo-op maligning U. …

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