End-user control is what Anthony describes as the “biggest headache.” As the term implies, end-user control is about knowing who finally ends up with the exported arms and ammunition. History has shown that if a Swedish or Norwegian weapon turns up in a war where it shouldn’t have been, the blame quickly finds its way to the company that sold the product in the first place.
“That’s bad advertising that we’d rather avoid,” says Sissel Solum, spokesperson for the Norwegian-Swedish-Finnish ammunitions producer, Nammo. One of the company’s predecessors, Raufoss, was involved in a 1980s scandal when their hand-held anti-tank weapon M72 showed up in war-torn Nicaragua.
“Sometimes it’s a little shocking to see who’s not doing what they should,” Solum says, walking the fine line between pointing fingers and not mentioning names. “Sometimes the good guys are the bad guys; some NATO countries, for instance, not behaving properly. In particular, the two largest powers in the world may be the worst at throwing military material around.”
Nobody can afford to give all the responsibility away, however. Although the exporters follow the foreign ministry’s decisions, and would like for the buck to stop at the government level, they know that any scandal will eventually hurt them.
“If we make one wrong move,” says Geir Vinghøg, chairman of the board at Vinghøg, a Norwegian company producing performance-enhancing components for machine guns and artillery, “we’re in deep trouble. We still haven’t gotten any scratches in our reputation, and we’re very diligent about not getting any. We’re dependent on support from ‘Norway Inc.’ – the government, the military – and for that we need a clean record.”
There is no lack of willing buyers of their products in the world, but the sellers have learned to treat inquiries with a fair dosage of critical evaluation and an occasional standard reply.
“There are countries we just don’t do business with,” says Henebäck at Bofors Defence. “It may be because they have a very, very harsh dictatorship, or it may be for economical reasons – that we just don’t get paid. And often the two go hand in hand.”
Like in any other business, the successful players know their customers, know the rules, know their limitations and knows the what kind of landscape they are working in.
“We’re capable of seeing ourselves in the mirror,” Vinghøg says, meaning he has a pretty good idea about what his company can and can’t allow itself.