UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Denmark - Defense Policy

Danish voters on 01 June 2022 chose to abandon their country’s 30-year policy of opting out of the European Union's common defense policy and instead forge closer security ties with the bloc, another example of European countries seeking closer links with allies in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The referendum is the latest example of European countries seeking closer defense links with allies in response to Russia’s invasion. It followed Sweden and Finland’s historic bids to join NATO, which plans to take up their applications at the end of June. Some 4.2 million Danish voters were eligible to cast ballots in the referendum.

The main effect of abandoning the opt-out would be that Danish officials could stay in the room when EU colleagues discuss defense topics and Danish forces would take part in EU military operations. One of the founding members of NATO, Denmark has stayed on the sidelines of the EU’s efforts to build a common security and defense policy in parallel with the trans-Atlantic NATO alliance. It was one of four opt-outs that Danes insisted on before adopting the EU’s Maastricht Treaty, which laid the foundation for political and economic union.

The 2018-2023 Danish Defence Agreement assessed that Denmark faces more serious threats than in any other period following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In response to this, Denmark wishes to enhance its capacity for collective deterrence and defence within NATO; to enhance its ability to participate in international military operations and international stabilisation efforts for the purposes of, inter alia, fighting terrorism, capacity building, and handling of irregular migration flows; to strengthen its ability to contribute to the national security of Denmark, which includes increasing support to the Danish National Police; and to enhance its ability to protect Danish society from cyber threats and propaganda campaigns.

Denmark considers NATO as the cornerstone of its defence and security policy, recognising that it may become a staging area for reinforcements from other NATO Allies, and that, therefore, it must be able to receive and protect these reinforcements. Denmark also wishes to improve its ability to operate with larger Allied army formations that can be deployed within NATO's territory. The Government also wishes to enhance cyber defence, to allocate more resources to the Danish Defence Intelligence Service, to enhance its strong defence presence in the Arctic, whilst ensuring the Arctic remains a low-tension area. In 2017, the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Defence Staff were collocated which improves the synergy in the strategic management of defence.

In May 1945, after the liberation from the German Second World War occupation, Danish defense had to start rebuilding the various services almost from scratch. In 1950, the USA embarked on its military assistance program to countries including Denmark, and a thorough reorganisation of the military and political control of defense was carried out that same year. Only then did the various services gradually attain force levels and a state of readiness approaching the official force levels regularly prescribed by NATO. However, throughout the Cold War, the strength of Danish military forces was on the low side compared to the common goals of the alliance.

A broad majority in the Folketing has traditionally supported the defense arrangements which provide the financial and political basis for the work of the defense forces. Danish defense is being re-aligned after the break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. The removal of an immediate threat of invasion to Denmark has made it possible to use resources to support international efforts to limit and prevent conflicts in and outside Europe.

The new situation was clearly reflected in a 1993 Act establishing that on receipt of a mandate from the UN or the OSCE the defense forces shall contribute i.a. to operations aimed at maintaining peace or seeking to prevent conflict or establish peace. These new duties are a supplement to the defense of Denmark and the surrounding areas within the framework of NATO. But the new situation is underlined also with regard to Denmark’s contribution to NATO. The Danish defense forces are empowered to take part in the alliance’s crisis control in distant parts with forces sufficient to demonstrate the solidarity of alliance members through their presence in a country under threat.

The new situation obtaining in the field of security policy has furthermore led to the Danish defense forces having a role in the military stabilisation of the part of the area immediately to the southeast of Denmark, from which the threat to Denmark formerly came. The role of the defense forces is carried out by means of bilateral co-operation agreements with Poland, the three Baltic countries and Russia. However, the defense forces also have a defense role within the area of Nordic co-operation and in the NATO Partnership for Peace (PfP), which also includes Finland and Sweden.

The situation of the defense forces is influenced partly by international developments, and partly by the need for most of the equipment to be replaced, which would be done between 2000 and 2010. The armed forces took delivery of most of their equipment in the 1960s and 1970s, and then, on account of the need to economise, second-hand equipment was bought in subsequent years, while existing equipment has been modernised or given an extended life.

The Danish government is considering ending Denmark's opt-out on the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy, citing growing instability in the world. Although Denmark was named the world's second most peaceful country according to the Global Peace Index (GPI), the Danish leadership had decided by mid-2015 to hold a referendum on ending the country's opt-out on the EU's Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). "We live in a more and more unstable world in which it is important that Denmark has the opportunity to participate in international missions together with our allies in the EU," Social Democrats spokesman Henrik Dam Kristensen said, as quoted by The Local on 05 August 2015.

Due to the defense opt-out, Denmark is unable to take part in EU military operations, decisions and planning. It also cannot participate in the development and acquisition of military capabilities within the framework of the EU. The Danish government and defense officials want to end the defense opt out, and planned to hold the referendum on the matter "as soon as possible." Currently, Denmark is the only country in the European Union with an opt-out to the CSDP.

Danish statesmen found themselves reluctantly drawn into the bipolar alliance structure of a divided Europe during the Cold War. They crafted a grand strategy for a small state — attempting to displease no one. They understood that Bornholm and the Danish straits rendered Denmark a key target in any conflict between East and West and that Greenland’s role as a way-station for American strategic forces added to Denmark’s strategic value. Denmark joined NATO as a founding member and recognized that it would be a consumer of security rather than a provider. The resources that they allocated to the military were recognized as inadequate for the task of self-defense.

Denmark has been a member of NATO since its founding in 1949, and membership in NATO remains highly popular. There were several serious confrontations between the U.S. and Denmark on security policy in the so-called "footnote era" (1982-88), when a parliamentary majority forced the government to adopt specific national positions on nuclear and arms control issues that were at variance with Alliance policy. With the end of the Cold War, however, Denmark has been an active and supportive member of the Alliance.

Denmark's defense policy remains determined by its geographic position as both a Western European and a Nordic country. The objectives, assignments and organizationof Denmark's defense policy were laid down in a 1993 Act of Parliament. These are central tenets of the 1993 Act -

  • Prevent conflicts and war,
  • Maintain Danish sovereignty and ensure the continuous existence and integrity of the country, and
  • Promote a peaceful development in the world with respect for human rights.

The act identifies two main mission areas for the Danish Armed forces:

  • Conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacemaking and humanitarian missions in the UN or OSCE (Organization of Security Council of Europe) context, and
  • Conflict prevention, crisis management and defense in the NATO context.

The Liberals, the Conservatives, the Social Democrats, the Danish People Party, the Social Liberals and the Christian Democrats entered into the Danish Defense Agreement 2005 - 2009 for the Danish Defense. The political parties behind the 2005-2009 Defense Agreement agree that NATO is the central forum for joint security - and defense cooperation. The collective defense remains strongly anchored within NATO. NATO is the framework of the transatlantic partnership and a guarantor of European security. Denmark will continue to contribute to NATO, including the NATO Response Force. The latest report by the Danish Ministry of Defense (MOD) states that NATO "remains the bedrock of Danish security" and Danish support for NATO (and thereby continued U.S. involvementin European security) is seen as a key reason why Denmark retained an opt-out when the EU in Helsinki in 1999 introduced the Common Security and Foreign Policy which is intended to allow the military of member states to become involved in peacekeeping and humanitarian issues - the Danes see this as NATO territory and there continues to belittle public or political support for Denmark giving up its opt-out option.

Denmark is a vociferous supporter of the U.N. and the OSCE. The 2004-2009 Defense Agreement states "The United Nations is the framework of the efforts to create international order. In recent years the UN has developed a more effective capacity to engage in peace supporting operations and this development should be supported. At the same time the ability of the UN, as well as the ability of regional organisations, to prevent and resolve conflicts, among other places in Africa, should be strengthened."

A "Declaration of Principles" was announced in 2005, co-signed by the U.S. Departmentof Defense and the Danish Ministry of Defense. This document established the groundwork for future joint development projects and allows discussions to take placeregarding technology transfers. This document is strictly a Ministry of Defense to Department of Defense agreement and does not provide for industry specific cooperation's.

The current security environment, including the enlargement of NATO and the EU, is of such a nature that the conventional military threat to the Danish territory has ceased for the foreseeable future. There is no longer a need for the conventional territorial defense of the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 and subsequent terrorist attacks have demonstrated that the security challenges and risks confronting Denmark and other nations have significantly changed. New asymmetric and unpredictable threats such as international terrorism and the spreading of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery have entered the scene.

The threats do not necessarily have to originate from Denmark's geographical proximity, but may nevertheless constitute a risk to Denmark, allies and common values, even if they manifest themselves abroad. Accordingly, the priority of Danish security policy should be aimed at possessing the capability to counter the threats where they emerge, regardless of whether this is within or beyond Denmark's borders. Therefore, Danish Defense - together with other national components - would focus on strengthening the total defense of Denmark and its population and on ensuring Denmark's capability to participate in international operations.

The unpredictable aspect of the threats means that organising Danish Defense to counter a well-defined threat scenario is no longer possible. Therefore the Danish Defense would be organised according to a capacity-based approach whereby a wide range of capacities can be made available in situations in which Danish security or Danish interests are threatened or affected, directly or indirectly, or where Danish responsibilities within the international community make this necessary. The unpredictable nature of the threats demands a higher priority on military readiness and the capability to deploy military capacities wherever they are needed, regardless of whether this involves humanitarian efforts, peacekeeping operations, emergency situations in or outside Denmark, or participation in regular military operations.

On 24 June 2009 the Liberal Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Danish People’s Party, the Socialist People’s Party, the Conservative Party, the Radical Liberal Party and the Liberal Alliance Party entered into an agreement regarding Danish Defense for the period 2010-1014.

On 30 November 2012 the Danish coalition government (the Social Democrats, the Social-Liberal Party and the Socialist People's Party) and the ‘Venstre’ (the liberal party), the Danish People's Party, the Liberal Alliance and the Conservatives entered into the an agreement regarding the Danish defense for the period 2013-2017.

NATO remains a cornerstone of Danish security and defense policy, and is a crucial framework for the close transatlantic cooperation. Denmark's sovereignty is secured in a strategic perspective through NATO's Article 5 commitment to collective defense of Alliance territory. At the same time, NATO provides a framework for the participation of the Danish defense in international missions. The defense will continue to provide its share to NATO by being able to contribute to international efforts and to maintain and develop the appropriate military capabilities.

Continued cross-services prioritization will enable the defense to contribute to capacities for international operations and efforts within the framework of the UN and NATO, among others, of the following nature:

  • Force contributions set up across defense and government agencies, such as a task force for humanitarian operations.
  • The army will have the capacity to deploy a battalion combat command (typically from abt. 300 and up to abt. 800 soldiers) on short notice, either for short or sustained missions.
  • Up to two large units from the navy deployed at short notice, or a large unit from the navy deployed in a sustained mission.
  • Up to three simultaneous military air contributions at short notice consisting of, for example, transport aircraft, helicopters, combat aircraft, and capabilities in monitoring and warning systems. Some of these deployed to sustained1 missions.
  • Special operations forces as well as capabilities from the rest of the Danish armed forces in support.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 03-06-2022 18:14:53 ZULU