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Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research


Denmark has undergone considerable changes to its foreign and security policies since the 1990s.

Unknown to many, perhaps, Denmark has not only supported interventionist wars politically (as Sweden has) but has also taken part militarily. This applies to NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia (although for only a couple of nights) and Afghanistan. From 2003 to 2007, Denmark was one of the occupying powers in Iraq.

Lolland, Denmark

In the war on Libya in 2011, Denmark carried out 593 strike sorties over Libya (out of roughly 10,000) and dropped 923 bombs. In proportion to its size, Denmark became one of the most intensive bomber nations in that war. The Danish Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, of course was visibly proud when NATO withdrew from Libya: "I must say that Denmark now has an absolutely fantastic, positive reputation in NATO. Danish fighters were very efficient, and the quality has been one of the very best...Denmark now speaks with a strong voice in international affairs and security politics. It has been a guilt-edged Danish investment." (Danish daily, Politiken, October 28, 2011.)

If you had asked Danes, experts as well as laymen, in the late 1980s about the future of Danish foreign policy, few would have predicted anything like this. Denmark was known as a "footnote" member of NATO because it did not participate in the Alliance's nuclear planning and had also refused to accept foreign troops and military materiel and installations on its territory (except Greenland).

Greenland, autonomous within the Kingdom, about 50 times larger than Denmark and with a population of only 56,000 (2011) deserves mention. Historically, Greenland has been heavily involved in US strategic, nuclear affairs through the Thule Air Base and a series of military research projects. Nuclear weapons used to be stored at Thule. Recently, the radar facility at the base was upgraded to be part of the Ballistic Missile Defence.

Nuuk, the capital of Greenland

Furthermore, it seems that there could be rather big oil deposits west of Greenland and that the political leadership in the capital, Nuuk, will be more inclined to strike a deal on their exploitation with the Americans than with the Danes. Indeed, in the event of an oil-based boom, Greenland could well declare itself independent from Denmark.

Denmark used to be synonymous with the peaceful little idyllic country of H.C. Andersen's fairy tales, the Little Mermaid and good beer, with a people who preferred to talk things over rather than fight and to whom war was never an option - the country having itself been occupied by Germany in 1940-45.

Solidarity with the rest of the world ranked fairly high in this welfare state; a country known as a staunch believer in the UN, international law and the uniqueness of the 'Scandinavian Model'.

However, over time, Denmark's marked populist sentiments have turned it, in the eyes of many observers - into one of the most xenophobic, or racist, nations in the EU. This is of course difficult to measure and compare and, during various periods or events, Holland and some eastern European countries seem to have been competing for this status.

Jan Oberg, co-founder of TFF and a Danish citizen, was a member of the Danish Government's Security and Disarmament Commission during all of the 1980s. He remembers when the Commission published a fairly thick analytical report on the merits of the Nordic region as a nuclear-free zone. Of course this was seen as a controversial move for a member of a nuclear weapons-based alliance. Denmark also - up to the early 1980s - had a comparatively small arms industry/export.

However, in 1975 Denmark decided to buy and co-produce F16 fighters for its own defence; the American military-industrial influence has had a significant impact over time. Electronic components produced in Denmark were to go into virtually all F16s sold and/or used around the world. This was something fundamentally new, and although Denmark does not rank high on today's global arms production and exports index, it has developed this industry very significantly since then.

After the end of the Cold War, Denmark adhered to the overall Western strategy to save and expand, rather than dissolve, NATO. With the Soviet Union's demise, the idea of the day was to transform national defence forces from being shaped to withstand an invasion or occupation to becoming a part of US/NATO's internationally coordinated intervention or "peace-enforcing" force. Denmark drew even closer to the United States, its interventions and the post-September 11 'war on terror'.

Today, hardly any institution in Denmark conducts research that is critical of these developments. One of the first activities of the neo-liberal government under then Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen (2001-2009) was to close down a series of reasonably independent, state-financed institutes, among them the internationally highly respected Copenhagen Peace Research Institute (COPRI), whose director for over a decade, the late Håkan Wiberg - was a TFF Associate.

The dissolved institutes were integrated into one new body, the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), where all defence and security research is financed by the Ministry of Defence. Hardly by coincidence, Mr Fogh Rasmussen was generously rewarded by the US for his strong support of the US and its wars, Iraq in particular, when it stood behind his candidacy as NATO's Secretary-General.

Has there been any significant, forceful opposition to these fundamentally important changes in Denmark's international role? Regrettably, the answer is, not really!

UN soldiers with left-overs from Danish soldiers

Traditional left-leaning anti-militarism, anti-war sentiments have declined markedly in Denmark. Its peace movement counts a few brave activists. The Danish people did not seem particularly bothered that their government took Denmark to the killing fields in Iraq from 2003 to 2007. Fogh Rasmussen was one of the few Western leaders who did not pay a political price for his involvement in Iraq.

In 2012, the Danish Foreign Minister is the leader of the Socialist People's Party which was the only party to advocate ground troops in Libya. The Libya War was also supported by the Social Democrats and the 'far-left' Unity List/Red-Greens.

The Foreign Minister's first significant statement was to express Denmark's solidarity with US foreign policy, promising that Denmark would be there when next called up by US/NATO to intervene somewhere. In different ways he states this about 15 minutes into and at the end of this video from the press conference he and US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, held in mid-December 2011.

Foreign and security affairs are a non-issue in election times; this was true for the newly elected social democratic coalition government led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Its foreign policy platform endorses military intervention even without a UN mandate, if necessary.

Surprisingly, while you might expect globalization to cause a relative increase in political, media and public debates about international affairs, Danish media - with a few exceptions - devotes significantly less coverage to world affairs today than 20-30 years ago. Parliamentary debates are fewer and considerably less knowledge-driven than back in the days of the Cold War.

TFF Associates have commented on Danish policies since 1986. Be sure that we will continue to do so in the future!

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