Denmark Defense and Foreign Policy

By | January 11, 2021

Foreign policy and defense

According to abbreviationfinder, Denmark is a nation in Northern Europe. Its capital city is Copenhagen. The most current foreign policy issues in Denmark concern how far EU cooperation should be and how new security policy threats, such as international terrorism, should be addressed. In recent years, Russia’s foreign policy has begun to be perceived as problematic.

denmark military spending and defense budget

Denmark has pursued an active foreign, defense and aid policy since the 1990s focusing on the Arctic, the Baltic region, the Balkans, the Middle East and Afghanistan. The Council of the Baltic Sea States was formed on a Danish-German initiative in 1992, and from 1993 to 1994 Denmark entered into bilateral military cooperation agreements with Poland, the Baltic States and Russia. Intensive cooperation was started with everyone except Russia. During the 1990s war in the Balkans, Denmark provided extensive humanitarian support and contributed early and relatively more than any other country to UN and NATO troops in the region.

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Denmark also cares about Nordic cooperation. Admittedly, neither the old plans for a Nordic Defense Confederation nor a Nordic Economic Union could be realized, but the Passport Union, the Common Labor Market and air traffic cooperation have worked well for many years. While Denmark was the only Nordic country in the EC / EU, the country worked to bring in the others and took on the task of building bridges between the Nordic countries and the EU. Denmark still has this role in relation to both Norway and Iceland as well as the Faroe Islands and Greenland. The Faroe Islands and Greenland are not members of the EU even though they belong to the Danish Empire (see Faroe Islands and Greenland, respectively).

EFTA and EC / EU

When the free trade organization Efta was formed in 1959, Denmark was able to continue with its important agricultural exports to the UK on favorable terms. Following a referendum in 1972, Denmark, together with the United Kingdom and Ireland, became members of the European Community (EC), which in 1992 became the European Union (EU).

From the outset, Danes have been hesitant about increased political cooperation within the Union. They have been afraid of disappearing in the greater Europe and not getting enough influence. In a 1992 referendum, the Danes voted by a marginal margin of no to the Maastricht Treaty for deeper cooperation between member states, including the realization of the EMU.

In order to avoid a European crisis and a possible Danish exit from the EC, a “national compromise” was formed as the basis for a new referendum. The aim was to get the Socialist People’s leadership to agree to a yes and the party thus had a decisive influence on the design of the compromise. The Socialist People’s Party demanded that Denmark stand outside certain parts of the treaty. The other countries accepted four Danish exceptions: the Danes did not have to participate in EMU, in possible defense cooperation, in the cooperation on citizenship of the Union and in the judicial and police cooperation.

In a new referendum in 1993, 56 percent of the voting proposal supported. Five years later, a referendum was held on the Amsterdam Treaty, which deals, inter alia, with cooperation in asylum and immigration issues and which gives the EU the right to militarily intervene in crises. This time 55 percent voted yes. In September 2000, the government tried to get rid of one of the exceptions when they asked the Danes to decide on a Danish participation in EMU. But the attempt failed when 53 percent voted no.

Denmark is working to make EU cooperation more transparent and understandable for the residents of the member countries. Environmental and employment issues are also warm to Denmark. As the EU Presidency in the second half of 2002, Denmark spent a great deal of time persuading the EU countries to admit ten new countries from Eastern and Central Europe in 2004.

Denmark, NATO and Germany

For Denmark, relations with the United States are central, not least because of Greenland, which is located in North America and is important for the US military security. The United States has also been regarded as the ultimate guarantor of Denmark’s own security, and Denmark joined NATO already when the alliance was formed in 1949. In Danish opinion, NATO membership has had massive and growing support.

When the issue of West German membership in NATO came up in 1954, Denmark took the opportunity to improve conditions for the Danish minority in German South Schleswig. The Bonn-Copenhagen declarations in 1955 laid the foundations for a very positive development not only for the minorities and majority populations in the border region between Germany and Denmark, but also for increased trust and cooperation between Denmark and West Germany. Within the framework of NATO, a Danish and a German division were integrated into a corps responsible for the defense of Schleswig-Holstein, and European politics often came to cooperate. In the border region where, after the war, each other worked together, they gradually began to cooperate, and today the work for increased integration continues. For example, Flensburg now has a Danish-friendly mayor,

Denmark in the UN and the Middle East

Denmark has always been involved in the UN and was a member of the Security Council in 2005-2006. For more than 50 years, Denmark has contributed to the UN peacekeeping forces and a relatively large part of Denmark’s development assistance is channeled through UN agencies. The aid that goes beyond the UN agencies has over the years become increasingly focused on poverty reduction, support for voluntary organizations on the ground and democracy development. One example is the so-called Arab Initiative, which was launched in 2003 as part of a larger foreign policy strategy to promote dialogue between Denmark and the countries of the Middle East.

Despite this effort, Denmark and also Sweden and Norway were attacked at some of their embassies in the region in early 2006 and for a couple of weeks Danish goods were boycotted in several Arab countries after the Jyllands-Posten published a number of cartoons in September 2005. the Prophet Muhammad (see Modern History). The boycott mainly hit the Danish-Swedish dairy giant Arla, but for the Danish economy in general the boycott had little significance. Only between 1 and 2 percent of Danish exports go to the Middle East.


In 1990, Denmark decided to restructure its defense and create a modern force for international missions, as well as build large ocean-going warships for the fleet. In 2004, a defense reform was adopted which further emphasized international missions. The idea was to invest more in high technology, mobility and endurance in the army and the navy, and less on the air force and territorial defense. The duty of military service (women’s legal rights) was reduced to a four-month “total defense course”, which serves as a general emergency training and recruitment base for professional soldiers.

Through its reservations to the Maastricht Treaty, Denmark is the only EU and Natoland that is outside the defense cooperation that is beginning to emerge within the EU. A majority of the MPs find this situation harmful to Denmark, and it is obvious that Denmark is losing influence in both the EU and NATO. However, the decision can only be changed by a new referendum.

After the US left its military base in Iceland in 2006, Iceland, Denmark and Norway in 2007 signed a cooperation agreement on patrolling in Icelandic airspace. Similarly, Denmark has assisted its Baltic NATO allies who also do not have their own air force.

When the US began its “war on terror” in Afghanistan in autumn 2001, Denmark assisted with special forces. In the spring of 2006, a battalion was sent to the Afghan province of Helmand as part of the NATO-led ISA force. Denmark had a total of almost 10,000 soldiers in Helmand, of whom at least 40 lost their lives. Ahead of the international forces’ departure from Afghanistan in 2014, the Danish soldiers worked most with training of the Afghan soldiers who, according to NATO’s plan, would take over responsibility for the country’s security. In close cooperation with British forces, they tried to secure the province for the reconstruction of schools, health care and a power plant dam. It is quite uncertain to what extent they have succeeded. Denmark has subsequently continued to provide large sums in civil aid, and the embassy in Kabul is one of Denmark’s largest.

In the spring of 2003, when the United States and Britain entered Iraq to overthrow the country’s President Saddam Hussein, Denmark provided symbolic support by attending a couple of warships. After the war, Denmark sent a battalion to Iraq as part of the multinational security force, but it was withdrawn in 2007. Since 2008, the Danish fleet has almost continuously had a large warship in the international naval force trying to protect shipping around Africa’s horns against Somali pirates. In 2010, the force was also under Danish command.

One of the fleet’s most important tasks for many years has been patrolling in Arctic waters. That task will become even more demanding if the sea ice recedes and maritime activity intensifies.

The fleet has been restructured since 1990 and is now investing in large ocean-going, flexible and sustainable vessels. The submarines have been saved off, as have the fast torpedo and missile boats. The patrol of Danish waters is now handled by many small and lightly armed vessels.

The Air Force has been reduced and now includes 30 F-16 fighter / attack aircraft plus transport aircraft and helicopters. All have been active in Afghanistan, and four Danish F-16s carried out 600 missions over Libya in connection with the international campaign to protect civilians during the uprising against Gaddafi in 2011 (see Libya, Modern History). The Danish planes dropped 900 of the approximately 6,000 bombs directed by the international force against the holdings of the Gaddafitrogna forces. Most recently, Denmark participates with seven F-16 aircraft in the US-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria against the extreme Islamist group Islamic State (IS).

READING! Read more about Danish politics in our online magazine Foreign magazine:
Militarily, Trump’s Greenlandic deal is absolutely unnecessary (19-08-29)


Army: 8,200 men (2017)

The air Force: 2,700 men (2017)

The fleet: 2,000 men (2017)

Military expenditure’s share of GDP: 1.2 percent (2017)

Military spending’s share of the state budget: 2.2 percent (2017)