In September 2011, the British peer, Lord West, who previously held the position of First Sea Lord within the country’s naval forces, made an off-the-cuff remark during a Q&A session attended by 100 journalists and guests of the defense industry at Labor party headquarters in central London. Commenting on Britain’s place as a first rate power, Lord West at the time stated: “We are not a second rate power. We are not bloody Denmark or Belgium, and if we try to become that, I think we would be worse off as a result”. In the immediate aftermath of the conference, he was forced to apologies to both countries for his corrosive remarks. In response to Lord West’s views, I would like to set out the important role that Denmark plays in relation to its continued commitment to transatlantic security.
Since the end of the Cold War, Denmark has made many positive contributions to a variety of NATO missions in the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Gulf of Aden. The Kingdom’s contemporary foreign policy is encapsulated in the principles of the Ellemann-Jensen doctrine, developed by the former Danish foreign minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen. This idea aims to promote medium sized countries with the ability to gain influence in the global order. An early example of this was Denmark’s early recognition of the renewed independence of the three Baltic states in 1991. This set a significant precedent as it allowed for other European countries to join Denmark in a successful lobbying campaign which played a role in the eventual demise of the Soviet Union. Denmark was also the first country to exchange ambassadors with these newly independent states. This was enhanced by the country sending a detachment of military advisors to each of the three countries. In 1992, Denmark had a predominant role to play in the creation of the Council of the Baltic Sea States. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania immediately became members of this new regional organization. These initiatives were beneficial in preparing these countries for eventual EU and NATO membership in 2004.
In terms of international conflicts, the country vigorously supported the international coalition during the first Gulf War in 1991. The country also made a significant contribution to the debates which escalated during the precarious period of the Bosnian War. It actively urged for a more decisive use of military force at the political level within NATO, along with the United States and Turkey. As a result of Ellemann-Jensen’s success in leading international efforts in recognizing the political aspirations of the Baltic countries, he was put forward as a candidate to take up the position of the NATO Secretary-General in 1995. This underlined Denmark’s importance as a medium sized power within transatlantic structures.
The post 9/11 political context has seen the Kingdom engaged in a variety of conflicts. Danish troops have been deployed to Afghanistan on a number of occasions since the creation of the ISAF mission. They are currently based in the Helmand province, serving alongside their British and US counterparts. Their commitment to Afghanistan was recognized in the spring of 2011 by an official visit by the Queen of Denmark to her troops serving in that province. At the time of Lord West’s remarks in the autumn of 2011, Dr. Liam Fox, Britain’s then defense secretary, stated “forty-two Danes have lost their lives fighting alongside us in Helmand”. Danish military and naval forces are also involved in NATO’s counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and have made a significant contribution to operations in Libya in 2011. After a decade and a half of dedication to allied operations, Denmark was rewarded for its work by the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO Secretary General in 2009. Rasmussen previously served as Danish Prime Minister from 2001 to 2009. While being a medium sized power, Denmark will continue to have a significant role to play in the future development of NATO and European security institutions in general.
Dr. Niall Mulchinock obtained his PhD from the Department of Govenment at University College Cork, Ireland.