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Military strategy-making in Denmark: Retaining “Best Ally” status with minimum spending

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This chapter shows how the re-emergence of military threats to Danish and NATO security since 2014 forced Danish decision makers to rethink their military strategy. The article captures the process in a case-study of the formulation of the Defence Agreement 2018-2023, which increased defence spending for the first time since 1990 and initiated the process of creating a more balanced force structure tasked to deter Russia and undertake stabilisation operations at the same time. The Defence Agreement resulted from the interaction of three explanatory factors or policy drivers, which have shaped Danish military strategy making since the 1990s: (1) The need to maintain the American security guarantee in NATO without undesirable entrapment, (2) a determination to obtain it on the cheap and (3) a desire to maintain “core ally” status in NATO and “best ally” status in Washington D.C.

The Defence Agreement 2018-2023 attempted to strike a balance between these conflicting objectives. The increase in defence spending was driven by the desire to maintain Denmark’s position as core member of the Alliance and a close friend of the United States. This desire and the interest in maintaining NATO’s security guarantee led Denmark to invest in the military capabilities that NATO’s capability reviews and the Danish military leadership recommended. However, the conflicting interest in keeping defence spending as low as possible led to a decision to keep defence spending well below the 2 percent of GDP demanded by NATO and President Trump. To shield Denmark from criticism and maintain its status in the Alliance and in Washington, the political parties behind the defence agreement pegged Danish defence spending to the same level as Germany, the Netherlands and Norway. When this triggered harsher criticism from the United States than expected and Germany and the Netherlands increased their spending, the Danish politicians followed suit and pledged to spend 1.5 percent of GDP on defence in 2024.

The contradicting political desires for keeping defence spending to a minimum and for establishing the effective and relevant military forces required by NATO and the United States has produced a military strategy that balances on a knife-edge. It is stretched in terms of both personnel and equipment with no margin for unforeseen contingencies or increased demands from NATO or the United States. If the level of tension between Russia and the United States increases in the Arctic or continued destabilization of Europe’s southern flank creates a need for additional capabilities or a long-term military contribution, the political decision makers will need to increase spending or integrate the Danish Armed Forces further with key allies.
TitelMilitary Strategy in the Twenty-First Century : The Challenge for NATO
RedaktørerJanne Haaland Matlary, Rob Johnson
Antal sider18
Udgivelses stedLondon
ForlagC Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd
Publikationsdato17 dec. 2020
Sider415-432, 552-556
ISBN (Trykt)9781787383913
StatusUdgivet - 17 dec. 2020
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