Is Denmark’s Foreign Policy of "Military Activism" Reflected in its Recruitment and Retention Policy ?
Published/ publié in Res Militaris (http://resmilitaris.net), ERGOMAS issue n°5, November 2017
By Henning Sørensen
Thanks to Helle Kolding, CS, and Vickie Lind, HOD, for valuable facts, corrections and comments. I am alone responsible for any shortcomings.
1 Heurlin, 2001 ; Rynning, 2003 ; Grønnegaard Christensen & Petersen, 2005.
2 Heurlin, 2001, op.cit.,
3 Rynning, 2003, op.cit.
4 Rynning, 2003, op.cit., p.24
5 The Danish Defence Agreement 2005-2009, p.4, stated that the Danish Armed Forces should be able to deliver "…a much greater capability than before to participate in peace-support operations… to release resources that will enable Danish Defence to mobilize and deploy forces promptly and flexibly on international operations, and to maintain deployed capacities on the order of some 2000 personnel (1500 Army and 500 Navy and Air Force)".
6 Forsvarskommandoen, 2012, p.65.
7 Anonymous, Aftale på forsvarsområdet 2013-2017 repeatedly mentions deployments : "Defence shall still have the capacity to deploy abroad more and greater contributions" ; "improve Defence in two respects : international deployment capacities and the ability to countermeasure terror actions and their effects" ; "Defence is continuously organized to contribute with rearmed and well-trained units for all types of international missions" (p.1).
Danish Foreign and Defence Policy since World War II
There has been great consistency since 1945 between Denmark’s declared foreign and defence policies, which went together through three identifiable phases.1 In the Cold War period, Denmark as a founding member of NATO pursued a symbolic warlike security policy (albeit somewhat toned down during the 1980s). In the post-Cold War era’s first decade up until 9/11, Danish security policy manifested itself through participation in military actions legitimized by international organizations (UN, OSCE, EU, and NATO). After 2001, the country’s foreign policy evolved to the point where its armed forces engaged in sheer wars, in particular in Iraq and Afghanistan – with or without a UN Security Council mandate.
Denmark’s military strategy followed accordingly. First, as a "defensive, non-provocative actor" in the Cold War era,2 then as a "civilian/ military offensive actor" in the post-Cold War period, and since 9/11 as a "strategic offensive actor".3 The post-2001 defence policy rests on the argument that after 9/11, the Western world is at war against rogue States harbouring terrorists and developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) or deploying terrorists to harm innocent citizens. As a "strategic offensive actor", Denmark recognized the need for Danish soldiers to fight hostile forces as part of international coalitions4 even at the cost of Danish soldiers returning home in body bags. In the two last periods, the Danish armed forces have pursued two tasks : in the formulation repeated in successive Defence Agreements (2005-2009,5 2010-20126 and 2013-20177), (1) provide Res Militaris, ERGOMAS issue n°5, November 2017 2
for "Total [homeland] Defence" and (2) take part in international missions on the basis of increased "deployable military capacities".8 These Defence Agreements’ insistence on commitment of troops overseas has (rightly) been termed "military activism".9
8 "Changes in the international security environment require Danish Defence to strengthen its capacities in two central areas: 1) International deployable military capacities and 2) the ability to counter terror acts and their consequences", The Danish Defence Agreement 2005-2009 (official web page : p.1).
9 See for instance Heurlin, 2001, chapter 8 ; Rynning, 2003, p.24 ; Christensen & Petersen, 2005, p.10.
10 According to Danish Wikipedia, between 1960 and 2014 the Army has participated in 10 international missions, the Navy in 14, and the Air Force in 8. See : https://da.Wikipedia.org/wiki/Forsvaret.
11 Anonymous, Beretning fra Forsvarskommissionen (Report from the Defence Committee), 2008 : "...it is demanded that (Danish) Defence be in a position to conduct operations both for longer periods and periodically of the high-intensity type" (vol.2, p.421).
12 SFI, 2012, pp.8-9.
13 Sipri Yearbook, 2011.
14 From 2009 to 2010, troop levels in Afghanistan rose from 84,000 to 132,000 soldiers, or by 57 %.
Time, Location, Mission, Type and Size of Danish Deployments
Table 1 (next page) illustrates the changed nature over time of Danish contingents deployed abroad. It shows, in particular, that the Danish Army was the only service involved in operations overseas throughout the Cold War : it was not until 1990 that the Navy and Air Force followed suit.10 In the period 1948-1990, Army soldiers were mostly active in minor, low-intensity UN missions. In those days, the main troop deployment scenario for Denmark was the other way round, with UK and US soldiers slated to come to its rescue in case of a Warsaw Pact attack. Things changed rather dramatically in the post-Cold War era and in particular from 2003 onwards, when many Danish soldiers started to serve abroad in longer and more lethal missions (n°s 6, 7, 10, and 11). Since 2010, following the Defence Committee’s 2008 recommendation for dual-type operations,11 Danish soldiers have been engaged in more missions abroad, mostly minor, short-term and of both low- (as instructors) and high-intensity nature.
Another way of describing the "military activism" of the last quarter-century is to calculate the number, not of missions to which Danish contingents were a party, but of individual rotations of Danish soldiers for the 1992-2009 period.12 This gives a more fluctuating picture as a function of time, place, and size of the deployments. In 1992, there were 1,400 individual rotations to the Balkans. In 1993, this figure doubled to 2,700, after which it gradually fell to around 1,700 in 1998. From 1999 to 2005, 3,000 yearly rotations, in particular to Iraq, were observed. From 2006 to 2009, their number grew by 50% to around 4,500 (some 30% of the Danish military’s total active-duty strength !), mostly to Afghanistan as Denmark put an end to its military presence in Iraq by 2007. Today, the number is below 700. This fluctuation is a specifically Danish phenomenon as it strongly contrasts with the stable number of 130,000 soldiers from a variety of nations deployed on some 50 operations conducted in 33 locations around the world13 – not counting the NATO’s ISAF operation in Afghanistan.14 Res Militaris, ERGOMAS issue n°5, November 2017 3
Table 1 : Major Danish Military Deployments, 1948 – 201615
16 B 8 2016 Vedtaget Forslag (November 10, 2015) til folketingsbeslutning om udsendelse af et supplerende dansk militært bidrag til støtte for indsatsen mod ISIL (Passed bill on further deployed Danish military capacity in support of the fight against ISIL). Service involved
Type of mission
Intensity of conflict
8. Air Force
10. Army/Air Force
13. Navy/Air Force
The Aden Bay
15. Air Force
16. Army/Air Force
18. Army/Air Force
20. Army/Air Force
21. Army/Air Force
Iraq + Syria 16