A Danish Perspective on the Challenge of Arctic Security


12/15/2011 During the recent visit of Second Line of Defense to Denmark, SLD’s Robbin Laird and Hans Tino Hansen of Risk Intelligence sat down with Admiral Nils Wang, Commandant of the Royal Danish Defence College and former head of the Danish Navy to discuss the challenges of Arctic security.  SLD has published several key pieces on the Arctic and we see the Arctic challenges as crucial in the decade ahead. It is a clear element of the significantly different post-Afghanistan security environment.

The Arctic is clearly an area in which presence assets, both surface and airborne, need to be networked to provide for maritime safety, security and search and rescue capabilities.

The 5 members of the Arctic Council – the Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, Canada, Russia and the US currently control in principle 80% of known Arctic resources in the 200-mile EEZs or Exclusive Economic Zones.  But presence is crucial to exercise sovereignty and has we have written earlier, the U.S. is the reluctant Arctic power.



The Kingdom of Denmark has its own challenges because Greenland and the Faroe Islands are autonomous territories within the Kingdom.  But the Kingdom has worked hard to shape a common front, in part because big outside powers like China are not loath to pressure Greenland or the Faroe Islands.  And within Greenland is located one of the richest stores of rare earth minerals of great interest to the Chinese.


We will be discussing separately the published strategy of the Kingdom of Denmark for 2011-2020.


The Admiral provided an overview by country in the Arctic council.  He started with Norway and he commented that Norway had made it very clear that they want NATO involved in shaping an Arctic strategy.  On the one hand, clearly commercial collaboration between Russia and Norway is necessary to develop and ship resources.  On the other hand, as a smaller country, Norway is concerned about their ability to manage the relationship with the Russians.

On his charts, some of the capabilities, which the Norwegians had available to provide coverage and protection was, highlighted such as the Aegis destroyers.  And with Norway looking towards the possibility of F-35 acquisition as well an ability to work F-35s with Aegis in providing for security in the region was highlighted.


The Admiral next discussed Russia.  Russia has a very clear strategy closely connected with their approach towards energy policy.  They were building significant resources for their Arctic strategy.  He noted that the Russians bought two of the Mistral class helo carriers for deployment by the Northern Fleet and would be ice hardened.

The Russians had reorganized existing forces to create two new Arctic brigades, which made a strategic point.

The United States had a strategy but few resources.  Indeed, the strategy was signed the last month of President Bush’s Administration.  There is a series resource gap on the US side, and the allied countries in the Arctic look to the US to have resources, including C4ISR capabilities.

A possibility was to shape a hub in Northern Greenland at the Thule air base to provide for such capabilities.

Next, the Admiral discussed Canada.  Here he saw the Canadians has pursuing a wide-ranging strategy.  They are buying frigates as part of the strategy.  And there is concern with future use by among others the Chinese in operating SSBNs in the Arctic waterways.  They were clearly trying to build capabilities to deal with maritime safety and security, and presence, and various ways to protect their sovereignty.

The Canadians were not interested in making NATO the manager of the strategy; they are seeking to shape a national strategy to protect their waterways and resources.

Finally, the Admiral discussed Denmark.  He underscored that the Kingdom of Denmark was different from Denmark as a country.  The Kingdom of Demark in this area consists of Greenland, Faroe Islands, and Denmark.  And overall, defense, security, and foreign policy is still governed by Copenhagen.  But the actual security issue is resources, which is now governed, e.g., from Greenland, when it comes to the Greenlandic areas.

The resources are roughly split into two: there are roughly 50-60 billion barrels of oil on the coasts of Greenland but the rare earth minerals in Greenland are roughly of the same value.

The Chinese are keenly interested and recently the Greenland Minister for Resources met with a senior Chinese official, namely the number 2 in the Chinese Government.

Senior Greenland officials have made it clear recently that they do not want to leave the Kingdom of Denmark, precisely because of the problem of dealing with outside pressure.

The Admiral underscored that the Northern air base in Greenland (Thule Airbase) could become an important hub for dealing the maritime safety, security and search and rescue missions so important in the high north.  And relevant defense assets could operate there as needed.

We closed by discussing what the “reluctant” Arctic power could bring to the party.  Here he emphasized that tools were more important than declaratory policy.  And he saw the need to craft comprehensive ISR coverage in this area as crucial, and saw that the US could make a significant contribution.

We discussed during the Denmark visit with officials as well how the 4 Western powers in the Arctic Council could craft common capabilities able to protect sovereignty and to provide for security and defense capabilities.  We will address this in a separate article.