2014-06-02 By Robbin Laird
Earlier, I had the chance to interview Admiral Wang on Arctic issues.
In that interview, the Admiral provided an overview on the various states involved in Arctic security and focused on the key challenges facing the Kingdom of Denmark, which is to say managing the relationships among Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland.
In this interview conducted at his office in Copenhagen, the Admiral focused on the impact of the Ukrainian events on Danish thinking about Baltic defense and residually upon the Arctic.
The Admiral is now in charge of the integrated Danish military colleges and is focused on shaping a more integrated inter-service perspective, which will allow Denmark to shape the kind of 21st century force needed for Danish defense.
The new position was described in a press release earlier this year:
The command of the three academies was handed over to rear admiral Nils Wang, Commander of the Royal Danish Defence College, at ceremonies on January 6.
The move to consolidate the three institutions under Royal Danish Defence College is a consequence of the latest Danish defence agreement.
We have now reached another milestone in the defence agreement and in our plans for the educational field.
With the merger a foundation is laid for an even better link between the craftsmanship and professionalism of the three military services on the one hand and the research and development to support it on the other hand, says rear admiral Nils Wang.
The establishment of new relations both internally between the academies and the Royal Danish Defence College as well as between the three services and the new Royal Danish Defence College will have a major focus in the near future, says Nils Wang.
Question: How do see the way ahead for building a more integrated Danish force?
Admiral Wang: Being a small country with a small defense force, the most important thing is that you are actually able to plug and play with something bigger.
That is the first consideration.
You’ll always have is to be able to answer the question: who will be my strategic partners?
That can then vary from scenario to scenario, but you really have to focus your attention on the coalition and your potential role within that coalition.
Question: In other words, you need to make certain that you have built a modular force?
Admiral Wang: Modular but also a plug and play capability as well.
We need to have hardware that is flexible, compatible and with the ability to operate on the same frequencies, use the same spare parts, and having the same flight systems, etc.
Also important is what I would call the “software” issue or our way of thinking about operations.
This is where education is a vital part of the equation.
Question: How do the demands of Baltic or Arctic Defense affect this approach?
Admiral Wang: When you’re talking about Baltic dependence or Arctic dependence, these are two different scenarios where you will have to employ equipment and personnel in very different cooperative framework or coalition dynamics.
I think that the Ukraine crisis has drawn attention to the fact that the three Baltic states took a very bold decision ten years ago. They applied for a NATO membership, and NATO accepted them.
That is a commitment that goes both ways, and when you have a scenario like the one that we are experiencing right now with Russia and their intervention in Ukraine, I think it’s very, very important for NATO to send a message that the three Baltic states are NATO members and we are prepared to defend them in a clear manner.
That is why Denmark is deploying F-16s to the Baltic states, and the reason why we can deploy F-16s to the Baltic states without any problem as a routine operation, is basically because we have made it the entire Danish defense force, including our fighter air craft deployable over the last ten, fifteen years.
Question: Clearly, the main issue for the Arctic is development and security, but defense issues could be raised as well.
How do you see these possibilities?
Admiral Wang: As you know from our earlier discussions, I see the safety and security dimensions of Arctic development as the most pressing.
But clearly, conflict can develop, most likely as a result of spill over from other issues.
It would most likely be triggered by something that happens anywhere else.
It could be the Ukraine crisis but it can also be a US, Chinese confrontation in the South China Sea that suddenly sets a new agenda in the Arctic. If that is the case, then I think the Arctic would turn into an Article Five scenario, as the Arctic area is an area that is included in the NATO treaty. In the Arctic there are five coastal states and four of them are actually members of NATO.
There you suddenly have a game changer.
However, in the most likely situation, what you need are capabilities such as: largely coast guard functions which is search and rescue, oil spill management, and surveillance so that you actually know what is going on out there.
The convergence between Baltic Defense and Arctic Defense is clearly around shaping flexible forces, which have the ability to plug and play with others.
Question: How does the Ukrainian situation refocus European attention?
Admiral Wang: The Ukraine situation has in fact put emphasis to our own region after having the luxury I would say for maybe ten or fifteen years to see security issues as largely being about national interests in a global setting such as in Afghanistan, Libya or wherever and now suddenly it is not as much a matter of national interest, it is actually a matter of national defense.
I’m sure that the European politicians will need to consider seriously whether they are investing enough money on defense forces. We have had a long period where you can actually take money from the defense forces and put it into other areas because of the absence of concern for direct defense.
There is an interesting potential linkage between the Ukraine and the Arctic.
Russia might have won a tactical victory but I think Russia might suffer a strategic defeat.
Because of the annexation of Crimea and the Russian intervention in Ukraine, the European politicians will have to address how to free themselves from energy imports from Russia, and if they do so this will have a clear impact on Russian interests.
Question: How might the Ukraine crisis affect Scandinavian cooperation?
Admiral Wang: For many years, there has been talk of greater Scandinavian cooperation. The problem has been that the Nordic countries might share values, but we do not always, at least not in the past, share the same perception of security issues.
You have Denmark and Norway being NATO members but two very different NATO members. Denmark has the expeditionary extreme and Norway has focused more on territorial defense.
The Swedes are very EU-centric and has put their eggs in the EU Battle Group basket.
Then there is Finland that has maintained there skepticism towards Russia and maintained a territorial security approach like during the Cold War.
Nonetheless, both the Baltic and Arctic issues might well create a situation where you have more common ground for the Nordic countries to build cooperation in practical ways.
The Ukraine incident actually also could accelerate the establishment of missile defense in Europe as well. If the upcoming NATO summit in Wales were to push the missile defense agenda forward that could demonstrate to the Russians that they do no longer have a say on this issue and that there are costs to their actions.
Question: How do you view the way ahead with regard to Baltic defense?
Admiral Wang: We have shaped a number of solid building blocks with the Baltic states all ready, but I think we need to bring these efforts together into a more comprehensive defense strategy so that the Russians understand how integrated the Balts are into NATO defense and also into the defense policies of the Nordic states.
Two examples of the building blocks, which I have in mind, are the BALTOPS exercises and the integration of the Baltic Brigades into a Danish division.
We could easily expand these efforts into more joint and integrated training activities, which apart from good training also could be part of the trip wire that NATO needs to establish along the Alliance borders in the Baltic region.