The Danish Way of War After Afghanistan: Will the Activism Continue?


2015-04-24 Dr. Peter Viggo Jakobsen, from the Royal Danish Defence College, provided an overview of the evolution of Danish defense policy to lead off the Symposium on Airpower co-hosted by the Williams Foundation and the Centre for Military Studies of the University of Copenhagen.

Jakobsen explained that Denmark was a member of NATO from the beginning but circumspect in its operations within NATO.

Indeed, during the Euromissile crisis of the early 1980s, Denmark was not an enthusiastic supporter of the deployment of the new missiles.

Paradoxically, with the end of the Cold War, Denmark has become one of the three expeditionary states in Europe, along with Britain and France.

 The first panel seen left to right, Dr. Gary Schaub, CMS, Dr. Peter Jackobsen, Royal Danish Defence College, and Col. Anders Rex, Royal Danish Air Force
The first panel seen left to right, Dr. Gary Schaub, CMS, Dr. Peter Jakobsen, Royal Danish Defence College, and Col. Anders Rex, Royal Danish Air Force. Credit Photo: Centre for Militar Studies

As Jakobsen put it:

We started out in the first period from 1864 to the end of the Cold War basically, not having anything to do with war.

And then since then we’ve basically gone to war since the late ’90s and not missed any opportunity to do so.

But something strange happened in the 1990s.

The Danes were the most enthusiastic about the Kosovo air campaign among Europeans, and it was also in Denmark that you found the highest level of support for providing ground troops for an invasion if the air campaign did not succeed.

The Danes have accepted the notion that force is legitimately exercised in defense of their values and interests.

We have some 50,000-60,000 cars in Denmark now with yellow stickers on them saying, “We Support our Troops.”

That’s something you wouldn’t find in Denmark 10, 15 years ago.

We have flag days.

We have homecoming parades.

These are things you traditionally associated with the United States or Britain, but we do them now too.

According to Jakobsen, the Danes have been very supportive of the United States and NATO missions and have been engaged in every NATO mission since the end of the Cold War.

Denmark has generated popular war heroes, such Lars Møller or Anders Storrud.

There has been an avalanche of books, movies and TV series in Denmark which deal with war.

In 1994 the Danes engaged in a tank battle against Bosnian Serb forces (Operation Bøllebank[1]).

They defeated the Serbs handily.

This turned out well for Denmark and Danish politicians could leverage that experience to build a case for its effective engagement in coalition operations.

Dr.Jakobsen addressing the Copenhagen Airpower Symposium. Credit: Second Line of Defense
Dr.Jakobsen addressing the Copenhagen Airpower Symposium. Credit: Second Line of Defense

As Jakobsen highlighted:

And it also meant that we began to get a little praise from our allies in NATO, from the United States, and that’s not something that we had been used to in the previous decade.

And basically we have constructed a new narrative that we’ve been able to explain to the Danish public, why it’s the right thing to sometimes use force and how you can help make the world a better place and Denmark more secure by doing so.

And at the heart of the Danish approach is going to war with coalition partners.

“Usually we go with our key NATO allies in recent years either with the UK or the US and we’ve pretty much tried to do so without any national caveats or restrictions on how we can use our forces.”

Clearly, the approach is not just about the use of force, but force within a broader security context in the region where force is being used.

There are some anomalies, such as not wanting to take prisoners–  and take legal responsibility for them — and here the Danes work with the Brits to sort through that problem in the field.

And the Danes use their own interpreters in the field so they are not held responsible for foreign nationals when the Danish forces leave an engagement.

There is growing opposition to the use of force within Denmark, as there is concern with the results and effectiveness of the interventions over the past few years.

Jakobsen highlighted opponents to the use of force’s position as follows:

“Why don’t we go back to the good old days during the Cold War when we’re arguing peace-keeping and preventing wars and we certainly don’t want to do Iraq or Afghanistan again.

And hey, if we go out there and fight and attack in various places then they’re more likely to launch terrorist attacks against us.”

He concluded:

Who will win the Danish debate?

At the end of the day what will determine it is whether we again will continue to get the phone calls from the DC, from the UN, from NATO, with a UN mandate saying we really need to stop an atrocity or we really need to do something about this crisis and we need your help.

If that happens then I cannot foresee in the foreseeable future any Danish government that would refuse such a request.

So if you keep calling us and provide a UN mandate and a just reason for using force then we’ll come.

He also argued that if this stance prevails, then replacing the current F-16s is a logical thing to do and that given the centrality of the United States to Danish defense and security, procuring an American plane was the most logical thing to do.

Editor’s Note: Below is an article coauthored by Dr. Jakobsen which looks at the Danish way of war:

Or can be downloaded here:

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