The Evolving Strategic Environment: The Danish View


The Danish Foreign Ministry set up a Security Policy Analysis Group, chaired by Ambassador Michael-Johns, Danish NATO Ambassador (the featured photo), which issued its report on the nature of the evolving strategic environment.

This is how the 16 November 2022 announcement of the public meeting to launch the report read:

“The geopolitical and geoeconomic lines on the world map are being redrawn once again. As the pandemic recedes, the world is faced with an energy crisis, economic shocks, floods and droughts, nation-first populism, and the looming danger of the escalation of the war in Ukraine. This emerging “polycrisis” facing humankind, as the current condition is being described, is creating extreme uncertainties about the shape of the future worlds. Taking Denmark as the locus, we initiate a series of conversations on how to navigate these uncertain worlds and the manifold futures that might lie ahead.

“We will begin with an introduction to the newly released report “Danish Security and Defence towards 2035” by Ambassador Michael Zilmer-Johns, Chairman, The Security Policy Analysis Group, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It will be followed by two expert roundtables that will discuss regional perspectives as well as ways forward. The speakers’ panel brings together distinguished scholars and policy experts.”

The first roundtable was entitled “Denmark and the World.”

  • Ambassador, Michael Zilmer-Johns, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Chairman of the Security Policy Analysis Group
  • Henrik Østergaard Breitenbauch, Dean, Royal Danish Defence College,
  • Elena Meyer-Clement, Associate Professor, China Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, UCPH.
  • Morten Rievers Heiberg, Professor, Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies, UCPH.
  • Katrine Stevnhøj, PhD Fellow, Russia Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, UCPH.
  • Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen, Professor, Middle Eastern Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, UCPH.
  • Ravinder Kaur, ADI Chair, Associate Professor, Modern India and South Asia Studies, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, UCPH.

The second was entitled “The Way Forward.”

  • Camilla Mordhorst, Director, The Danish Cultural Institute.
  • Charlotte Flindt Pedersen, Director, The Danish Foreign Policy Society.
  • Annika Hvithamar, Head of Department, Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, UCPH.
  • Peter Bøgh Hansen, China Political Director, Confederation of Danish Industry (DI).
  • Morten Elkjær, Vice President, Investment Fund for Developing Countries (IFU).
  • John Rand, Professor, Department of Economics, UCPH.

The summary of the report provides the overview of the report.

An entire generation of Danes grew up without fear of war in Europe and in a world that opened up. They could travel freely around the globe and experience how democracy and human rights progressed. They experienced a historic boom in prosperity in Denmark and the rest of the world. The children and young people of today are faced with a bleaker future.

A new iron curtain is descending over Europe since the brutal Russian attack on Ukraine. This is a landmark event in European security. The Russian willingness to use military force to change the European borders and seek to enforce a European order based on spheres of interest and the right of the strong means that the entire Kingdom of Denmark will face significantly intensified threats in the coming years. The network of arms control agreements and confidence-building mechanisms that created stability and predictability on our continent is lying in ruins.

Not only Europe, but the entire international community, is in disarray. The USA has lost its position as the only superpower, and the balance of power between the great powers is shifting rapidly, not least due to the rise of China. Cooperation is being replaced by sharp competition between the great powers while the UN and other global institutions are weakened. The ever-closer integration of the world economy – with complex supply chains across national borders and time zones – has slowed down. Nuclear arsenals are growing and will play a greater role in the global security policy game in the future. We find ourselves on the threshold of a new era in which the rules-based international system based on the unique strength of the United States will be replaced by a new system. At this point, it remains too early to tell how far this development will go towards a more fragmented world order, where power means more than rules and principles. The direction is unfortunately clear, however, and it is certain that the future international system will be very different from what we have known since the end of the Cold War.

The intensified great power competition of the future will take on a different character than was the case during the Cold War. Firstly, the economic integration between China and the West is far deeper than it ever was between the former Eastern Bloc and the West. This means that there will continue to be cooperation in trade, climate, and pandemics in parallel to fierce competition for control of transport routes, supply chains and infrastructure and – not least – for the technologies that can fundamentally change the future military battlefield. Secondly, China and the United States are not as globally dominant as were the USSR and USA. The EU, India, Japan, and a number of medium-sized powers have considerable economic and military capacity and greater freedom of action than was then the case. This will very likely lead to a more fluid international system with changing patterns of cooperation and more proxy wars between the great powers. A sharp division of the world into democracies and autocratic countries could be an alternative but is considered less likely.

China’s ascendance as an ever stronger and more assertive global power will affect European security. The great geographical distance means that China cannot be expected to become a conventional military threat to Europe before 2035. But because the USA is turning its strategic focus towards China, Europe will have to provide a much larger part of the NATO deterrence and defence against Russia as well as the efforts against terrorism and irregular migration from the Middle East and Africa. China will also be more prominent in other aspects of the threat landscape. China’s rapid development and militarisation of new technologies, and its continued efforts to gain and access to European technology through legal and illegal means, will pressure Europe.

In light of the multiple and significantly intensified threats against Denmark, it is more important than at any other time since the end of the Cold War that we are firmly rooted in NATO and the EU and maintain close ties to strong allies in Europe and North America together with partners in Asia. NATO will remain the foundation for Danish security and the world’s strongest military alliance. The intensified Russian threat has strengthened the unity of NATO and triggered a significant strengthening of the collective NATO defence along the eastern flank against Russia. While NATO ensures the military deterrence of Russia, the EU contributes significantly to European and global security in many other ways. With the prompt and harsh sanctions in response to the Ukraine invasion, the EU emerged as a real geopolitical actor. The active involvement of the EU Commission in the European defence dimension is game changer with important ramifications for building an efficient European defence industry.

As a result of the Danish referendum on the lifting of the defence opt-out and the Finnish and Swedish decisions to seek admission to NATO, the Nordic countries will for the first time in history stand together as military allies in NATO and as partners in the EU defence dimension. This opens up entirely new perspectives for Nordic defence cooperation.

The Faroe Islands and Greenland forms part of the Arctic/North Atlantic security policy complex, which has a key role in the mutual nuclear deterrence between the USA and Russia. Greenland lies in the middle of the path of intercontinental missiles between Russia and the USA. As the relations between the two great powers have deteriorated, the relevance of Pituffik (Thule Air Base) has increased. The Faroe Islands and Greenland are important for the strategically important maritime passage in the waters between Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Scotland, which Russian submarines and warships must pass to enter the North Atlantic.

The new security policy situation of the Kingdom of Denmark entails a significant increase in the tasks facing the Danish Armed Forces until 2035. It will be necessary to increase the Danish contribution to the ongoing strengthening of the Western deterrence and defence against the increased military threat from Russia and to the relief of the USA in Europe. The main tasks of Danish Defence are expected to be forward defence in the Baltic Sea region, including more forces on short alert, as well as increased surveillance in the Arctic and the North Atlantic. The Armed Forces has to deliver our NATO capability targets. Future NATO targets for Denmark are likely to become even more demanding and to require much higher preparedness levels. Continued support for Ukraine, including training and weapons, can also require more resources.

Climate change and demographics will intensify the threats and challenges emanating from weak and fragile states. Maritime security will also remain a key priority for Denmark. Furthermore, our allies will likely request Danish military contributions to activities in Asia in line with the increased strategic focus there. The Danish defence should therefore retain capacity to send relevant military contributions to distant international operations. Even with the decision to increase defence spending to 2% of GDP, however, there will be less capacity to participate in such operations in the coming years.

The rapid technological development will require a significant technological boost to the Danish Armed Forces if it is to remain a relevant partner for our strongest allies. This increase will also be required to enable the Armed Forces to handle increasing tasks despite limited prospects for expanding the manpower. The new, bleaker threat assessment also requires a strengthening of the broader societal security. The Kingdom of Denmark must be able to deal with a wide range of growing manmade and natural threats, including cyber-attacks, malign foreign interference in political processes or control of critical infrastructure, shortages of critical supplies, pandemics, and extreme weather.

See, also the following:

The Way Ahead for Northern European Defense: Shaping the Future with Sweden and Finland as NATO Members

Shaping a Way Ahead for Denmark and Nordic Defense: The Impact of the War in Ukraine

The Kingdom of Denmark: Trigger for Change in Nordic Integration?