Defence policy change puts emphasis on national interests

Force size and capability will play a decisive role in future decisions about getting involved in future conflicts

The military will embark on a new strategy based on “objectivity” and “realism”, the defence minister, Nick Hækkerup (Socialdemokraterne), revealed today during a policy conference at the University of Copenhagen. 

Speaking with Politiken newspaper before the conference, Hækkerup described a policy that would better reflect that Denmark’s size and capabilities prevent the country from making decisions about where in the world intervention should occur. However, he contended that Denmark must have a say.

“That’s the way it is when you are a small country, but we must ensure that law and order will not only be served by the strongest and most brutal powers, so we must be part of it,” Hækkerup told Politiken. “We must also safeguard our national interests, as with Mali, so it won’t become a haven for terrorists.”

Hækkerup went on to say that it was imperative that Denmark had an active foreign policy, since it is more likely to be consulted by larger countries if it regularly takes part in international operations.

Denmark, however, can do nothing without the assistance of the bigger countries, Hækkerup admitted.

“When I’m asked about why we are in Mali and not in Syria, I say it’s because the stronger countries aren’t in Syria. We can’t do it alone and the bombing of Libya showed that even Europe couldn’t do much without the US.”

Denmark recently contributed an Air Force cargo plane to the operation against the insurgency in Mali and actively took part in the bombing of Libya as dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s regime came to a violent end.

And while Hækkerup believed it was wrong to follow the US into the war in Iraq because the move didn’t serve national interests, he says Denmark must be part of international operations that defend democracy and human rights.

While Hækkerup’s new policy proposal is designed to spark debate about the role of the military after it pulls out of Afghanistan in 2014, he said it was difficult to predict whether the country’s forces would take part in new conflicts.

“When evaluating whether to send soldiers, we must keep an eye on Danish interests,” Hækkerup argued, pointing to Danish efforts to prevent piracy off the Horn of Africa. “There it is to defend international shipping and the thousands of Danish maritime jobs.”

As part of the defence policy overhaul, which is expected to save the state billions of kroner, Hækkerup has also been making moves to ensure that the Defence Ministry should have greater control over the military, including reducing the ranks of top military brass and possibly eliminating conscription.