Denmark will triple Arctic defense spending

Money for aerial surveillance and submarine hunting reflects increased U.S. concern about Russia, China in region

By Kevin McGwin - December 3, 2019
Danish seamen from the ‘Knud Rasmussen’ take part in a 2016 search-and-rescue exercise near Nuuk, Greenland. (Beredskabsstyrelsen / DEMA)

Denmark is prepared to triple its defense spending in the Arctic amid concerns that an increasing split between NATO, Russia and China could see conflict emerge in the region.

Mette Frederiksen, the Danish prime minister, was expected to present the increase to U.S. President Donald Trump during a meeting Tuesday in London on the sidelines of a gathering of NATO leaders.

Funding for the three–year, 1.5 billion kroner ($220 million) increase will come from Denmark’s existing 27 billion kroner defense budget. Frederiksen told Danish media the money will go to build up Danish capacity to monitor the airspace around Greenland, as well as to detect Russian submarines sailing close to the island.

[US defense investments in Greenland infrastructure would keep NATO in, China out and Russia at bay]

The increase is the latest move by Copenhagen to respond to developments in the region and follows similar decisions in 2016 and 2018 to shuffle the defense budget to make money available for Arctic operations.

“The Arctic is the new black in Danish defense and security policy,” said Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, an academic with the Royal Danish Defence College. “Over the past decade there has been a gradual realization that this is a region that was opening up because of climate change, but the pace has picked up immensely in recent years.”

He called the increase “significant” but reckoned it reflected more Washington’s growing awareness of the region’s military significance than Copenhagen’s concern that Greenland needed defending.

“Of course this is related to Donald Trump trying to buy Greenland a few months ago,” he said. “But it’s also a matter of the U.S. becoming more aware that Russia has built up its military capacity in the Arctic, and that China is now an economic player there. When Americans begin to take an interest in a foreign policy issue, then Denmark automatically becomes interested in it, too. Because America is Denmark’s most important ally.”

[China is mixing military and science in its Arctic push, says a new Danish intelligence report]

Denmark, like other NATO members, has been attacked by Trump for not meeting its commitment to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense. Clemmensen suggested that shifting spending to a region Washington was playing closer attention to was a way to show Copenhagen was addressing those demands.

The announcement comes after the FE, the Danish external intelligence agency, on Friday warned that increasing tensions between Russia, the US and China were turning into a “great-power game” that “had direct and increased significance for the Kingdom of Denmark” in the Arctic.