Danish referendum produces majority for participation in European Union defense policy
About two-thirds of voters backed Denmark’s involvement in European Union (EU) defense policy in the June 1 referendum, exit polls projected. The government and major opposition parties have campaigned to overturn the country’s 30-year refusal to participate in the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy.
The result means that Danish troops will be integrated into EU military operations and that Copenhagen will participate in EU decision-making processes for military deployments. It will also open up possibilities for the EU to deploy military forces in the Arctic, an increasingly geopolitically volatile region.
The referendum was the result of the full support of the Social Democratic government for the war between the United States and NATO against Russia. On March 6, less than two weeks after Washington and its European allies successfully pushed Russian President Vladimir Putin to launch his reactionary invasion of Ukraine, the Danish government announced a comprehensive defense policy agreement with the parties. of opposition Venstre (liberal) and conservative. The deal, also backed by the former Stalinist green left, included a pledge to raise Danish defense spending to 2% of GDP by 2033, end the country’s dependence on Russian gas and organize the June 1 referendum.
In another indication of Copenhagen’s support for military escalation against Russia, the Social Democratic government confirmed last week that it was sending Harpoon anti-ship missiles to Ukraine to target Russian ships in the Black Sea.
Denmark negotiated the opt-out of EU defense policy in 1992 following the rejection of the Maastricht Treaty. The defense opt-out was one of four in the Edinburgh deal, which included exceptions for justice, immigration policy and economic and monetary union (the euro).
Denmark’s defense policy has traditionally focused on its full participation in NATO, of which it was a founding member in 1949, and on cooperation with the US military in operations from its Arctic bases in Greenland. Denmark agreed to the establishment of a US military presence on the island during World War II, after Washington expressed growing fear that Greenland could become a base for Nazi Germany to launch attacks on the North America. The main US base is Thule, which was built in 1951 and has become a key location for ballistic missile defense and espionage activities.
Although EU military operations have been less extensive than those of NATO, there have been more than 30 EU-led operations since the first deployment to Macedonia in 2003. These range from missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo to Bosnia, Mali, Somalia, Iraq, Georgia and Afghanistan. An EU-led naval operation also patrolled the central Mediterranean to prevent refugees fleeing imperialist wars from reaching Europe.
Sections of the European ruling elite, especially in Germany and France, are pushing to build EU military capabilities to facilitate a more independent and, if necessary, anti-US imperialist European foreign policy. This includes the development of common European weapon systems and command structures.
Denmark’s participation in the CSDP could open up new possibilities for EU military operations in areas where it has yet to establish itself. Although Denmark, with a population of only 5.8 million, has a relatively small army of 7,000 to 9,000 professional soldiers, its control of the Faroe Islands and Greenland gives it access to important geostrategic areas. in the North Atlantic and the Arctic.
Denmark is one of the few countries, including Canada, Russia and the United States, to claim territory in large areas of the Arctic. Due to climate change, control of the Arctic is an increasingly important concern for major powers, and minor ones like Denmark. Melting ice caps are opening up access to large deposits of oil and gas, critical minerals and other raw materials, as well as shipping lanes previously blocked by ice that would dramatically shorten trade routes.
One of the most contested routes is the North Sea Route (NSR), which runs along Russia’s Arctic coast and is claimed by Moscow as internal waters. Russia has started to develop cooperation with China to allow Chinese ships to use the NSR. Washington opposes this, saying the NSR should be considered international waters with free passage for all shipping.
Danish military and surveillance activities in Greenland, the Faroe Islands and their territorial waters are supervised by the Joint Arctic Command. In October 2020, NATO entered into a formal partnership with the Joint Arctic Command, which included intelligence sharing, joint military exercises and monthly coordination meetings.
The NATO powers took advantage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to escalate tensions in the Arctic. Seven of the eight members of the Arctic Council, a body created in 1996 to oversee interstate cooperation on ecological, economic and research issues in the region currently chaired by Russia, have suspended their participation in its committees.
This provocation by the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden effectively put an end to the activities of the Arctic Council. The joint decision by Finland and Sweden to apply for NATO membership also has an impact on the geopolitics of the Arctic: they are located on the shores of the strategically important Baltic Sea, and they offer forces NATO military the opportunity to train in arctic conditions.
The EU and its larger states, especially Germany, have long called for a greater role in Arctic affairs. In 2021, the EU published its new Arctic strategy. One of its main complaints is that it has still not been granted official observer status at the Arctic Council. The strategy also committed to opening a European Commission office in Greenland. The press release announcing the new strategy noted that the Arctic is “of key strategic importance for the European Union, given climate change, raw materials as well as geostrategic influence”.
In its first official strategy document for the region, titled “Guidelines for German Arctic Policy”, the German Foreign Office noted in 2019 that Berlin viewed the Arctic as a “region with increased crisis potential”. The document continues: “Several states are increasingly militarily securing their interests in the Arctic. This could lead to an arms race. The development of dual-use capabilities as well as their constant modernization, technological progress and the strategies of external actors are weakening the divide between defensive and offensive political options. … The possibility therefore increases of uncooperative behavior in the Arctic, which would endanger the economic, ecological and security policy stability in the region and thus affect German security interests.
A study published in February by the government-aligned German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) was even more explicit about the growing importance of the Arctic to Berlin’s foreign policy, which is based on a renewed global German imperialist ambitions not seen since. the first half of the 20th century. Entitled “Russia in the Arctic”, the newspaper observes: “The region is, of course, also of crucial importance for Germany: in any military confrontation, the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) would be called into the NATO framework; and Germany itself lies on the geo-economically and geo-strategically important shipping lines of northern Europe. Any disruption of these would have consequences for the security and stability of the entire region.
The European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank, suggested in a recent report that the EU could come up with a model Arctic Council 7+, i.e. form a body made up of the seven members of the Arctic Council boycotting the organization and the EU.
During a conference in Esbjerg on May 18, apparently organized to discuss the production of wind energy between Denmark, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the President of the European Commission Ursula Von der Leyen expressed their support for Denmark’s abolition of its opt-out in EU Defense Policy. Two days later, Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov announced that plans were underway to make the port of Esbjerg a NATO hub for the transport of military equipment and personnel to the region of the Baltic Sea by the end of 2023.
Overwhelming support from the Danish political establishment and media for scrapping the defense opt-out, along with the absence of any real opposition to the move, helped produce Wednesday’s lopsided outcome.
The ‘no’ campaign was led by the far-right Danish People’s Party on a nationalist basis. They said Denmark should retain full sovereignty over its armed forces and warned against deploying Danish personnel in a European army.
The pseudo-left Red-Green Alliance (RGA) sought to salvage its tattered anti-militarist credentials by campaigning for a “no” vote. However, his campaign had virtually no credibility.
The RGA has long worked to suppress and strangle left-wing opposition to the war. Since 2019, his votes in parliament have been key to securing a majority in the minority Social Democratic government of Mette Frederiksen, which is sending military equipment and weapons to Ukraine, including Harpoon missiles. The RGA also voted for imperialist wars, including the US-led war in Syria and Iraq from 2014.