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War in Europe: Denmark’s Military in Trouble?

Denmark must prioritize between a new-found European responsibility and the wishes of the Danish population.

Credit: Shutterstock/Rasmus Christopher Franck

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Denmark has made it a clear goal to bolster the military. Yet, Denmark might be prioritizing between new-found European responsibility and the wishes of the Danish population.

War is back in Europe. The U.S. position is not as certain as it once was. They have put more pressure on Europe to live up to NATO’s 2% of GDP on the defence. Facing this, Denmark has finally decided to heavily bolster its military. This sense of responsibility, however, comes a little too late… And its late coming is not without consequences for the state of Denmark.

The Missing Foundation

In the beginning of this year, the acting Minister of Defence, Troels Lund Poulsen, were to provide an update on the condition of the Danish defence at a press conference. Prior to this, Peter Viggo Jakobsen, military expert and lecturer at the Royal Danish Defence College, made it very clear to the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende that the Danish military has serious holes in its foundation. 

“Everyone in the Danish defence knows that there are problems with the buildings, sewers, and mold. There is a lack of spare parts and ammunition, and so on,” Peter Viggo Jakobsen said. He underlined that the military cannot be expanded without securing foundational elements. Stocked-up warehouses and fully functioning capacities are simply critical.

“Everyone in the Danish defence knows that there are problems with the buildings, sewers, and mold. There is a lack of spare parts and ammunition, and so on”

Peter Viggo Jakobsen, military expert and lecturer at the Royal Danish Defence College

Berlingske Tidende writes that, according to Peter Viggo Jakobsen, the reason for the poor state of the Danish military is due to several years of neglect from the parliament politicians. For too many years, the politicians have wanted to make cuts in the budget of the Danish military, to an extent that there have not been enough resources to undertake the military tasks set by the politicians.

“At the same time, more and more personnel are resigning because they simply can’t take it anymore,” explains Peter Viggo Jakobsen. He further adds that he assumes that they in the press conference will annouce that they will allocate funds to “patch up the holes” in the Danish defence.

Berlingske Tidende also asked Peter Viggo Jakobsen if it was related to Denmark’s wish to be better prepared for NATO.

“Of course, it has something to do with that. We have received massive criticism from NATO the last two to three times we have been evaluated,” he concluded.

Denmark's army
Credit: Shutterstock/Carlos Cabral de Menezes

The Pressure of NATO’s 2%

Denmark has in the last couple of years felt a higher sense of responsibility to raise the standard of the military. This comes from the dual pressure of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the U.S. pointing their finger at the European countries not living up the goal of using 2% of GDP on the defence budget.

In the summer of 2022, Denmark decided to overturn its opt-out referendum of EU military operations. The parliament also made it clear that they will fulfill NATO’s goal of using 2% of the GDP on the defence budget.

Read more about what the Danish opt-out referendum is here.

However, was Peter Viggo Jakobsen correct in his assumption? Yes. At the press conference, the acting Minister of Defence admitted to having played a role in bringing the Danish defence into decay.

“I would like to take responsibility. I have also been involved in bringing the Danish defence to the situation it is in now,” Troels Lund Poulsen responded.

“I would like to take responsibility. I have also been involved in bringing the Danish defence to the situation it is in now”

Troels Lund Poulsen, acting Minister of Defence

Troels Lund Poulsen announced that 27 billion DKK would be allocated to address the major challenges in the military. Additionally, 11 billion DKK would be dedicated to military investments over the next ten years. Just like Peter Viggo Jakobsen had foreseen.

First Warning Almost 20 Years Ago

In 2023, the challenges of the Danish military are so palpable that even the acting Minister of Defence takes responsibility for its current condition of decay and underfunding. The question must be asked whether it could have been avoided?

Already in 2006, the Danish newspaper Information wrote an article regarding how the Danish defence had reached its outermost limit due to too many international assignments such as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and smaller UN-assignments. This resulted in exhaustion and outflow of staff as well as recruitment difficulties.

Finn Busse Jensen, the chairman for the Central Association for Core Personnel, stated: “The consequence could be that the Danish defence, in a few years, will only be able to handle the most critical and immediate tasks.” He also added, “It is time to say STOP and realize that the Danish defence cannot continue on its current path without facing serious consequences.”. No action was taken to heed this warning. Almost 20 years later, the forewarned consequences have taken a critical form.

“It is time to say STOP and realize that the Danish defence cannot continue on its current path without facing serious consequences.”

Finn Busse Jensen, chairman for the Central Association for Core Personnel (2006)

Where Will the Money Come From?

Perhaps it took the Danish government several years to realize that they need to start funding the military, but where will the funding come from?

The Danish majority government has planned several significant changes to the Danish welfare state to free up money. Amongst other things, they have decided on removing a more then 300 years old state religious holiday called store bededag in the name of bolstering the Danish defence and living up to the European military responsibility.

What is store bededag?

The name store bededag translates to “grand day of praying.” It is a religious state holiday, where the Danes do no go to work. In Denmark, there used to be many smaller holidays or “days of praying” spread out over the year. Then in 1686, these smaller holidays were joined together to have one single holiday i.e. store bededag. It always falls on the fourth Friday after Easter, and it is tradition to bake and eat varme hveder (hot buns). Danish bakeries always prepare for store bededag by making many hot buns. However, the last store bededag took place on the 5th of May 2023.

In the new government foundation, the majority government outlined the reason for the removal of this holiday: “With Putin’s attack on Ukraine, there is war in Europe. The threat has come closer. To finance the increased defence expenses in the coming years, the government will propose a bill to abolish a public holiday, which will take effect in 2024. The Danish people are expected to contribute to our collective security.”

Danish hot buns (varme hveder)
Credit: Shutterstock/ArDanMe

The economics behind removing store bededag

According to the government’s calculation, the removal of store bededag will free up around three billion DKK extra in the treasury per year.

TV2 asked Tore Stramer, Chief Economist in Dansk Erhverv (Danish Business), to explain the government’s economic logic behind removing store bededag and making the Danes go to work for one more day per year.

“When we go to work more, we produce more, and thereby we get more economic activity. This gives the state a bigger income through for example taxes and VAT”, he explains.

Prime Minster Mette Frederiksen further underlined the link between bolstering the military and making cuts to the welfare state as it is known: “We propose to abolish a public holiday. The whole idea behind this is that we need to strengthen our national and European defence. It costs a significant amount of money.”

However, this is not the first time Denmark’s Prime Minister has made a radical choice on behalf on the population with huge consequences. Read about the Danish Mink Case here.

An Unhappy Nation and Defence in Decay

The Danish population has protested largely against this decision. The holiday is full of old traditions that might go lost, when they no longer get the day off. Another discontent is the argument that when it has first been removed, it will most likely never return. Parliament politicians from the other parties have also condemned the majority government for forcefully pushing through a decision which affects both present and future Danes.  

The Danish majority government’s wish to change the nature of its military is happening in hypersonic speed. There are too many holes in the foundation. Even with large sum of money being put into the defence and the sacrifice of store bededag, the military cannot be expanded before critical core elements are restored. Denmark’s military is and will continue to be in serious trouble if the parliament politicians wish to live up to NATO’s 2% before properly securing the quality of the Danish defence. The patience of the Danish population will also only last them so long if they continue to fund these plans by chipping away at the welfare of the Danes.  

Written By

Journalist Intern at Trill Mag and Student in English and French at University of St Andrews. From Copenhagen, Denmark

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