HELSINKI ― Denmark has reached a landmark cross-party political deal that will reset the country’s defense infrastructure and lift military spending to record levels.
The deal was negotiated as part of the new defense agreement for 2018–2023.
Significantly, the agreement advances Denmark’s goal to raise spending on its military to 2 percent of gross domestic product ― a target set by NATO for its member states to hit by 2024.
Denmark is slated to spend 1.3 percent of its GDP on national defense in 2018.
The historic deal is a direct response to longstanding dogged criticism by opposition leaders that Denmark needs to be more active in collaborating with NATO and Nordic defense partners to provide a more credible deterrent to counter the threat of Russian aggression in the High North and Baltic Sea regions.
On the immediate front, the agreement will increase defense spending by $134 million to $3.8 billion in 2018. In the long term, the deal will grow military spending by 20 percent, to $4.6 billion, in 2023.
“Quite simply, the strengthening of our defense capability is a necessity in the light of the worsening security situation politically,” said Claus Hjort Frederiksen, Denmark’s defense minister.
The higher level of investment contained in the agreement, Frederiksen said, would also draw Denmark closer to the levels of capital expenditure on defense by its Nordic neighbors Sweden and Norway.
The low-spending scope of previous five-year defense agreements limited Denmark’s capacity to both defend its territories and contribute to NATO- or United Nations-led operations. It also constrained Denmark from significantly bolstering its Arctic defense and security capacities and structures.
Including Greenland, which is a self-governing constituent country within the Kingdom of Denmark, Danish territorial claims in the Arctic extend to 1.4 million square miles. Denmark’s territorial ownership includes about 562,000 square miles of the Arctic Ocean north of Greenland.
The new deal aims to link added spending to a more assertive procurement strategy aimed at modernizing core areas of the Danish military. Planned programs are intended to provide the Army, Air Force and Navy with greater overall capacities and longer-range firepower.
The deal will also deliver a more results-focused, capacity-building program that will lead to the establishment of a modular design-based, 4,000-strong rapid response brigade, or RRB.
The RRB will also include a specialist cyberwarfare unit that can be deployed in support of the military’s own operations as well as on NATO missions. More than $233 million has been earmarked in the agreement’s spending plan to enhance the military’s cyberwarfare defense and offensive capabilities.
The military will also establish a light infantry battalion that can be deployed for national or international use. A mobilization company will be created for each of the three combat battalions within the RRB. All new combat units will be available, when necessary, to support the operations of the military’s Arctic Command.
Special forces units and the Navy will benefit from the increased spending. The budget for special forces training and operations will grow annually by $48 million.
The Navy’s Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates are to acquire enhanced anti-aircraft missile capacities. One design being examined is an integrated air and missile defense system that would give the Navy’s frigates a ballistic missile defense sensor capability in line with NATO’s ballistic missile defense system needs.
The cross-party deal marks a positive transformation in Danish military investment, said Rasmus Jarlov, the defense spokesman for the right-wing Det Konservative Folkeparti, or DKP.
“We have been looking for this commitment to raise defense spending for many years, and it has finally arrived. This is a substantial investment in Denmark’s long-term defense. The need for increased funding is urgent if we want to build a credible defense,” Jarlov said.
Parties to the agreement included the ruling coalition partners Venstre, the Liberal Alliance and the DKP. The agreement was broadly supported by opposition parties the Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterne), the Danish Social Liberals (Det Radikale Venstre) and the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti).
The parties settled on an agreement that would expand the military’s contributions to NATO’s collective deterrence, while improving the force’s national preparedness capacity and ability to contribute to international operations.
Under the plan, about $125 million will be added to the military’s international operations budget by 2023.
“What this deal delivers is a reinforced Danish defense that will have more troops, better equipment and a strengthened national preparedness,” Frederiksen said.
The increase in yearly spending will also enable the armed forces to develop stronger and more combat-ready units.
As part of the defense-building process, Frederiksen said, the military will acquire the capacity to conduct more effective anti-submarine warfare operations.
The heightened focus on threats to Danish national security emanating from the cyber domain will feature more prominently in future military budgets and defense strategy, said Henrik Dam Kristensen, the Social Democrats spokesman on defense.
“Being equipped to deal with cyberwarfare-type threats is becoming a fundamental focal point for our national security. It is also important to see a greater spending commitment that is directed at protecting our security interests in the Baltic Sea and Arctic regions,” Kristensen said.
Gerard O'Dwyer is the Scandinavian affairs correspondent for Defense News.