Last week, US President Donald Trump called on his NATO allies to boost their defense spending to make up for US taxpayers forking out more money than all of the other NATO nations combined. For Denmark, this goal may pose insurmountable difficulties.
While Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen repeatedly claimed that he felt “safe” with US protection, US President Donald Trump once again rebuked his fellow NATO nations for failing to meet the goal of spending at least two percent of their GDP on defense at the recent NATO summit in Brussels. Denmark, which ranks among NATO’s thriftiest spenders with military spending accounting for only 1.14 percent of its GDP, may find it especially hard to meet its NATO obligations.
Today, Denmark’s defense expenditure amounts to 22 billion DKK ($3.3bln) annually. An expenditure of at least 2 percent would therefore cost Danish taxpayers 17 DKK ($2.5bln) each year.
According to Red-Green Alliance foreign spokesman Nikolaj Villumsen, this would dramatically undermine the Danish welfare state.
“In round numbers, this corresponds to 32,000 social workers’ salaries. It would simply not be possible to remove so much money,” Nikolaj Villumsen told the Danish daily Berlingske.
Social Liberal Party defense spokesman Kristian Hegaard called the goal “completely unrealistic” and suggested that Denmark should not behave like a tail-wagging dog before Trump’s administration.
“It is best for us to decide. We should not only obey orders from the US,” Kristian Hegaard said, as quoted by the Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad.
For the Danish Armed Forces, however, the perspective of almost doubling its budget is not unrealistic, however unproblematic. According to Jens Ringsmose, the head of the Danish Defense Academy’s Institute for Military Operations, a “bag of money this size” would inevitably put the Danish defense under pressure. However, he argued, with creative thinking, the Danish Armed Forces would easily find ways of spending 2 percent of the GDP.
According to Ringsmose, the future defense investments should be governed by two guidelines: putting more emphasis on flexible units that are capable of multitasking and units that not particularly resource-intensive in terms of crew, since recruitment remains one of the major challenges facing Danish defense. Therefore, the extra money should be spent on new combat aircraft, an upgrade of frigates and more flexible combat units.
However, Peter Ernstved Rasmussen, the editor of the online media Olfi with focus on defense and security, a larger budget could just be used to solve the defense’s crew problems.
“In the first place, the military is in need of more robustness and weight, and that implies personnel. And with more personnel, you also need more materiel: more guns, more uniforms, more vehicles,” Peter Ernstved Rasmussen told Danish Radio.
However, Ernstved Rasmussen also recalled former Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s 2014 pledge to acquire a radar array capable of locating enemy missiles heading towards NATO member states. So far, it remains high on the Danish government’s shopping list alongside an air defense system capable of shooting down those missiles.
From a slightly longer perspective, Ernstved Rasmussen recommended buying more combat aircraft, as the 27 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters that Denmark decided to buy to replace its aging stock of F-16s are not enough, especially if the Danish government wants to continue its international missions.
In recent years, Denmark has contributed proportionally to NATO’s international missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.