This trip report was written by the Grimshaw trip delegation to Denmark and edited by Kieran Hurwood, Managing Blog Editor.
Denmark has long been known as a leader in renewable technologies and a proactive member of many international organisations, but its role has been challenged by an increasingly fragmented international context and shifting domestic attitudes, towards both Greenland and Europe. In June 2023, a delegation of students visited Copenhagen, where they gained insights into Denmark’s place in the world, with discussions on Greenlandic independence, international organisations. and climate change. We held meetings with a variety of individuals and organisations, including the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, First Secretary Political of the British Embassy, and numerous Ambassadors.
Relations within the Kingdom of Denmark and Arctic Security
On Greenland, we noted that Denmark faces significant modern difficulties, most notably the need to reconcile demands for greater autonomy whilst maintaining influence in an emerging arena of contention – the Arctic. Climate change is making the Arctic region an increasingly competitive area of geopolitics with great powers like Russia, the USA and China at play. Retaining such a foothold is therefore a security priority, particularly with the increasing viability of mineral exploitation in Greenlandic territory.
Delegates met with Jens Heinrich, Head of Greenlandic Representation to Denmark and Maja Sofie Burgaad, a Senior Advisor on Greenland at the MFA, discussing relations between the constituent nations of the Kingdom. We learned of a troubled historical relationship and Greenlanders’ increasing support for independence, with major parties in the Inatsisartut envisaging independence within the next 50 years. This divergence stems from the historically colonial nature of the relationship between the country and the mainland. Indeed, the emergence of numerous historical scandals continue to tarnish Danish legitimacy, such as the forcible fitting of IUDs and urbanisation policies. Greenland has shown a desire to become increasingly autonomous, particularly in the sectoral issues delegated to it by the Danish government. At the time of visiting, the process of FTA negotiations with the British government were ongoing, whilst a theoretical constitution for future self-governance has also been drafted.
Elsewhere in the Kingdom of Denmark, Danish-Faroese relations are more settled. Our meeting with Jóannes V. Hansen, discussed relations with the mainland, and foreign policy issues. Islanders have enjoyed a higher level of devolution and there exists no significant independence movement. Although this autonomy has sometimes proved contentious regarding foreign policy – with a bilateral relationship with Russia on fishing rights being preserved, despite a wider Faroese sanctions package. The Faroes have focused on developing their tourist and education sectors as a means of diversifying from its predominant reliance on the fishing industry. This is foremost a pragmatic strategy: tourism will take advantage of windswept natural beauty of the isles, while educational developments are aiming to prevent the flight of many young professionals towards the mainland and towards working in their local community.
European Security and Integration
Historically, Denmark has seemingly occupied a paradoxical position on the issue of European integration: both avidly supporting small states membership whilst itself remaining a quiet sceptic of closer EU integration. In the former respect, the state was one of the first in recognising the importance of integrating the Baltic states within NATO, an issue that was discussed with the Ambassadors of Latvia and Lithuania. It has been proactive in engaging bilaterally with post-communist nations, which was discussed with the Ambassador of Croatia.
Denmark’s strategic interests span a variety of contexts, and this formed the root of discussion in our meeting with Jonas Parello-Plesner, Executive Director of the Alliance of Democracies. The changing relationship with China, both bilaterally and through the European framework, is also an emerging area of focus.
In terms of national security, Denmark has supported the unified European response to the war in Ukraine. Its’ delivery of arms and military aid has been greatly disproportionate to its size, routinely topping the proportional table of support: from 2023 to 2028, the sum is expected to total $3.21 billion. This will be accompanied by a renewed commitment to the NATO pledge of 2% of GDP dedicated to military spending. Delegates met with Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, Permanent Secretary to the MFA, as well as the European Correspondent in the MFA.
The Danish government has already signalled its intention to pursue a value-driven foreign policy as other Scandinavian countries have, and argued that Danish security is inextricably linked to wider European security. In terms of its own national security however, a key concern was the overall vulnerability of global production chains exposed both from the conflict and the preceding pandemic, with a process of ‘de-risking’ prioritized. This is especially pertinent in the production of vital goods such as microchips. The de-risking process aims to mitigate the ramifications of negative supply shocks, both reducing the geopolitical sway such manufacturers will hold, as well as facilitating a smoother functioning of the Danish economy in the future.
Climate change and Sustainability
Many of our discussions on climate and sustainability issues revealed traditional concerns but also unique opportunities and consequences for Danish strategic interests. Denmark has long been viewed as a world-leader in sustainable technologies, with its green transition well underway and a view to facilitating those of other states. There is a view, that Denmark can capitalise upon existing relationships to strengthen its own national position and global reputation. Although a small state lacking conventional foreign policy levers, green innovation is a noted strength of its foreign policy.
Finally, the warming Arctic environment bears significant ramifications for Danish geopolitical interests. Discussions with the Finnish Ambassador, Harri Kämäräinen, focused on the increasing likelihood of a commercialised Arctic (for both resource and trading purposes), which complicates the efforts of Denmark, Finland and the Arctic Council maintain the region’s ‘low-tension’ status. The suspension of the Arctic Council, as a result of Russia’s egregious actions in Ukraine, further entangles Arctic relationships, although some speakers conceded the necessity of cooperating with them on adjacent issues. Adjoint to this, resource exploitation in Greenland is becoming an increasingly likely prospect, providing a strengthening foundation for those clamouring for independence as well as inviting the chance of external influence in the region through strategic investment.
In conclusion, our trip revealed that Denmark is encountering a web of opportunities and challenges that will define its’ international position for years to come. Delegates found Denmark stands at a significant juncture in its foreign policy direction, it faces important challenges from a multitude of directions, some of which are common across Europe. On others, it seems uniquely placed to perform a small-state role, both in risk garnered and in the opportunity to benefit. Indeed, whilst nested in a larger domestic and global challenge, the changing climate presents opportunities for the Danish state. As an environmental leader, it can capitalise on its green credentials to produce mutually beneficial relationships with nations in differing stages of the green transition. The delegation found the visit to Copenhagen fascinating and appreciated the opportunity to discuss contemporary issues with such a broad range of public figures, and our thanks must go to all those who accommodated the group and facilitated such a variety of insightful discussions.
List of Meetings
Ambassador Harri Kämäräinen of Finland
Jonas Parello-Plesner, Executive Director, Alliance of Democracies Foundation/ Senior Advisor, Rasmussen Global
Maja Sofie Burgaad, Senior Advisor on Greenland, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Jens Heinrich, Head of Greenlandic Representation to Denmark
Katherine Dark, First Secretary Political, British Embassy
Ambassador Asta Radikaité of Lithuania
Ambassador Inga Skujiņa of Latvia
Ambassador Tina Krce of Croatia
Rune Wolfhagen, Deputy European Correspondent, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Anne Mette Lundtofte, Journalist