A Region Divided: NATO’s Scandinavia Members and Defense Spending

Norway and Denmark have held significant ties to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 1949. Along with their Nordic neighbor Iceland, the two countries were among the twelve founding members of the alliance in August of 1949. With its founding, the two nations expressed their support for NATO’s Article 5, emphasizing the centrality of collective defense to the founding treaty.  This idea of collectivism enshrines different aspects from mobilization of materiel and forces to financial contributions to NATO defense policy.

NATO delegation / http://falanga.com.au/en/nato-delegation-visits-macedonia

In the past few months, President Donald Trump and NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, former Prime Minister of Norway, emphasized the NATO obligation of increasing defense spending to two percent of a country’s respective gross domestic product (GDP) by 2024. However, in recent months, Norway and Denmark have taken different approaches regarding the alliance’s spending targets. Despite these differences, one major similarity causes concern: both Norway and Denmark will fall short of the obligation.


NATO Exercise Cold Response in Norway /

In a report responding to a parliamentary question, Norwegian Minister of Defence Frank Bakke-Jensen stated that Norway’s defense spending has decreased. By the end of 2018, the government’s defense spending would reach only 1.56 percent of Norway’s GDP. By 2020, defense spending would fall to 1.5 percent and plateau until 2024. In comparison, Norwegian defense spending comprised 1.59 percent of the country’s GDP. Bakke-Jensen emphasized that future figures were “uncertain”.

“They depend on the economic development in general, the decisions ratified by parliament and the fulfilment of current long term plans, potential new resolutions in individual budgetary years and other aspects in relation to the implementation of ratified plans,” Bakke-Jensen wrote.

The report by Bakke-Jensen, a member of Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservative Party, received criticism from the opposition Labour Party.

“NATO figures show that we have the lowest proportion [of defense spending] of all the countries that border Russia,” Labour Member of Parliament and head of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee Anniken Huitfeldt said.

Emphasizing the details of Article 5, Huitfeldt states that Norway needs to make its intentions clear to President Trump and General Secretary Stoltenberg.

“Erna Solberg must answer as to whether she told the American president that we are actually moving away from the target now,” Huitfeld told Norwegian newspaper VG. “We have been continually looking to get closer to Nato’s [sic] goal of two percent. But now the government writes that we are actually moving away from the target. The Minister for Defence must provide an explanation for that.”


NATO Secretary General attends a Special Forces joint exercise in Denmark / https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natolive/photos_79327.htm

On January 28, Denmark’s center-right minority government agreed to increase defense spending in order to counter the increased Russian threat in Eastern Europe, especially the Baltics. This increase includes an additional 12.8 billion kroner (approximately $2.14 billion) for the next six years, a total of 22 billion kroner for 2018 alone. With this increase, Danish military spending will be 20 percent above their current defense spending levels. The agreement also includes the establishment of a 4,000-member army brigade and upgraded anti-aircraft capabilities to contribute to NATO forces in the Baltic Sea region.

Russia’s aggressive behavior in the past few years has greatly influenced both Europe as a whole and Denmark individually.  Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support of separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine created “an unpredictable and unstable security environment” in the Baltics and Black Sea region. In 2016, Russia moved its nuclear-capable Iskander-M missiles to Kaliningrad and deployed its air defense system there. In a more direct attack, Danish officials announced that Russia hacked its defense computer network in 2015 and 2016, gaining access to important employee emails.

“The threat from Russia is real and increasing, so we must show determination to defence-and we are determined,” Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen stated.

Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen followed up with that Russian aggression threatened multiple aspects of Danish security. “The international threat picture is very serious. A more assertive Russia close to NATO’s borders, terrorism, cyber threats and irregular migrant flows are all things we need to deal with.”

On January 8, the Royal Danish Air Force took over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from the United States Air Force, the sixth time Denmark has taken part in the air policing mission. The Baltic Air Policing mission began in 2004 after Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined NATO and intensified after the Russian-Ukraine crisis. NATO’s Air Policing missions are peacetime missions that aim to “preserve the security of Alliance airspace” through reacting “quickly to airspace violations and infringements.” Involving all member nations with “air policing capacity”, these missions  represent “cohesion, shared responsibility and solidarity” to create the ideal collective defense policy.

For Prime Minister Rasmussen, the increase in defense spending was necessary for multiple reasons. He stated that the Danish military “needed a substantial increase” regardless of a cohesive Russian threat. The major reason, however, related to NATO.

“We want to look at ourselves as a core NATO member. And in order to behave like such a member, we need to increase our expenditures,” he said. “Five years ago we thought that the defense line, so to speak, would not be in Europe, but would in international operations. Now we realize that we need to have the capability to do both.”

Despite this increase, Danish spending, like Norway, will fall short of NATO’s obligatory two percent target.

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