This introductory article commences with a brief overview of the existing literature on Danish foreign policy activism. We argue that the concept – activism – is useful in terms of labelling Danish foreign policy in general but also that the notion of activism hampers a more nuanced understanding of Denmark’s recent foreign policy as it relates almost entirely to Danish security policies. To more comprehensively appreciate the true nature of Danish foreign policy, we have to be more precise when operationalizing the concept of activism and engage with a compartmentalized understanding of Denmark’s policies vis-à-vis her international surroundings. We do both in the article’s second main section and we develop a typology for analyzing different types of foreign policies. In the article’s third and last section, we compare four major institutional tracks in Danish foreign policy: EU, NATO, UN and the Nordic track.
Danish foreign policy activism appears most clearly in a NATO context. The Atlantic Alliance is first and foremost the vehicle through which Denmark contributes to ensuring US engagement in European security politics. NATO is the mechanism that enables Denmark to establish close military relations with select allies, which in turn facilitates Danish military contributions to international operations. Finally, NATO is a lever for a broader European foreign policy that Denmark has difficulties pursuing because of her EU opt-out. However, Danish NATO activism has varied over time. It was increasing, then very significant, and in recent years it has been declining. Currently, it might be on its way up again. These fluctuations must be interpreted as the result of the political will to pursue the activism that is made possible by the international environment. We analyze the political will to pursue NATO activism from 1990 to 2017; we focus on the national willingness to carry security political burdens.
Danish activism in a Nordic context has suffered many setbacks since the end of the cold war. A central supplement strategy to the dominant Danish foreign and security policy in NATO during the cold war, Danish Nordic activism has since lost ground within the military sphere, the diplomatic sphere and the economic sphere. However, recent developments indicate that Danish Nordic activism may now experience a cautious revival, brought about by success with pragmatically focused cooperative projects for example in NORDEFCO and by the diffusion of Nordic ideals to a broader group such as Nordic Plus or within the EU. The NATO and EU divide between the Nordic countries, however, as well as differing national priorities in many different policy areas, still constitute considerable obstacles.
The United Nations (UN) was at the heart of Denmark’s activist foreign policy from the late 1950s to the mid-1990s. Since then the UN has been marginalized. Dansk foreign policy activism is now conducted under the auspices of the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and US-led coalitions. The huge shifts in Danish UN activism in the 1945-2016 period are analyzed in the diplomatic, economic and military domains using four indicators: voluntarism, initiative, risk tolerance and use of resources. The rise and fall of Danish UN activism resulted from the interaction between a changing international environment (threats, norms, international demand and cooperation opportunities) and government efforts to promote Danish interests and values/altruism. The UN lost its key role in Danish foreign policy because the organization proved ill-suited for promoting western and Danish interests and values after the Cold War. Danish decision makers consequently prioritized the EU and NATO instead.
Is Danish European policy activist? Danish European policy is surprisingly activist in the sense that it strategically, independently and boldly pursues the defense and promotion of Danish interests and values, even to the extent of defying the vision of Europe promoted by EU’s Franco-German engine. However, activism is typically formulated by Danish decision makers as the “politics of necessity” combining a pragmatic defense of the Danish welfare state with proactive agenda-setting in selected issue areas. Using a neoclassical realist explanatory model, the article explains this policy as a the result of policy makers grounded in a Danish liberal-egalitarian political culture navigating an international space characterized by a combination of an American liberal order and negotiated and institutionalized European power politics.
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