2010/12/14 - Denmark-UK Defence Co-operation

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Speech delivered by Minister for the Armed Forces at the Royal Denmark Defence College, Copehagen on Tuesday 14 December 2010.


There is an old Danish proverb:

“No one is rich enough to do without a neighbour.”

The English poet John Donne put the same sentiment this way:

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent”.

Friends, in the globalised world we live in, this is true now, more than ever before.

No nation - no matter how large, no matter how powerful, no matter how rich in resources - can hope to secure its national interests acting alone.

And no nation can expect to hide from change.


We in Europe have recognised and acted on this proverbial wisdom for many decades - and for good reason.

Out of the carnage of the Second World War, there has arisen in Europe a habit of co-operation where nations work in partnership, rather than through the kind of aggressive competition that proved so destructive in the past.

The relationship between Denmark and Britain is amongst the strongest bilateral relationships in Europe - particularly on matters of Defence.

We train together, we fight together.

The closeness of our relationship is being played out on the ground in Afghanistan.

Today I would like to talk about the progress we are making together in Afghanistan.

But first I want to address the wider UK-Danish partnership, because Afghanistan is not the be all and end all of our relationship.


The peoples of the United Kingdom and Denmark have bonds that have endured for well over a thousand years.

We share much culture, we share much blood.

But even the best friendships need to be supported by mutual self-interest.

Both Denmark and the UK have global interests in this multi-polar world, but we cannot forget that geographically we are Northern European countries.

Some have argued that the information revolution has made geography irrelevant - and in some ways it has.

Of course we must act in those areas, such as in cyber security, where physical space does not dominate.

And of course we should seek to project our power beyond our neighbourhood because tackling threats at source is better than letting them come home to roost.

But even in this era of globalisation, the cold, hard realities of geography must remain central to defence and security planning.

Here in Northern Europe it makes sense to work together to secure our own region, to keep our trade routes open, to exploit together new opportunities and to face together threats as they arise.

Our goal is to deepen defence co-operation with Denmark - recognising and respecting the sovereignty of our parliaments and the wishes of our people.

NATO will continue to be the bedrock of our collective defence, but of course we should seek opportunities to enhance our mutual security wherever we can achieve more by combining our resources.

In Northern Europe, membership of the different regional and security organisations is not uniform.

Therefore, we want to create a new and wider framework that makes it easier for both NATO and non-NATO members, EU and non-EU members to have a closer relationship in the region.

The new Northern Grouping, which had its inaugural meeting in Oslo this November, is an example of that, and we are grateful to have Denmark’s help and support in pursuing this initiative.

As supply routes open through the Arctic, it is in our mutual interest to collaborate.

Whether it be in energy security, protecting resources or maintaining the freedom of the seas, where we identify a shared threat to the region, this Group has the potential to act as a clearing house for the capabilities which might be marshalled to address it.


Britain and Denmark have an excellent record on making Defence co-operation work.

We share a common vision in NATO.

We are very comfortable deploying together and operating together.

Gitte Lillelund Bech made it clear to us at the recent Northern Group meeting that over the last few decades there has been a transformation of Danish defence thinking - from defence of the motherland to being prepared to fight beyond your borders to protect Danish values.

This is reflected in the fact that over that period Britain and Denmark have been joined at the hip and the bonds created between our service men and women, forged on the battlefield, are the strongest possible.

As the British Prime Minister David Cameron said in his meeting with Lars Lokke Rasmussen in August: “our troops have fought together, have suffered together and sometimes, tragically, have died together.”

Over the last 20 years this has taken place first in the Balkans, then in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.

But we are also side by side fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa, under the NATO operation Ocean Shield.

We have a strong and active training, exercise and exchange programme.

We train together for Afghanistan and Denmark has air crew embedded in Joint Helicopter Command - and at the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters co-ordinating the Afghan mission.

We conduct together a series of planned activity such as the annual JOINT WARRIOR exercise.

British personnel are embedded in your Defence Ministry, Army Operations Command, and Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots fly your Lynx, Merlin and F16.

Looking to the future, we want to continue to deepen the combined effectiveness of our armed forces.

For example, the UK Government stands ready to assist Denmark in meeting its evolving Maritime Helicopter requirement in order to maintain the excellent interoperability between our navies.

Also, closer collaboration with our Merlin fleets should help realise your ambition to use Merlin in the Tactical Troop Transport role.


In the UK, we have just completed the first review of our defence and security requirements for over a decade and we are now implementing the vision for our Future Force 2020.

Although we are territorially more secure than at many times in our history, the threats we face are diverse and evolving - terrorism, cyber warfare, fragile or failed states, competition for resources, the effects of climate change.

This range of diverse threats is why Britain has concluded that an Adaptable Posture is required - one able to address the needs of today - such as our national security requirement to succeed in Afghanistan - yet able to be rebalanced swiftly for the threats of tomorrow.

This means our Armed Forces will become in the future more flexible and agile, retaining global reach, and capable of providing nuclear and conventional deterrence, containment, coercion and intervention.

It means we will be investing in new technology and capabilities more suited to the likely character of future conflict, such as cyber security, UAVs and Special Forces.

We will also divesting ourselves of capabilities that have less utility in the post-Cold War world but with the ability to regenerate if threats change.

Central to this vision is an increased ability to operate interdependently with our allies in all areas of security and defence.

We undertook this review at a difficult time for the country as the coalition Government acts to tackle the fiscal deficit we inherited from our predecessors - so money is tight - as it is for Defence budgets across Europe.

But the outcome means that we will maintain our position as a leading military power, with the 4th largest defence budget in the world and our Defence spending will remain above NATO’s minimum of 2% of GDP.

Nevertheless we have had to take some tough decisions to live within our means, but this recognises the inextricable linkage between economic health and national security.

Throughout the process, when making these decisions, we have prioritised success in the ongoing mission in Afghanistan.

So let me turn to operations in Afghanistan.


British and Danish Armed Forces are part of a NATO-led, 48 nation coalition acting to protect our citizens by ensuring that trans-national terrorists cannot find safe and unhindered sanctuary there as they did before 9/11.

I would like to pay tribute to the bravery and commitment of the Danish forces operating under UK command in Helmand - and indeed to the Danish civilians working in the Provincial Reconstruction Team.

Danish troops operate with no caveats, conducting the full spectrum of operations.

Their contribution is invaluable and greatly appreciated by the UK.

As one of the Battle Groups in Task Force Helmand they have played a key role in delivering the significant improvements in security we have seen in the last year.

With the ISAF surge now at its peak at 131,000 this corresponds with an increase in military operations, particularly in those areas where insurgent activity is still strong.

So this year has been particularly tough and I would like to send my condolences to the families and friends of those who have been killed.

My thoughts are also with those who have been wounded, physically or mentally.

This is a heavy price, a price being shared too by the British people and others across the coalition.

But there is cause for cautious optimism.

So let me be clear about what we are seeking to achieve.


We do not seek a perfect Afghanistan, but one able to maintain its own security and prevent the return of Al-Qaeda.

This is primarily a mission of national security.

We are neither colonisers nor occupiers.

We are there under United Nations Security Council endorsement and at the invitation of the Afghan Government.

We are not in Afghanistan to create a carbon copy of a western democracy, and we are not there to convert the people to western ways.

We seek the government of Afghanistan by the Afghans for the Afghans.

We insist only that it does not pose a threat to our security, our interests or those of our allies.

It would be a reasonable critique to say that up to the reinvigoration of strategy and the surge of the last year, our collective ambition was not complemented by a collective willingness to commit the necessary military, political and civilian effect to achieve our aims.

In particular, we should rue the lost opportunities between 2002 and 2006 to build up the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) so that there were indigenous forces alongside ISAF strong enough to confront the gathering strength of the Taliban, particularly in the South.

This has been a tough few years for our forces operating in Helmand.

But we are now operating from a position of increasing strength while the strategic position of the insurgency has begun to deteriorate.


The ISAF coalition has increased its commitment to the mission, in manpower and equipment.

Pakistan too is taking the threat seriously, and the safe havens in Pakistan are being squeezed by their Security Forces.

The insurgency has lost significant ground in the southern heartlands, including the key population centres.

We have been targeting their bomb-making networks and their leadership and command structure.

Their network is under significant pressure, with the senior leadership isolated, training deficient, and supplies limited.

The Afghan National Security Forces are growing in competence, confidence and capability.

They have expanded by over a third this year, in line with the targets set, and are increasingly leading operations.

Denmark’s contribution to training and mentoring is in the top tier.

The Danish Police Operational Mentor and Liaison Team is highly rated.

Not only is Denmark mentoring units from the 3rd Kandak of the Afghan National Army but they also mentor the ANA in running the Shorabak Garrison Headquarters.

The increasing effectiveness of the ANSF brings closer the potential collapse of the strategic position of the insurgency.

The only realistic hope for the insurgency is that international resolve will collapse before the Afghan Government itself is effective enough to stand on its own.

The message we must send as an international community is that this hope is an empty one.


At the NATO Lisbon Summit, extremely well marshalled by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, we all reaffirmed our enduring commitment to Afghanistan’s security and stability.

NATO and Afghanistan also agreed the framework of a long-term partnership that looks beyond the end of ISAF’s current mission.

The summit set out that transition of lead responsibility for security from international to Afghan forces will begin in early 2011, with the objective of Afghans leading on security operations in all provinces by the end of 2014.

Transition to Afghan lead security responsibility will be dependent on the conditions in each district and province.

Some areas of Afghanistan will transition sooner than others, which will give nations the opportunity to redeploy their combat troops to areas where they are still required, or to rebalance their force contribution towards capacity building, training and mentoring.

Nobody should mistake the strategy for transition as a strategy of abandonment.

Afghanistan will require the support of the international community, including military support for many years to come.

Britain is clear that we will no longer have troops in a combat role by 2015, but we foresee an enduring role in the country as part of a wide relationship.

It is of course for each individual nation to make their own decisions on their force contributions and the role they undertake and I recognise that each of us has unique pressures to deal with.

We are democracies, it comes with the territory and it is healthy.

But equally, while all of us want our troops home as quickly as possible, we must accept that to achieve this goal the gradual drawdown in ISAF force levels must be done in a coherent way and in line with conditions on the ground.

We went in together, we should come out together - properly planned and executed as part of the combined effort we have committed to.


Ladies and Gentlemen, in the UK, we have the first coalition Government for many decades.

The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are co-operating in Government, in the national interest, at this particularly testing time.

I am a Liberal Democrat.

We are the most internationalist and pragmatically pro-European party in Westminster.

We instinctively understand the need to work together with other nations - and we embrace interdependence.

This new British Government will look outwards and forwards, not inwards and backwards.

You in Denmark have many years of experience in making coalition government work.

We can learn from your experience.

When it comes to issues of Foreign Affairs and Defence, a nation is more influential when it speaks with one voice abroad, based on consensus at home.

We are lucky in the UK that there is a broad consensus on most Defence issues and all parties support the mission in Afghanistan.

But we cannot be complacent.

Our public, just like the public here in Denmark, want clarity about why we are in Afghanistan, what we are achieving, and what success will look like.

Denmark and Britain are working together in one of the most difficult parts of Afghanistan to achieve our shared goal.

This builds on many years of close co-operation, which continues to prove its worth.

The Danish physicist Niels Bohr is said to have remarked that “prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.”

But I think I can go so far as to predict, as future threats emerge, and as new missions of national security present themselves, Denmark and Britain will face them together, confident in our ability to operate together, with determination to protect the interests we share, and with faith our enduring friendship.