The lingering fighter jet debate

Fighter jets allow Denmark to live up to its NATO obligations, but not everyone is convinced that buying a new air fleet is a good investment. In this article we present two opposing views.

Denmark is set to buy 30 new fighter jets next year to replace its ageing fleet of F-16s. Thirty billion kroner has been earmarked for the purpose, and the government is now in the process of deciding which model of next-generation fighter jets to purchase. It’s a political procurement that has sparked a heated debate – not just about which jets to purchase, but whether the money would be better spent on welfare instead of war.

Denmark’s current fleet of F-16 fighter jets has two main missions: to enforce Danish air sovereignty, and to participate in peacekeeping missions. They have been involved in three wars – 1999 in Yugoslavia, 2001 to 2003 in Afghanistan, and 2011 in Libya – and have patrolled the airspace above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which have no fighter jets of their own.

Denmark and the Baltic states are members of the intergovernmental military alliance NATO, and as such are urged to spend two percent of GDP on defence. Few countries are meeting this target, however, leading to worries that the NATO balance of power is skewed too much toward the US. Denmark is among the majority of states that spend less than two percent, and which are now under pressure to increase their military capacity.

The government will decide which jets to purchase next year, but far-left party Enhedslisten argues it shouldn’t go ahead with it at all. Instead, the money should be reinvested in Denmark to counter cuts to welfare spending.

To the right are two opinion pieces offered by the nascent political party Alternativet, which has yet to decide its position on the issue. Should Denmark live up to its NATO obligations, or would the money be better spent on welfare?

The following debate pieces were provided to The Murmur by the political partyAlternativet, which has yet to decide its own position on the purchase.


Alexander With, air force officer 

First and foremost, these jets have been financed by the defence budget over many years. This is money the armed forces would have used, not an additional cost for our military. Our current jets should have been retired long ago, but the decision was postponed until now due to a funding deficit in the military. The Danish military is already one of the world’s cheapest. Over the past 25 years, we have cut spending, and we currently spend far less than we are obligated to as a NATO member. The savings have had grave consequences for our military capacity. The army can no longer shoot down enemy planes, and we don’t have any functioning cannons any more. Some of our ships can’t sail because we have too few able sailors. In the 1990s, we had to scrap 400 tanks. Now we only have 22 that are in service.

To see how far we’ve come, we need to compare our situation to the Russian battle of Stalingrad during the Second World War, in which only every other Russian was armed. The unarmed soldiers had to wait until someone had been shot before they could pick up a weapon and continue the fight. Today, although all Danish soldiers have rifles, our army has been split into three parts, of which only one has its required equipment. One of the other parts has run out of spare parts for its equipment, while the third never received its equipment at all because of funding cuts.

In frustration over the lack of equipment and savings, the military’s leaders are quitting a lot faster than new staff can be trained. Thirty-three percent are actively looking for work outside the military, and forty-five percent don’t see themselves working for the military within two years. This is not only a waste of money (because officers are expensive to train), it also results in an unacceptable loss of skills in a field where one’s ability can mean life or death.

This is not only an economic question, it’s a question of our military capabilities. We can’t just bring back our fighter jets once we’ve cut them. It takes many years to replace equipment and expertise. These new jets will be operable for the next 40 years. It’s completely impossible to predict geopolitical security that far intpo the future: think about the period between 1900 and 1940, which started in the middle of a long peaceful period and ended with two world wars. A jet is a multi-purpose military tool that can be used in most missions conducted by the military, from Danish matters of sovereignty, to combat missions in Libya and Afghanistan; from air policing over the Baltics, to the protection of Danish combat troops. Fighter jets help bind the Army, Navy and Air Force together, as they can support all three.

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Seeing how often we use fighter jets, it’s clear that we need them. Sweden was grateful when Danish F-16s deterred Russian bombers coming to rehearse the dropping of nuclear weapons over Stockholm. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are also grateful that Danish jets routinely deter Russian bombers that violate their airspace. Danish jets flew a quarter of the missions in Libya.

Russia has recently waged war against Georgia, invaded Crimea, and threatens Baltic NATO states, while thousands of Russian soldiers are positioned near the Ukrainian border. Few believe we are on the path to an all-out war with Russia, but it is often the threat of power that resolves conflicts when nations end up disagreeing. That is why the fates of the Ukraine and the Baltic states will be partially determined by how much military hardware we are willing to place in the region. If we cut our hardware, we are giving Putin the opportunity to do whatever he likes.

My personal belief is that of course Denmark needs fighter jets, as they are flexible and long-lasting tools. Denmark is weaker without jets: a nation that crosses its fingers when conflict erupts around the world, and asks others for help to protect its sovereignty.


Tune Revsgaard Nielsen, former soldier and current philosophy student

Denmark should leave the arms race and abandon the naïve idea that increased military spending and escalating war rhetoric pave the way to peace and greater security. Denmark needs to change paths. New fighter jets do not belong in the new narrative of peaceful development through which Denmark can be a better global nation

Like much of the world, Danes are culturally and historically exposed to a return of Cold War rhetoric, along with the tale that a strong defence is needed to keep the Russian (Soviet) neighbours at bay. This patriarchal and antiquated logic is particularly apparent in nationalistic arenas, and is amplified by people who don’t embrace the concepts of trust and open dialogue. Russia should be put in its place, they argue. If we show weakness through trust and openness, we are lost.

The story of Denmark’s 30 billion kroner investment in new fighter jets is a tale of fighting evil in the world through military might. Luckily, it’s also a story that has lost its validity and relevance these days, given the many examples of the directly damaging results of our military interventions in countries around the world.

We may have removed the opposition in the short term. But stability, democracy and education have not grown in the vacuum. Experience has shown us that the opposite happens. We only ever remove the symptom. The lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya are clear. Nation-building and democracy were undermined, while promising projects drowned in corruption. The extremism we hoped to fight only grew. Wars were lost, and with the defeat, so too died the hopeful expectations of democracy.

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In Libya, we spent over 600 million kroner flying 25 percent of the bombing runs that led to Gadhafi’s fall. But it was a catastrophe that Denmark participated, as it sent Libya on the path to the civil war it is now facing. And it’s a catastrophe that ordinary Danes – working men and women – paid for it.

We are assured that the 30 billion kroner that the majority of our so-called representatives want to spend on the jets won’t be taken from our welfare budget. They will come from a military budget that has long been set aside. This is a weak argument to support the purchase. Thirty billion kroner of Danish tax money is 30 billion kroner of tax money. Does it come from a private weapons fund financed by people with a love of fighter jets and their capacities in battle? No. It is taken from the state. You are paying, whether you like it or not.

We shouldn’t be talking about how to make transatlantic cooperation more balanced in order to live up to our “obligations” in NATO. We should instead be talking about how Denmark can promote peace in the world, which our NATO membership hasn’t accomplished. Quite the contrary.

Global military spending is currently larger than ever. NATO hasn’t opposed this development, but has increasingly promoted it. It is also clear that Anders Fogh Rasmussen doesn’t want to use a reconciliatory tone with Russia. He beats the war drum at every given opportunity, and acts upset when countries in his loose alliance dare to cut defence budgets. But how can we achieve lasting peace, if the peace is only built on military hardware?

The jets don’t belong to the story we need to write about our future. We want to write a story about peace, in which conflicts between countries are increasingly tackled through negotiations. But we are not naïve. We know this story can only be a reality if we take the lead. And we are not believers in a happy utopia. We know that we can only change the world by having trust in the abilities of small nations to change the world by breaking patterns and making new ones. M


By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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