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The days when Eisenhower said; “In war nothing is more important to a commander than the facts concerning the strength, dispositions, and intentions of his opponent, and the proper interpretation of those facts”, have long gone, if you read the Danish Defence Intelligence Risk Assessment issued in December 2019. The focus is now shifting as it is no longer a given that consensus and convergence will prevail within the traditional alliances and cooperation patterns. Pursuit of national interest will increasingly complicate such cooperation. At the same time, the rule-based world order is being tested. The assessment was finalised on 20 November 2019 and as the world situation changes so rapidly that a report might be obsolete when it is released in print, there might already be changes to some parts of this assessment, for instance in relation to Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran.
This annual Risk Assessment collates the key threats and several other issues abroad that have an impact on Denmark’s security and strategic interests.

Photo: via author

This year, the Risk Assessment starts out with a chapter on the Arctic as an area that the interests of the great powers have a direct impact on, an area which is of growing significance for Denmark. In addition, just as in recent years, the main points of emphasis are on Russia, the cyber threat and the threat of terrorism. Those are the subjects dealt with in this viewpoint. But it can be mentioned that China’s growing global influence is also subject to this year’s Risk Assessment.

Besides, separate chapters consider the Middle East, parts of Africa, and Afghanistan, all of which will continue to pose foreign and security policy challenges to the Kingdom of Denmark.

In relation to the Arctic, the Arctic states are still cooperating on regional issues. However, the military focus on the Arctic is growing; even the Arctic nations have a shared ambition to keep the region out of security policy disagreements. The United States has enhanced its military focus on the Arctic and aims for a stronger role for itself in the region in order to prevent Russia and China from increasing their regional influence. Security policy developments in the Arctic will also affect Denmark’s freedom to manoeuvre in the Arctic. An interesting observation in this context is that even bilateral relationships have deteriorated since the Ukraine crisis; the relations on the Arctic are characterised by pragmatism and dialogue in the Arctic Council. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that Russian combat aircraft deployed to Nagurskoye Airbase could quickly reach the north-eastern parts of Greenland, and by using long-range missiles or air-to-air refuelling they would have the ability to attack the United States’ Thule Air Base.

It is still likely that Denmark may become the target of a Russian influence operation with little or no warning. Russia has conducted influence operations in 2019 on social media and Russia continues its long-term efforts to build up a capacity to influence political decision-making beyond its own political sphere, including in Denmark.

The relationship between Russia and Denmark is also affected by the tensions between Russia and NATO in the Baltic Sea Region. Russia regards Denmark’s support to the EU sanctions after the annexation of Crimea and the force contribution to NATOs enhanced Forward Presence in Estonia as an expression of its confrontational course towards Russia. In this context, it is worth mentioning that Russia has deployed a tank regiment, an ISKANDER missile brigade and three new missile corvettes to the 11th Army Corps, Kaliningrad.

Another area of interest in the paper is the cyber threat. The cyber threat is still among the most serious threats against Denmark and Danish interests, especially the threat of cyber espionage and cybercrime.

The attempts of cyber espionage from foreign states are purposefully directed against the Danish Foreign Ministry and the Danish Ministry of Defence. The interests of foreign states focus on information related to NATO, EU and the Arctic. This threat directed at foreign policy and defence policy will continue in the long term and may affect Danish interests in the short-to-long term.

In the worst case, cybercrime may prevent private companies and public authorities from delivering critical services. Some foreign countries are actively seeking to steal intellectual property and other types of commercial data from Danish companies. The costs of those attacks run up in millions of Danish kroner.

Finally, a few words on terrorism. The assessment describes that today the main threat to the West emanates from lone wolf terrorists and small cells capable of launching relatively simple terrorist attacks requiring little planning and limited resources. Propaganda and detailed instructions on how to build a bomb and to launch a terrorist attack are available online. This makes it easy for people that have never been in contact with a terrorist group to plan and execute attacks in their countries of residence. In addition, foreign fighter returnees have a significant impact on the threat landscape in Western countries.

As mentioned above, the assessment from the Danish Defence Intelligence Service was finalised on 20 November 19, 2019. As a result, the last two months have not been covered and therefore the current disturbing situation in Libya, Syria, Iraq and Iran could not be assessed. This situation could pose a threat to the West and therefore to Denmark, too. Against this background, the intelligence services are closely observing the developments and react when needed. This could last be observed on 11 December 2019 in regions covering most of Denmark.

J. Bo Leimand