The Russians carried out not one but two separate simulated attacks on the Danish island of Bornholm, while Russian activity in and around Danish air space has included near-collisions with passenger planes. A March report indicated however that Russian jets have been far less active in Danish air space in 2016 as compared to the previous two years.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg brief the media during a Nato defence ministers meeting in Brussels on Wednesday. Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters/Scanpix
Mattis said that if the other Nato countries don’t live up to their spending commitments, the United States will be forced to “moderate its commitment” to the nearly 70-year-old alliance.
In a closed-door meeting, Mattis pressured his allies to increase their spending.
“I owe it to you all to give you clarity on the political reality in the United States, and to state the fair demand from my country’s people in concrete terms,” Mattis said, according to numerous US media reports.
“America will meet its responsibilities, but if your nations do not want to see America moderate its commitment to the alliance, each of your capitals needs to show its support for our common defence.”
Nato has a defence spending target of two percent of a country's gross domestic product (GDP), something only five countries currently meet.
According to Nato figures, Denmark currently spends 1.17 percent of its GDP on defence.
Shortly after the election of US President Donald Trump, Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen said he was committed to increasing the nation’s defence spending.
“Currently Denmark is contributing substantially to the fight against Isil's [one of many terms used for the terror group Islamic State, ed.] regime of terror in Syria and Iraq. Moving forward, the government plans to increase spending on the military and national security,” the PM wrote in a November statement.
Following his meeting with Mattis on Wednesday, Defence Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen said he committed to spending more on Denmark’s military defences.
“I expressed that we are prepared to increase our military costs. And that is something we will do when we negotiate a [military] agreement here in the autumn. That is our goal,” he told TV2 after the meeting.
Although he has previously said that hitting the two percent target is probably not realistic, Frederiksen added that Denmark will not increase its military spending solely because of American pressure.
“It’s an ambition that we ourselves have because the security situation in Europe has changed a bit,” he said.
Denmark has had to increasingly contend with a Russia more willing to flex its muscles in the Baltic region. Russia was once again singled out as one of the major threats facing Denmark in the latest national risk assessment report from the Danish Defence Intelligence Service (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste) and there have been a number of incidents in recent years that have caused Denmark concern over Russia’s military ambitions.
On Wednesday, opposition party the Social Democrats suggested that one way in which Denmark could increase its military spending would be to invest in a missile defence system so that Denmark could directly confront threats from Russia or the Russian enclave Kaliningrad.
“We can see that Russia has rearmed itself heavily in Kaliningrad, which is not far from us. They have, among other things, rearmed themselves with missiles that can travel very far, and there is also the possibility that the missiles could have nuclear warheads,” the party’s defence spokesman, Henrik Dam Kristensen, told broadcaster DR.
“This worries me so I’d like to know that the Danish military has the capacity to take on that threat,” he said.
Speaking from Brussels, Frederiksen called the missile defence proposal “very, very relevant” and said it was one of the items on the government’s military agenda.
US demands that its Nato allies increase their defence spending are nothing new but have been given increased significance under Trump, who has cast doubts on Nato itself by branding the Western military alliance “obsolete”.
Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Mattis reaffirmed Washington's commitment to Nato but the former Marine was stern in his rebuke of member states for not paying their fair share.
“Americans cannot care more for your children's future security than you do,” he said.
Frederiksen said Mattis “reassured everyone” of the US commitment to Nato.
The US currently spends 3.6 percent of its GDP on the military, amounting to $664 billion in 2016.
AFP contributed to this report.