On May 25, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis met with Danish Minister of Defence Claus Hjort Frederiksen at the pentagon. The meeting was primarily intended to discuss the ongoing NATO presence throughout the world — including in Afghanistan as well as the global effort against ISIS. They reaffirmed one another’s commitment to the military-defense relationship between Denmark and the United States, an assurance that Mattis has continuously been giving to countries around the world that stand with the United States.

Mattis also encouraged Denmark’s recent decision to increase defense spending. Their parliament recently decided to bolster the defense budget by 20%, to be integrated over the next six years. The Danish government has admitted concerns regarding their proximity to Russia, and cited this as one of the reasons behind the budget increase. Prime Minister Rasmussen said that, “The threat from Russia is real and increasing, so we must show determination to defence — and we are determined.”

While the two countries do not directly border one another, both are on the Baltic Sea and any Russian naval or commercial vessels exiting through the sea would pass through the Danish Straits. While the Copenhagen Convention of 1857 designated the Danish Straits connecting the Baltic Sea with the Kattegat as an international waterway, it still makes for a very close relationship with all the countries who share borders with the Baltic Sea.

This leads to the North Sea, just beyond Denmark. | Wikipedia

In 2015, tensions were significantly ratcheted up between the Danes and the Russians when Denmark joined the NATO missile defense shield, much to Russia’s dismay. Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Kingdom of Denmark, Mikhail Vanin, said at the time that, “I do not think Danes fully understand the consequences of what happens if Denmark joins the US-led missile defense. If this happens, Danish warships become targets for Russian nuclear missiles.”

In response, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said that,

We have made clear that NATO’s ballistic missile defense is not directed at Russia or any country, but is meant to defend against missile threats. This decision was taken a long time ago, so we are surprised at the timing, tone and content of the statements made by Russia’s ambassador to Denmark … Such statements do not inspire confidence or contribute to predictability, peace or stability.”

This is just one of a few examples of the rising tensions between the two nations. Since 2015, the strain between the countries has fluctuated, and Denmark plans to continue to ensure that their defense infrastructure is as capable as possible. In early January, Denmark deployed approximately 200 troops to Estonia with the goal of impeding Russian advancement on other NATO countries in the Baltic area.

Denmark currently spends just under 1.2% of its total Gross Domestic Product on defense expenditures, according to the NATO Defence Planning Capability Survey, referenced by the Danish Ministry of Defence.