No nuclear arms on Danish soil,
or what?

The Danish nuclear ban has a pitiful limitation, but should anyway be reused by the new countries on their way into NATO.

By Tom Vilmer Paamand - 2022

Se temaet
[I apologize for a very rushed translation]

image No nuclear arms on Danish soil. Denmark has such a decision, are we often assured. But this well-known Danish reservation contains in itself an unfortunate exception, namely the clause "under the current conditions". And that it is not bound by law, although even such a law could be changed.

Finland and Sweden should nevertheless re-use this reservation, now that they themselves so urgently have to be admitted to NATO. Perhaps as a beautiful common basis for a strong Nordic bloc in NATO against nuclear arms. And it would be nice if our Danish reservation was razor-sharp and well-documented - but its early history shows that it is a messy affair.

The policy was formed for the NATO council meeting in December 1957, where the then Danish Prime Minister HC Hansen presented Denmark's position as "non-acceptance, under the present circumstances, of atomic warheads on Danish soil".

And then everything should be fine... but said Prime Minister is known for making totally contradictory underhanded deals with the USA. Already from October 1956, Denmark had been pressured to accept a US offer to receive NIKE and Honest John rocket batteries with atomic capacity, and in April a Danish officer was sent for nuclear training in the USA.

HC Hansen declared anyway that Denmark would say No Thanks, if the US offered nuclear charges. Now it was spring, and time for a election campaign - but at this time neither nuclear charges nor the receipt of rocket batteries had been submitted to the government and the Parliament Foreign Policy Council. This only happened in the days just before the election, when the defense minister rather vaguely simply stated that "there was no offer for the supply of nuclear ammunition".

Ban on foreign bases cancelled
The stationing of allied soldiers on Danish soil in peacetime (in South Denmark) was banned as early as 1953 by a Social Democratic prime minister. In 2022, another social democratic prime minister said Yes, Thank You! Negotiations with the US are underway...
The question of nuclear ammunition was thus neatly pushed on to the newly elected Folketing - the defense minister had reassured the US that this was a foregone conclusion. During the election campaign, this advance agreement was kept secret, as "certain political parties would include the issue in their propaganda if the public became aware of the matter".

In May 1957, HC Hansen declared - during negotiations on the forming of a new government with Radikale Venstre [e.g. Radical Left, name sounds intense, but they are liberal slightly leftists], who at the time were staunch nuclear opponents - that "Denmark, outside of war and crisis-like situations, was best defended by not having nuclear arms ". In front of the public, it again became a more cautious statement for the Danish Parliament that the government would not accept nuclear ammunition under the current conditions. But behind the scenes, Denmark's statements were instead still benevolently positive.

US internal considerations - 1957
It is possible that the [Danish] government would rather not know officially about our storing atomic warheads on Greenland. ...
It probably would be better simply to take the action without creating the opportunity ... for the Danish Gouvernment to raise some objection.
Most significantly HC Hansen gave the USA free rein in Thule through a secret letter from November 1957. The US had asked if Denmark wanted to be informed if they introduced nuclear arms in Greenland, discreetly referred to as "munition of a special kind". The Prime Minister replied deliberately vague: "I do not think that your remarks give rise to any comments from my side". Whereupon the USA already from February 1958 until 1965 introduced half a hundred nuclear warheads...

Fully embracing double standards, HC Hansen nevertheless declared at the council meeting at NATO in December, that there must be no nuclear arms on Danish soil in peacetime - without formally restricting this to the reality, that this obviously only applied to the southern part of the Kingdom. And even here, setting up nuclear-prepared depots and rocket batteries, and military nuclear training, were welcome in peacetime.

HC Hansen's declaration was based on a narrow 1960 government with Radikale Venstre, the Social Democracy and the Justice Party behind it. The Communist Party unsuccessfully tried to propose, that "Denmark inside and outside the UN must support the Soviet Union's proposal for international disarmament" - the party lost its representation in the Danish parliament shortly afterwards.

Freedom from nukes was vehemently opposed by the Conservative People's Party and the Venstre [e.g. Left, name again sounds intense, but they are conservative farmers], who spent a lot of effort talking up the threat from the Soviet Union and downplaying the threat from nuclear arms. These parties noted with regret that "the government and the governing parties maintain their previous position that, under the current conditions, Denmark does not wish to receive nuclear ammunitions", but emphasized that they would "raise the matter again if there came an opportunity for its implementation".

Ole Bjørn Kraft (Conservative), former Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, complained about "rampant propaganda, which seems to ignore completely the technical progress which nuclear arms have undergone, which makes the use of nuclear charges a kind of reinforced artillery. ... If we had this weapon, I think we would be making a contribution to the peace". The head of the Air Force described to the Parliament that it was the lack of nuclear arms was a shame, but saw the positive in that "nuclear weaponry not definitively has been ruled out for all future". And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs assessed that the government had effectively committed itself to "sometime in the future - to revert our refusal to accept nuclear arms".

The policy against nuclear ammunitions was therefore not ideology, but a temporary compromise, based on a desire in those months to put enough seats behind a broad defense settlement - without too much fuss. A possible nuclear resistance had not been part of the negotiations about Denmark's role in NATO, but it suddenly became so from then on. This led to a new compromise with the USA, where Denmark's reservation was nominally met, but without meaning much.

Denmark had NIKE and Honest John rocket batteries set up, both of which were intended for nuclear arms and quite useless for other munitions. Danish forces trained firing nuclear missiles, but only with practice ammunition. Similarly, Danish pilots practiced throwing atomic bombs, without Denmark having such. Denmark got special secured depots for atomic bombs, but the bombs for use in Denmark were instead stored in Sondermunitionslager Meyn, just on the other side of the German border.

The wording "under the current conditions" was interpreted as applying to "in peacetime", and therefore there was no overstepping by training relevant parts of the Danish military in their specific roles - which was to be nuclear-armed units during a Third World War. With nuclear arms that were so short-range that Denmark itself would be hit hard already during the attempts to stop invading forces.

The nuclear bombs in Greenland were quite a public secret. The Danish pacifist Aage Bertelsen wrote about them in 1959, and the year before that there were questions in another daily newspaper - which at the time was very NATO-friendly. Fact-based articles appeared from time to time, especially in the media of the US, but Thule was obviously too far away to ever really become "news" with consequences. HC Hansen's letter from 1957, stating that Denmark would prefer not to know anything about the USA's nuclear arms in Greenland, was well known in central parts of the state administration.

Although this state secret was first documented in 1995, the prime ministers had been continuously informed that the US had nukes at Thule. Nevertheless, in 1961, Viggo Kampmann was able to declare as a new Prime Minister, that the Danish opposition to nuclear arms in peacetime also included Greenland - without anybody questioning this obviously schizophrenic perception of reality.

In 1968, a B-52 bomber crashed near Thule - and then it became clear that Denmark had turned a blind eye to the fact, that the US had nuclear arms in Greenland. The crash scattered four battle-ready hydrogen bombs on the ice and in the sea. During the clean-up, new questions arose, because perhaps all the bombs had been collected - which they probably were.

And had the Greenlanders and Danes in the area become long-term illness from plutonium, toxic jet fuel and smoke from the plane's fire - probably not either All the secrecy spread anxiety and heavy shadows. The Thule workers never received any compensation, but a severance pay of DKK 50,000 as appreciation for the clean-up work.

Strangely all this trouble arose at a time when all other direct nuclear activities in Greenland had been wound down. Not for the sake of Denmark, but because they had been overtaken by technical development, primarily by long-range missiles. What remained were these overflights - The Airborne Alert Program - and even they were severely cut.

The Danish government repeated its false tune: "The Danish nuclear policy also applies to Greenland", and there are therefore "no nuclear arms located in Greenland" - but it "cannot be ruled out that American airplanes in an emergency situation seek landing opportunities in Greenland". Again while knowing that even though this had just been an emergency landing, it was pure routine for US nuclear bombers to land on Greenland.

The US showed its legitimate confusion in a series of secret memos that quickly led to a positive outcome. The overflights were to be phased out anyway, and the other nuclear arms on the Thule base were already gone. The United States now assured that they will not, without the Danish government's consent, store nuclear arms in Greenland or carry out overflights with aircraft carrying nuclear arms. And that this is now considered included in the "Agreement of 27 April 1951 on the defense of Greenland".

The public was told this through a counterfactual press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: "As previously announced, there are no nuclear arms in Greenland, and overflights with such weapons do not take place". As well as the fact that the US has thereby provided "the necessary guarantee under international law that Danish nuclear policy has henceforth been respected" ...

The 1980s showed a surprising political consensus about continued moderate nuclear skepticism, despite Denmark still planning to receive nuclear arms under wartime conditions. However, the USA's expectations for local combat units were small, and instead Danish bases were prepared to receive nuclear-armed reinforcement forces. The USA really didn't care, because they wanted to nuke an invasion fleet headed for Denmark - already in international waters, and without asking Denmark.

In this so-called "footnote period" conservative governments agreed to ask NATO for a total test stop for nuclear arms, that the USA may not use the Thule facility offensively, and for the establishment of nuclear-weapon-free zones in Europe. The same conciliatory tones were brought into the "Defense Commission of 1988". However, these positive votes were often given under angry protest.

The conservatives voted against a large part of the other adopted proposals of the "alternative security political majority", which for most of that decade was in the forefront for nuclear disarmament. The question of inspections of USA naval ships at Danish ports, forbidding nuclear arms on board, triggered a "Nuclear Election". After the election, Radikale Venstre dropped their peace agenda, but even without the votes for this party, there were still the most votes given for peace - just as it had been throughout this decade. But this time it did not trigger enough seats, and the "alternative majority" was gone.

In March 2022, the Conservatives and Venstre declare themselves open to nuclear arms on Danish soil, even in peacetime, should the US wish it - in the most significant attempt to break the long time truce against domestic nuclear arms from these two parties since 1960. The Danish population, and thus many of their voters, however still clearly say NO - and this precisely during the Ukraine crisis.

68 percent of the Danes will not allow the US to place nuclear arms in Denmark. This poll was commissioned by a conservative newspaper, who at the same time stated that agreements with the United States against nuclear arms have historically proven not to be respected. Fortunately, the social democratic government remained firm, and without them nothing will be changed.

The peacetime training in Danish use of nuclear arms has continued, most recently with secret Danish participation in NATO's nuclear training exercise Steadfast Noon 2022. Despite this and the direct violations in Greenland, as well as the flipflopping announcements in the internal notes to the USA, the dogma of No nuclear arms on Danish soil in peacetime so absolutely worth fighting for. Even if it is only based on a government statement, the promise now has a tremendous historical weight - which, however, hardly means much if NATO or Putin really whipped up a mood.

Still, Finland and Sweden should reuse the Danish nuclear exception. Although this is not at all as solid as could be desired, the exception is nevertheless "accepted" by the United States. By demanding similar exceptions, Denmarks (og Icelands og Norways) position is supported, which could be expanded into a Nordic bloc in NATO with nuclear skepticism – with support also from nuclear-free Lithuania and Spain. This would be a significant signal to send, and the Nordic peace movements would then be able to push more easily to get the entire Nordic region included in the UNs full prohibition treaty.

Fodnote- og kildeliste
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