Denmark raises investment in Arctic surveillance to counter Russian build-up

Denmark is likely to further increase its military spending in the Arctic after it unveiled a $250m investment in surveillance capabilities in Greenland and the Faroe Islands to counter Russia’s military build-up in the region.

Defence minister Trine Bramsen told the Financial Times that the announcement last week of the purchase of two long-endurance surveillance drones for use over Greenland and the re-establishment of a Cold War-era radar station on the Faroe Islands was “one step”.

She added: “If the security situation continues to develop as we see it now, then we will have further steps in the future in terms of capabilities. Now we are going to get a much better picture on what is happening, especially at sea.”

The vast Arctic region has become of increasing interest to powers such as Russia, China and the US as they eye its potentially rich resources and strategic importance. Russia has focused on bulking up its military presence in its Arctic territory, while the US expressed an interest in buying Greenland — an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Denmark — under former president Donald Trump. The Faroes are also an autonomous part of Denmark.

Norway is reopening a submarine base built inside cliffs in its far north, although a big military exercise involving American, British and other Nato troops this month was cancelled because the Covid-19 pandemic.

Danish political parties from both the left and right last week agreed that the government should invest DKr1.5bn ($250m) to boost surveillance and communications from its Arctic territories of Greenland and the Faroe Islands as well as annual operating costs of DKr300m.

Bramsen said that Denmark, which has about 300 soldiers deployed in the Arctic, had a “special responsibility” for the region’s defence. Both the DKr750m surveillance drones and the DKr390m Faroese radar station came in response to requests from Nato.

“We see the Russian military building up and having more activities in the Arctic. That’s why it’s important to have more capabilities in the Arctic. It’s not about escalating conflicts. This is about the risk we see in the future if we don’t have the capabilities, if we don’t see what is happening,” she added.

Nordic countries have stepped up their military spending and focus on the Arctic since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. But they say thanks to Moscow’s participation in the Arctic Council — an intergovernmental body of the eight Arctic states — relations with Russia have been cordial.

Some Nordic diplomats were alarmed by the US interest and a 2019 speech by then secretary of state Mike Pompeo in which he blasted “aggressive” behaviour by Russia and China in the Arctic. Sweden’s former foreign minister told the FT the US had a “sad and dangerous” approach to the region.

Bramsen said that Denmark had “very close co-operation” with the US, and that both countries “have the same view on the Arctic and the threats”. She dismissed complaints from some in Greenland that Denmark had neglected the island, only waking up when Trump declared his interest.

The minister conceded that Copenhagen had not been able to verify media reports about possible Russian activity in the area between the Faroes and the UK’s Shetland Islands last year because it had lacked the capabilities. She and said the Faroese radar station would help Denmark know what was happening.

She added that the two drones designed to patrol Greenland were about “covering the most important blind spots”.

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