“The Danish government has used fear of Russia's brutal war to rush through major policy changes”
Duroyan Fertl interviews Christine Lundgaard about the war in Ukraine
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is an unacceptable violation of international law, posing serious questions about how best to respond. In a climate of increasing tension and militarisation, is it possible to oppose Putin’s aggression while maintaining a perspective of peace and disarmament? The Danish government is also using the crisis in Ukraine to further deepen military with the US and to remove the country’s exemption from participation in EU security and defence operations. Denmark’s left-wing party, the Red-Green Alliance, recently held its annual conference, where its perspectives on NATO and the EU were fiercely debated. Nonetheless, Christine Lundgaard insists, the Red-Green Alliance maintains its commitment to peace, disarmament and an end to all imperialist wars. Duroyan Fertl interviewed her about Denmark’s position on the war, the push for greater militarisation and the expected consequences.
How has the Danish government responded to the war in Ukraine?
The Danish government has used Russia's brutal war and the fear it has created as a kind of “shock doctrine”, to rush through major policy changes – otherwise difficult to argue for in the political debate – under cover of a huge crisis. This applies to armaments and militarisation at both a national and EU level, and in NATO. It is about welding Denmark even closer together with the United States in security policy. And it applies to a narrowing focus on the military as a counter to threats to our security.
This sounds like a substantial shift in position.
In the midst of the heated Ukraine crisis, on February 10, the Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced that the government was in concrete negotiations with the United States on a new defence cooperation, involving American troops on Danish soil. According to her, the initiative was not directly related to the crisis in Ukraine, but no one doubts that the crisis is being used as an excuse for a political move which in Denmark is deeply controversial.
It is a change to Danish security policy of the last 70 years, where we have not allowed foreign powers to deploy troops and military equipment, and in particular not nuclear weapons, on Danish soil.
We should not forget though that it is part of history that Danish governments have had secret agreements with the US government not to inform Denmark about the possible placement of nuclear weapons in Greenland, against this official Danish policy. So the experience is that agreements with the United States on deployments can also apply to nuclear weapons without the people being told.
You mentioned armament and militarisation. Can you give a bit more detail?
So, on March 6, just over a week after the invasion, a broad political majority to the right of the Red-Green Alliance entered into a new defence agreement. The settlement contains three elements:
First, from now on, Denmark must increase its military spending to 2% of GDP over a period of ten years. Compared to what we spend currently, this corresponds to an increase by 43% over the next ten years, or approximately 18 billion DKK extra every single year. Existing budget constraints were eliminated so that the money can be borrowed.
As for the second element, the government and most of the right wing want to abolish the Danish defence reservation vis-à-vis the EU. The Danish defence reservation in the EU is our guarantee that our Parliament cannot hand over sovereignty in questions of defence without a referendum. Although there are no concrete plans for a common EU army, the desire for it is expressed by, among others, France and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and is formulated in the Lisbon Treaty. Abolishing the defence reservation would mean a huge political pressure on Denmark to contribute to numerous EU military operations, mainly in Africa, which we see largely as an extended arm for, mostly, French colonial interests. Denmark's opt-out from the EU’s defence policy is now due for a referendum on 1 June.
The government justifies the vote by saying that we are in a new security policy situation after Russia's war of aggression. At the same time, however, the Prime Minister admits that the reservations have no bearing on the war situation and on our aid to Ukraine. So for us in the Red-Green Alliance there is no doubt that this vote is yet another way of using the war and people’s fear to get unpopular policies passed.
And the third element?
This one’s actually a bright spot. There is now political agreement to make Denmark free of Russian gas imports. The Red-Green Alliance has been working for this for several years. At present, we believe that the halt to imports must be implemented faster and more consistently than the government has announced.
What else is the government doing to help establish peace in Ukraine? Is it supplying weapons to Ukraine?
On the one hand, the Danish parliament voted to send anti-tank missiles to the Ukrainian government and military, as well as other non-offensive material. We supported this. On the other hand, on the same day as Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine, the parliament gave its support to making 20 fighter jets, a frigate and a transport plane immediately available to NATO. Only the Red-Green Alliance voted against this. We don’t think that this is helping bring about peace. As our defence spokeswoman Eva Flyvholm very rightly put it, a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia could trigger a new world war.
A few days after the decision to provide the jets etc. to NATO, it was all over the Danish media that Germany would send weapons to Ukraine and arm itself to a cost of 100 billion euros this year alone. This nurtured the narrative that the security situation in Europe had completely changed and required rearmament – despite the fact that once Germany has completed its rearmament, German military spending alone will exceed that of Russia.
Have there been protests against the government’s approach and policy u-turn?
After the government's announcement, the Red-Green Alliance, together with left-wing trade unions, peace movements and other left-wing parties, started to plan peace demonstrations against American troops on Danish soil. Peace demonstrations were being held across the country, but the focus shifted primarily to protests against the war. Internally, in the Red-Green Alliance and other organisations, there was disagreement about whether to stick to the slogan against American troops, in light of Russia's brutal invasion. Despite the difficulty of organising broad peace demonstrations, the proposal for American troops on Danish soil – and the great risk of accompanying nuclear weapons – is a fact. Hopefully we will succeed in continuing to mobilise strongly against it.
New campaigns against military rearmament, for conflict resolution, diplomacy and mutual disarmament, are being built with support from the Red-Green Alliance, and other left-wing parties, organisations and trade unions.
The Red-Green Alliance is supporting the Social Democrats’ minority government. How has the party reacted to both the war and to the government’s response?
Both the Red-Green Alliance and the Socialist People's Party are against the new collaboration with the USA. The Red-Green Alliance supports the right of Ukraine to defend itself against imperialistic aggression, but as I said before, we think that NATO armaments are not a solution to the war. We are working in the long run for a completely different security architecture that can strengthen the focus on diplomacy and negotiation and actually work for de-escalation and disarmament to prevent wars. We stand for a multifaceted security policy where green transition plays an important role.
Regarding the defence agreement of early March, we are strongly opposed to allocating so much money to the military and wonder why those funds have not been possible to find for either green transition or welfare. So many funds tied up in the military into the future will be a huge obstacle to the success of urgent climate action and the restoration of welfare in coming years.
The Red-Green Alliance is working to keep the Danish defence reservation. For us, it is important to look at how the EU's defence cooperation actually takes place today, where French interests in particular are driving activities. It is partly the case, therefore, that the EU's concrete military operations are primarily aimed at Africa, such as Mali. We want to keep the Danish reservation to avoid contributing to more wars, to an increased militarisation of the EU, and to a boost of the arms industry.
Have there been any significant changes in position?
The vote of the parliamentary group of the Red-Green Alliance in support of sending non-offensive weapons to Ukraine triggered debate in the party. Among the arguments in support of the Ukrainian resistance struggle is that it is about legitimate and necessary resistance to an illegal and brutal invasion. The stronger the opposition to Russia's attack, the faster Russia can be pressured into new negotiations. The Red-Green Alliance stands for resistance to all imperialist wars. The support for Ukraine's military defence should not be seen as a political support for a neoliberal government, but opposition to Russia's brutal attack right now is crucial.
Arguments made against arms support include that more weapons risk prolonging the war rather than ending it and could cost even more human lives. Weapons support can also remove focus from the negotiating track, which is ultimately the only realistic solution to ending the war. Although military opposition to Russia's attacks is legitimate and necessary, there is still a consideration about what role each country wants to play. It can be argued that a country that does not send weapons may have better opportunities to play a role in humanitarian aid and in support for negotiated solutions.
Despite the disagreements, in my opinion there have been sober and constructive debates internally and a positive openness that, unlike the majority of parties, we never take this type of issue lightly and stress the importance of debate.
I would like to add that it has been important for us to follow the discussion among our Nordic sister parties and Germany’s Die Linke, who have different views, but all have had internal disagreements, with several having changed opinion in recent weeks.
What is the Red-Green Alliance’s proposal for concrete measures towards ending the war and long-term peacebuilding in Ukraine?
Some politicians and the media focus narrowly on a total military victory over Russia as the only final scenario – even if it is quite unrealistic and does not take into account Russian nuclear weapons and the renewed threat of nuclear annihilation. At the same time, strengthening NATO's military capabilities is presented as the only way to secure peace in the future – even though NATO's military capacity already far exceeds that of Russia at present.
The position of the Red-Green Alliance is to support the people of Ukraine as much as possible against Russia's aggression, to push for a negotiated solution to the war and to push Russia as hard as possible economically.
We are pushing for harsh economic sanctions against Putin and Russia, primarily by shutting down 100% of Russian oil and gas. Not only Nordstream 2, but also Nordstream 1, which we have been against from the start. We need to make ourselves independent of fossil fuels from despotic regimes – and fossil fuels in general. It is extremely important that the situation does not lead us to import American fracked gas, to reopen Danish gas fields or, for example, to use fallow Danish land for growing grain, which we now lack from Russia and Ukraine. We need to use the emergency situation for acute and long-term green transition. And then we have to work for a ban on nuclear weapons.
To support the people of Ukraine, we want to intervene massively with humanitarian aid, evacuation and reception of refugees, preparation for the reconstruction of the country, and a cancellation of Ukraine's foreign debt. At the same time, we want to support the difficult resistance to the war within Russia, for example with support and asylum for deserters from the Russian military.
The reception of the many Ukrainian refugees has shown a completely unfamiliar solidarity and political will to give access to Danish society without reservation – in sharp contrast to Denmark's brutal refugee policy in general, which is designed to keep refugees out and make life in Denmark as difficult as possible. It has therefore been necessary to adopt a special law for Ukrainian refugees to enable them to be treated decently. At the same time, deportations, detentions and human rights violations continue for other refugees arriving in the country, for example from Syria and Afghanistan. The Red-Green Alliance wants to spread this solidarity and humanity so it applies to all refugees in need.
What, according to the Red-Green Alliance, could a progressive and sustainable security infrastructure in Europe (and/or globally) look like?
The Red-Green Alliance has always been opposed to NATO. We do not believe that it actually functions as an organisation for security and defence, but that it has to a greater extent acted as a US-led war alliance, with illegal wars and interventions on its conscience – for example in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. NATO's own actions have made it more difficult to work for a rules-based international system rooted in the UN Charter. At the same time, we believe it was a mistake to expand NATO and NATO's military capabilities after the end of the Cold War, as the opportunity was there to change the security architecture of Europe and the world, focusing on coexistence and disarmament despite different geopolitical interests.
But in light of the war and the understandable fear that Russia's aggression creates in the countries bordering Russia, these views have a very small place in the Danish debate at the moment. There is a focus on what benefits our common security in the here and now.
Following Russia's invasion, there has been a campaign against the Red-Green Alliance due to our NATO skepticism, our opposition to armaments, and our focus on political negotiations and the situation has been used to portray us as soft on Russia and Putin. We think these are absurd accusations, as it is the left who have been the only ones to consistently criticise Putin – for example for the war crimes in Chechnya and Syria – and warned against getting into Russia's pocket via our dependence on Russian oil and gas. We have never had any kind of political sympathy with Putin's project, which has nothing to do with socialism.
At the party's annual meeting in May, we adopted a series of resolutions for a revised policy regarding our relationship with NATO. One is that as long as there is no alternative joint security scheme, we will not raise the demand in the Parliament to opt out. Nonetheless, we maintain our sharp criticism of NATO.
There was an overwhelming majority for a resolution I was a co-author of, which underlined that we remain opponents of NATO and are now embarking on a process of concretising and further developing our security policy visions and the work for peace and disarmament, based on an analysis of the reality around us. We will do this together with left-wing parties in the Nordic countries and Europe, peace researchers, trade unions and other organisations, in the lead up to our next annual meeting.
In my opinion it is worth noting that although Sweden and Finland have now announced that they want membership of NATO, the majority of our Nordic sister parties, including the Swedish Left Party, are still opponents of NATO and like the Red-Green Alliance would prefer a Nordic alliance and working for a strengthened UN.
All resolutions adopted by the annual meeting agree on: the condemnation of Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine; criticism of NATO's armaments, militarisation and direct involvement in illegal wars of aggression; resistance against all imperialist powers; and that the Red-Green Alliance must actively work for disarmament and peace.
Christine Lundgaard is a parliamentary candidate for the Red-Green Alliance and a former member of its executive board. She has been active for many years in the party’s international work and in international solidarity with popular movements around the world, especially in Latin America. She lives in Copenhagen and works for the trade union FOA.