The strategic context of the post-Cold War years prompted a notable increase in the number of small states using military power for purposes other than self-defense. Since 1989, most European small states have made large military deployments to United Nations and NATO operations and played a role in interventions as part of a coalition. Contemporary studies generally perceive this active use of military power as a prestige-seeking strategy conducted to strengthen ties to Washington (Pedersen & Reykers, 2019; Jakobsen, Ringsmose & Saxi, 2018; Wivel & Crandall, 2019). Since small states lack influence and resources, their sovereignty and security depend upon great power relations (Rickli, 2008; Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 81; Jakobsen, Ringsmose & Saxi, 2018, p. 263). Small European small states thus use military power to “improve their status or consolidate their reputation as either loyal allies or partners” in Washington (Pedersen, 2018, p. 235). Existing research looking beyond this prestige-seeking agenda predominantly identifies economic gain or political influence (Henriksen & Ringsmose, 2012), defense reforms and military budgets (Jakobsen & Rynning, 2019), or strategic culture and lessons from the past (Wivel & Ost, 2010; Doeser, 2016) as the drivers of the contribution made by small states to international interventions. These analyses also conclude that it is overall security interests, rather than theater-specific national ends, guiding military deployments made by such states. In existing research, prestige-seeking and other macro-level explanations thus ignore any theater-specific political aims of military deployments made by small states. Consequently, European small states use military power “not to win wars or even battles but to support the right cause and the right allies in order to gain goodwill, prestige, security and influence” (Jakobsen & Møller, 2012, p. 108).
This conclusion creates a one-size-fits-all perception of small-state military deployments, creating gaps in our knowledge of the ways in which such states pursue national ends beyond prestige seeking; considering examples of the ways in which Denmark, as a small state, pursued both theater-specific political aims and prestige in recent military deployments, this article seeks to fill out this gap.
To look beyond prestige-seeking, however, new models for the analysis of deployments made by small states as actor-specific strategy are needed. This article develops such analytical models within the conceptual understanding of strategy as ends, ways and means (EWM; see Lykke, 1989; Yarger, 2006, 2008; Gray, 2010; Angstrom & Widen, 2015; Heffington, Oler & Tretler, 2019; Jakobsen, 2022). The underlying premise of the strategy is that states have diverse political aims that they will pursue to the best of their abilities (Yarger, 2008, p. 17). Alongside prestige, European small states pursue these aims in different ways and with a variety of means (Rickli, 2008; Angstrom & Honig, 2012; Doeser, 2016; Pedersen & Reykers, 2019). Consequently, every small state military deployment follows its own strategic logic from context analysis and political aims-defining to deciding which way to employ different military means (Heffington, Oler & Tretler 2019, p. 1).
By developing new conceptual models, this article contributes to a better and more nuanced understanding of the use of military power by small states in three ways. First, it extends its consideration of such uses of military power beyond prestige-seeking by focusing on theater-specific political aims in military deployments; prestige is rarely the only political aim since small states formulate national aims of military contributions prior to deployment. Second, it outlines the deployments of small states as strategy with less adjustable relations between objectives, frameworks and capabilities: given the power deficit, small states cannot define overall strategic ends, develop specific national ways, and employ the required military means; rather, small states pursue political aims by formulating national theater-specific objectives achievable within a set of well-defined operational frameworks and with readily available military capabilities. Third, the article suggests three conceptual models for analyzing and understanding small states’ military deployments within the EWM concept. Each addresses how the political aim of the deployment is linked to one particular element within the deployment. Due to their modest resources, small states cannot adjust and align all elements of strategy; consequently, military deployments are guided by one decisive and therefore critical link between the political aim of the deployment and either the objectives, the frameworks or the capabilities within the deployment.
The article proceeds in five sections. The first discusses the contemporary EWM model, arguing that, applied to small states, the links between the three strategic elements become less adjustable. Then it defines three conceptual models for analyzing small-state military deployments focusing on either the capabilities, the frameworks or the theater-specific objectives. Sections two, three and four concern the three models of deployment to the 2007–2017 Danish counter-piracy operations at the Horn of Africa (HoA), the Danish Helmand effort in the International Security Assistance Force Afghanistan (ISAF) from late 2007 to 2012, and the Danish contribution to the 2011 Libya intervention. The three analyses examine how the perspectives of objectives, frameworks, and capabilities can serve to allow us to grasp the Danish military contributions to international interventions.
The cases, analyzed chronologically, were selected for four reasons related to strategic analysis. First, they are all post 9/11 deployments within the same overall international security environment and supported militarily by most European small states. Second, all deployments have been praised by U.S. administrations and other great power allies adding to the overall aim of prestige. Third, in all three deployments, the Danish military engagements started in a U.S.-led coalition and ended as part of a NATO operation. Fourth, Denmark contributed substantially with requested and operational effective military capabilities in all three cases. All deployments thus occurred within the same strategic context, related to the same overall strategic end, in a similar fashion, and with relevant military means. The cases can thus elucidate how Denmark, as a small state, also pursued its own national political aims alongside the pursuit of prestige in Washington. The article’s concluding section sums up the main findings and addresses their implications for the study of the use of military power by small states in international interventions.
In this article, military deployments are analyzed within the common definition of military strategy as the dynamic relations between EWM (Jakobsen, 2022). Colin S. Gray, for instance, outlines military strategy as “the direction and use made of means by chosen ways in order to achieve desired ends” (Gray, 2010, p. 18). Likewise, Harry R. Yarger defines strategy as “all about how (way or concept) leadership will use the power (means or resources) available to the state to exercise control over sets of circumstances and geographic locations to achieve objectives (ends) that support state interests” (Yarger, 2006, p. 108). Both theorists emphasize the processual and comprehensive nature of strategy and argue that ongoing alignment of the three elements is instrumental to success. Even though strategy is determined by policy, neither Gray nor Yarger perceive the relations between EWM to be linear or causal (Yarger, 2008, p. 18; Gray 2010, p. 31). As the Clausewitzian dictum sets politics above strategy, however, “a proper sequence for relating means to ends is commonly assumed: First, political objectives are determined; second, the optimal political and military concepts for achieving the objectives are deduced; third, the forces and operating doctrines necessary to implement the strategy are fielded” (Betts, 2000, p. 37). Strategic ends, however, do not necessarily determine the subsequent employment of means through specific ways. Sometimes available means or prevailing ways actually define the ends. We can look to Iraq and Afghanistan, where the counter-insurgency operational concept and a troop limit set by the U.S. Congress strongly influenced theater-specific ends, for recent examples. The key to success in both cases thus became the ongoing adjustment and alignment of the relations between EWM (Heffington, Oler & Tretler, 2019, p. 44). For strategy to be successful, all three elements must continuously be balanced either by redefining the ends, improving the ways, or changing the employed means (Lykke, 1989; Yarger, 2006). This dynamic EWM understanding of strategy is, however, less suitable for the analysis of the use of military power by small states. Such states cannot fully adjust all the relations between EWM since they lack international influence, implementation capacity, and military capabilities (Smed & Wivel, 2017). Consequently, small states usually deploy readily available military capabilities within existing frameworks to support coalition objectives, thereby contributing to the prestige-seeking conclusion of contemporary research.
To go beyond the prestige-seeking agenda, this article investigates the strategic links in theater-specific military deployments made by small states. Rather than focusing on EWM, military deployments are better analyzed as theater-specific achievable objectives, operational concepts, or courses of action and capabilities either immediately available or available to development (Heffington, Oler & Tretler, 2019, pp. 59–63). Since small states lack sufficient resources to develop their own concepts and capabilities, their military deployments often use existing organizational, operational, and legal frameworks by employing available military capabilities. Consequently, the links between theater-specific objectives, existing frameworks, and military capabilities are key to understanding the military deployments of small states. The national political aim of a small state’s military deployment, however, is not necessarily related to the objectives the military force must accomplish; rather, the political aims of small states equally relate to any of the three strategic elements of objectives, frameworks and capabilities in theater. Due to the power deficit, however, small states cannot reshape all strategic links and, therefore, one element is pre-determined (Figure 1). The small state power deficit generally limits the military capabilities available; further, coalitions, international organizations, or bilateral partners often define the objectives and the frameworks in theater. Consequently, with regard to deployments, the political aims of small states relate to either the objectives, the frameworks, or the military capabilities, thereby creating a single decisive and critical strategic link. Adjusting and aligning the link from the political aim to the critical element thus becomes the key to strategic success, as the cases examined demonstrate.
Small states initiate military deployments as responses to great power competition, threats to international security, and in pursuit of strategic opportunities (Jakobsen, 2022). Usually, but not always, small states deploy military power when requested by great powers or international organizations like the UN, NATO and the EU. In these cases, the political aim of the deployment is simply the provision of the requested capabilities. Similarly, threats to international norms and rules, human rights violations, and humanitarian crisis also cause small states to employ military power. The political aim of such deployments is often related to the operational frameworks, since the use of force must encompass the same international norms it is deployed to uphold. Sometimes, however, even small states use military power to serve their own national security or economic interests; in these instances, the political aim constitutes the theater-specific objectives, and their achievement can thus be considered the desired strategic outcome. Political aims differ according to the theater, case, or country in question. To achieve the political aim of the deployment, a clear focus on the critical element is essential from the start. Redefining theater-specific objectives, expanding the frameworks, or rotating in other military capabilities is difficult for small states and often yields an unsuccessful military deployment. Accordingly, small states use three different military deployment types, with the political aim related to either objectives, frameworks or capabilities.
When analyzing the military deployments of small states within the EWM model, a distinction between political aims for the use of military power in general and theater-specific objectives pursued by the deployed forces is needed. National political aims are related to the overall strategic ends and core national interests. The strategic ends of small states are no different to those of great powers and “are categorized in terms such as survival, economic well-being, favorable world order, and promotion of national values” (Yarger, 2008, p.17). Small states can thus have a variety of political aims for theater-specific military deployments: their own national economic interests, organizational commitment, coalition contribution, protection of international norms, promotion of democratic values, balance of threats, fight against terror organizations, and so on. In that such aims are often formulated as a significant contribution to a specific military operation, efforts to promote international norms or to protect international peace and security, they often resemble prestige seeking. Even though a number of political aims are usually in play, prompting the military deployment, they rarely find direct equivalence in the theater-specific objectives of the deployed force. Political aims such as organizational commitment or coalition contribution for the sake of security can thus be achieved by deploying troops to stabilization operations in distant regions of the world. Likewise, prestige-seeking deployments need little correlation between political aims and theater-specific objectives. Small states, on the other hand, often formulate political aims and deploy military power in pursuit of their own theater-specific objectives. Such objectives often equal the strategic ends of great powers, larger coalitions, or multinational cooperation in theater. Sometimes, however, small states actually formulate theater-specific objectives to promote their own national interests. In this way, certain aspects of the national interests of such states constitute both the political aim of the military deployment and the theater-specific objectives for the deployed capabilities alike.
When small states define their own theater-specific objectives and deploy national military capabilities to achieve them, the political aim finds equivalence in the ends within the EWM conceptual model. However, since small states lack international influence to provide intelligence and strategic mobility, implementation structures to provide a rigorous chain of command, and both competence above the tactical level and military enablers, success requires that other states pursue the same theater-specific objectives. Consequently, the frameworks become the critical element of this of objectives-driven deployment (Figure 2). Since small states lack military capabilities, the number of readily available and suitable military capabilities are pre-decided by the theater-specific objectives. The frameworks used, therefore, are the only adjustable strategic element for small states pursuing their own national objectives in theater. Developing and applying the right frameworks for other states to use, however, can provide additional military capabilities. Thus small states initially deploy readily available military capabilities in existing multinational efforts and then expand them, or develop their own additional frameworks along the way. When developing frameworks, international cooperation is vital for success. Consequently, both diplomatic and economic means are often used in objectives-driven deployments made by small states, as the Horn of Africa case exemplifies.
In the ends, ways, and means model, the “ways” are the most confusing element. It is through these that employed military capabilities are linked to the theater-specific objectives, and thus resemble concepts or courses of actions (Yarger, 2006, p. 112). Ways, then, are often equivalent to strategy itself, since “strategy is the only bridge built and held to connect policy purposefully with the military and other instruments of power” (Gray, 2010, p. 29). They are, consequently, frameworks for applying military power for the achievement of both political aims and theater-specific objectives. Such frameworks are extremely important to small states since they safeguard the link between the use of military power in general and the deployed capabilities in theater. To small states, a clear international legal mandate and national juridical regulation of the armed forces are the most important elements of any framework. A United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) authorization on the use of force is often a prerequisite for the military deployments of small states (Jakobsen & Møller, 2012; Heier, 2015; Doeser, 2016). Since small states cannot achieve theater-specific objectives on their own, military deployments require multinational cooperation to be successful. For this reason, small Western European states prefer to support international operations led by the UN, NATO and the EU – albeit bilateral agreements and international or regional military support are also important. Rule of law, choice of implementation structure, and international cooperation thus often define how small states deploy military capabilities.
The final element of the frameworks is formed by the operational concept or doctrine for the use of the deployed capabilities. To maintain the political and public support of the deployments, many small states give first priority to keeping their soldiers safe, thus deploying them with geographical or operational caveats (Fermann, 2019). Consequently, small states are often more willing to deploy military forces for peacekeeping or stabilization operations, or within defensive operational concepts that prevent proactive or offensive use of force. During the ISAF campaign, most small states sent troops to the Provincial Reconstructions Teams (PRT) in the northern parts of Afghanistan; in the 2011 Libya intervention, many small states deployed jets for air surveillance and reconnaissance operations only (Saideman & Auerswald, 2012; Doeser, 2016).
A small state with the political aim of contributing militarily in a specific way focuses on getting the frameworks right from the start. Such political aims can originate in organizational memberships, great power relations, or a national tradition for the use of military power (Doeser, 2016, p. 290). States with constitutional restrictions on the use of force or governments that seek broad parliamentary support when contributing militarily often use frameworks-driven deployments (Figure 3). Consequently, the small state will focus on supporting the right implementation structure, deploying under a national approved operational concept, or securing a solid mandate for the use of force. In such deployments, the political aim relates to the frameworks within existing and usually internationally prefixed theater-specific objectives. In this fashion, capabilities form the critical element in frameworks-driven deployments. Since small states cannot pick and choose from a large military toolbox, getting the national focus on frameworks aligned with national and readily available and sustainable capabilities becomes crucial for the successful execution of objectives.
When small states plug their military means into great power interventions or contribute to UN, NATO, or EU missions, the overall political aim is often the timely provision of the requested military capabilities. Small states thus focus on deploying military capabilities within existing implementation structures and predefined operational concepts. Most post-9/11 contributions to the US-led interventions in Afghanistan followed a capabilities-driven deployment with the Global War on Terror/Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and ISAF as the primary frameworks. Since casualties and the loss of military capabilities are costly and often politically untenable, national restrictions on the use of capabilities are designed to minimize such risks. Restrictions can take the form of time limits on the deployment or specific configurations of the units and platforms, or can be formulated as geographical boundaries and operational restrictions – national caveats (Saideman & Auerswald, 2012; Fermann, 2019). These caveats are coordinated prior to deployment, being the only way a state can maintain political control of its capabilities following insertion. Since great powers and their international agendas interpret the legal mandate, define the implementation structure, and design the operational concept, small states have limited operational control over their military capabilities once deployed (Heier, 2015; Fermann, 2019). Small states thus usually deploy military capabilities configured for specific tasks, rather than military units, in the pursuit of various military objectives (Saideman & Auerswald, 2012). However, as the political aim is to deploy and make use of requested capabilities, national restrictions are often counterproductive. If strongly bounded by imposed conditions, the capabilities neither contribute to the achievement of the national political aim nor the great power theater-specific objectives. Consequently, since the capabilities-driven deployment is bound by frameworks already determined by coalition leaders, it is crucial that military goals be aligned with approved national objectives, both prior to and during the intervention (Figure 4). In other words, strategic success is founded on a constant balancing of the national political mandate and the tactical contributions of the deployed capabilities. For small states, the pursuit of theater-specific objectives through a capabilities-driven deployment is extremely difficult: aligning contrasting national objectives with great power agendas in a specific theater is almost impossible.
This conclusion is reinforced in the following sections, where the three conceptual models are applied to the Danish counter-piracy operations at the Horn of Africa, the Helmand effort, and the Libyan intervention.
As Denmark is the world’s sixth-largest maritime nation based on operated tonnage, the Danish 2007–2017 counter-piracy operations at the Horn of Africa provide an excellent case study of a small state objectives-driven military deployments. The operations can be considered to have been precipitated by the Somali highjacking of the Danish-flagged commercial ship Danica White in June 2007 (Smed, 2015; Feldtmann, 2017). This incident prompted a political commitment in November 2007 when the newly formed Liberal/Conservative government formulated the national aim of “combat[ing] piracy, including the use of Danish naval vessels, strengthening the international framework for combating piracy and capacity building in the fragile states from which pirates typically operate” (The Prime Minister’s Office, 2007, p. 66).
The political aim focused on theater-specific military objectives from the outset, creating a decisive link to the frameworks (Figure 5). These objectives, coinciding with the opportunity to support the UN World Food Program in Somalia, with the Danish navy vessel Thetis in 2008, saw the launch of Danish anti-piracy operations (Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 85). Even though Denmark contributed substantially with both military capabilities and economic aid throughout the operations, Denmark, as a small state, lacked the means to make a game-changing effort on its own. Consequently, the frameworks became the critical elements of the Danish counter-piracy aim. Denmark thus actively expanded existing implementation structures, the theater-specific operational mandate, and international cooperation in theater.
Since 2001, the U.S.-led Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) partnership had patrolled at the Horn of Africa; warships of the the U.S. Sixth Fleet actually engaged the Danica White highjackers, albeit unsuccessfully (Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 85). As the CMF frequently lacked forces, notably Task Force (TF) commander initiatives from contributing nations, Denmark influenced the partnership from the inside to suit its national theater-specific objectives. In January 2008, Denmark voluntarily deployed a frigate-type command ship, HDMS Absalon, and 40 staff officers to command CMF TF 150 from August 2008; Denmark sent additional staff officers to CMF Headquarters in Bahrain during the same period (The Danish Parliament, 2008). The Danish Parliament mandated the military contribution to operate within TF 150 Maritime Security Operations, however, tasking it to increase the counter-piracy operations (The Danish Parliament, 2008, p. II). From 2008, Danish military capabilities operated under very broad national counter-piracy mandates, minimal national caveats on the use of force, and few navigational restrictions (Feldtmann, 2017, p. 15). As the commanding nation, Denmark expanded TF 150 operations to more actively include counter-piracy at the HoA (Andersen, 2009, p. 26; Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 86).
This focus on Danish theater-specific objectives, and the change of operational priority for TF 150 that followed, caused certain internal disagreements related to the priorities of other nations (Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 86). Following internal disputes in TF 150 and an increased international focus on counter-piracy operations, CMF established TF 151 in January 2009 with countering piracy as its main purpose (Struwe, 2009, p. 11). Following this, Denmark transferred HDMS Absalon to TF 151 from February 2009; in 2010, the country actively pursued national theater-specific objectives by taking command of NATO Operation Ocean Shield (OOS). Between 2009 and 2015, Denmark deployed vessels to counter-piracy operations at the Horn nine times and took command of different task forces on seven occasions (Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 86). Once central to the counter-piracy task forces, Denmark expanded the operational mandates and concepts from within.
By 2010, TF 151, EU counter-piracy operation Atalanta and OOS had established an implicit division of tasks, with TF 151 escorting ships while Atalanta and OOS actively engaged pirates (Henningsen, 2021, p. 295). This cooperation between the three task forces effectively stopped piracy in the Gulf of Aden, forcing the pirates to change their area of operations and tactics (Sörenson & Widen, 2014). The Somali pirates now operated further from shore and primarily away from the heavily guarded transit passages in the Gulf of Aden. Consequently, the modus operandi of the Danish counter-piracy operations also changed. In 2010, HDMS Absalon took command of OOS and the Danish Parliament deployed special operations forces (SOF) to actively change the operational concept from defensive to offensive (The Danish Parliament, 2009, p. II; Henningsen, 2021). Instead of chasing pirates on the open seas, the operational concept was to attack pirates closer to the coast of Somalia – even destroying ships anchored at shore (Henningsen, 2021, p. 299). Since counter-piracy contributors often plugged in and out of TF151 and OOS according to national mandates and priorities, Danish ships could pursue national theater-specific objectives without jeopardizing the coalitions. From 2010 onwards, Denmark established an informal partnership with the Netherlands to implement a more active use of SOF in counter-piracy operations (Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 80; Henningsen, 2021, p. 307). Both countries had broader national mandates to operate preventively and closer to the Somali coastline. To achieve Danish theater-specific objectives, this flexible partnership was established in a cross-organizational structure, with Denmark operating in OSS and the Netherlands operating within Atalanta. This Danish-Dutch operational concept soon became an international emblem of effective counter-piracy operations (Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 86).
In support of the implementation structures and operational concepts, Denmark intensified diplomatic efforts to have the pirates prosecuted and convicted in the region. Since legal responses to Somali piracy were extremely decentralized, and pirates became a national judicial issue when detained, few were actually convicted (Smed & Wivel, 2017, p. 84). To be effective and in accordance with national and international laws, counter-piracy operations were obliged to prosecute and convict pirates, and Denmark, therefore, pushed for the establishment of regional cooperation to use existing courts in the East African region.
First, Denmark volunteered to chair the legal working group (Working Group 2) of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia. This enabled Denmark to take the lead on the establishment of an international effort “to advance the judicial track to arrest, detain and prosecute pirates” (Smed, 2015, p. 4). Second, Denmark extended the bilateral cooperation in the region, established strong maritime ties to Kenya and helped Djibouti and Yemen strengthen their coast guards. Finally, Denmark sat up judicial programs with Kenya, Djibouti, and the Seychelles since these countries viewed piracy as both extremely costly to the national economy and a threat to international security (Smed, 2015, p. 7; Henningsen, 2021, p. 302). As a result, Somali detainees were handed over to the Seychelles in 2013 and prosecuted for piracy against the Danish commercial vessel Torm Kansas. In the same process, sufficient evidence was also provided for the Seychellois authorities (Feldtmann, 2017, p. 17). Doing so, Denmark succeeded in creating frameworks through international cooperation, achieving its national theater-specific objectives of effectively countering the Somali piracy.
Like other European small states, Denmark supported the U.S.-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF with special operations forces, fighter jets, and military transport aircraft, thereby providing the requested capabilities within existing frameworks (Mariager & Wivel, 2019, p. 233). Unlike most European small states, which kept their forces out of harm’s way in the northern, western and central provinces of Afghanistan, Denmark went, with Britain, straight to war in Helmand’s Green Zone during the third stage of the International Security Assistance Force mission (Ringsmose & Rynning, 2017, p. 410). From May 2006, Denmark provided company-sized infantry units, with few caveats placed on the execution of their tasks, for the British-led Task Force Helmand (TFH) to use as appropriate (Jakobsen & Thruelsen, 2011). Consequently, the Danish contingent relieved British forces during the siege of Musa Qala, later conducting long-range search-and-destroy patrols against Taliban fighters. Most analysts, therefore, define the Danish Helmand contribution as a “plug and play” capabilities-driven deployment to gain prestige (Jakobsen & Thruelsen, 2011; Rynning, 2019; Wivel & Crandall, 2019). From 2007, however, this approach changed as Denmark requested the central part of Helmand in return for an increased footprint (Hundevadt, 2008, p. 93; Rasmussen, 2011, p. 61).
Initially TFH planned for Denmark to take command of Battle Group South, where Danish units patrolled extensively from late 2006 to mid-2007 (Jakobsen & Thruelsen, 2011, p. 84). The Danish political aim, however, was not to support TFH with relevant military capabilities alone. Had this been so, there would have been no reason to request the more dangerous Battle Group Centre (BGC) in exchange for a larger troop commitment. That this particular area would lead to heavy fighting was accepted by Danish decision-makers since they aimed to showcase the Danish capacity to combine national military and civilian efforts within the NATO Comprehensive Approach (CA) (Rasmussen, 2011, p. 63; Kristensen & Larsen, 2017, p. 65). As the theater-related stabilization objectives were already determined by international agreements, the link between the Danish CA agenda and the national military capabilities became decisive (Figure 6).
This frameworks focus originated in three interrelated national aims. First, Denmark had been pushing for a “comprehensive approach” to stabilization operations in NATO since 2004 (Jakobsen, 2008, p. 7). Denmark used the Riga Summit in November 2006 to promote the CA “involving a wide spectrum of civil and military instruments” (NATO, 2006, p. 10). Effective stabilization of Helmand’s central area would promote Denmark as the CA frontrunner in NATO. By combining military efforts in ISAF with a nationally formulated Afghan-Danish developmental aid partnership, Denmark based the 2007–2012 Helmand effort on the CA concept (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, 2008, p. 2). Second, the government’s need to make up for participating in the controversial Operation Iraqi Freedom mission in 2003, combined with the lack of success in the previous Iraqi stabilization operation of 2003–2007, further catalyzed a national focus on the CA’s civilian aspects in the Danish Helmand effort (Rasmussen, 2011; Jakobsen & Møller, 2012, p. 110). Third, CA was an excellent framework for promoting the educational sector, of which Denmark was lead donor and co-chair (Thruelsen, 2008, p. 26; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, 2012, p. 1.1). By implementing the CA successfully in Helmand, Denmark could promote its own educational agenda; this became a benchmark internationally for the entire Danish Afghanistan effort (The Danish Parliament, 2007, p. IV; Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, 2008, p. 26).
In NATO, EU and the UN, Denmark used the Helmand effort to push its national agendas (Jakobsen 2008, p. 7) and in parliament, a nationally coordinated CA boosted the political acceptance of the move to Helmand (Breitenbauch 2014, p. 33). Consequently, the CA became the defining framework for the Danish engagement in Helmand (The Danish Parliament, 2006, p. IV; The Danish Parliament, 2007, p. VII). It was now up to Denmark to align the comprehensive approach with the capabilities required for the guiding stabilization objectives of the BGC and ISAF. In the long run, providing both military and civilian capabilities proved to be the critical element. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, therefore, issued annual Helmand Plans with a strong focus on developmental progress in Helmand and guidance for the Battle Group Centre’s military achievements within the CA framework.
From 2007, Denmark increased humanitarian aid by 40% and changed the longstanding tradition for a centralized distribution of humanitarian aid, thereby allocating a considerable amount to stabilization projects in the BGC (Rynning, 2019, p. 31). Denmark also concentrated its military capabilities in Helmand, tasking them to provide security for the national stabilization advisors (The Danish Parliament 2007, p. III, V). Consequently, on 27 October 2007, Colonel Kim Kristensen took command of the BGC with the CA as the guiding operational concept (Breitenbauch, 2014, p. 44). Since Denmark contributed merely 550 soldiers to the 2000-strong BGC, only two company-sized maneuver units and a tank platoon were immediately available for the national efforts. This lack of troop commitment gave Danish commanders little say in tactical priorities between British military operations and Danish aspirations for national stabilization efforts (Jakobsen & Thruelsen, 2011, p. 96). Task Force Helmand, therefore, repeatedly used Danish units “out of area,” making it very difficult for the Danish contingent commanders to sustain the national stabilization efforts in the BGC.
Although Danish stabilization efforts were coordinated with the British Helmand Road Map and the civilian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Lashkar Gah, Denmark continuously fell short on both military capabilities and civilian advisors in theater. This shortfall created a dependence on the British Brigade, and even though Denmark increased its troop commitment from 550 soldiers in 2007 to 712 in 2010, capabilities remained the critical element. Subsequently, no stabilization efforts were made at all during periods of leave since the BGC could not provide the required protection for the civilian efforts. Denmark, therefore, rotated hastily trained home guard soldiers in and out of Helmand to relieve the units in the Danish bases while they were on leave. The national synchronization of the military and civilian efforts was further challenged; civilian advisors were few and the Danish section of the PRT was continuously under-staffed. Since the civilian advisors only worked weekdays and had two weeks leave every six weeks, the immediate progress in the stabilization efforts was often left to the civil-military cooperation section in the BGC (Thruelsen, 2008, p. 29; Rasmussen, 2011, p. 76). While Denmark deployed a special advisor to boost the educational agenda in 2008, the civilian and military stabilization advisors in Helmand often lacked qualifications and experience (Thruelsen, 2008). In sum, Denmark struggled to provide the needed military and civilian capabilities for the political aim of promoting the comprehensive agreement by stabilizing the central part of Helmand for the entire 2007–2012 period. In 2012, Denmark handed the BGC to the United Kingdom without achieving the deployment’s political goals. The Danish Helmand effort is, unsurprisingly, not regarded as a successful example of the CA (Andersen et al., 2016).
Denmark’s contribution to the campaign against the Gaddafi regime checked off all possible small state political aims for the use of military power. It was intended to support a UNSCR resolution, to protect civilians, to promote democracy, and to contribute to great power- and NATO-led coalitions (Jakobsen, 2016). Consequently, military deployment became a political and strategic “no-brainer” in most Western European small states. Following UNSCR 1973 (March 17 2011), therefore, most small NATO member states contributed to the UN-sanctioned military campaign against Gaddafi. To be the first to join the three major NATO powers (the United States, France, and the United Kingdom), Danish military recommendations pivoted to fighter jets in full spectrum operations even before UNSCR 1973 was approved (Jakobsen & Møller, 2012, p. 114). As the overall political aim was to provide relevant capabilities from day one, Denmark conducted a full and unanimous parliamentary process in less than 24 hours (Jakobsen, 2016, p. 193). Consequently, Danish jets were operational long before take-off; the final organizational and operational details were coordinated during deployment (Jakobsen & Møller, 2012, p. 114). Accordingly, the Danish Royal Air Force (RDAF) beat the rest of the small states, flying its first mission over Libya on the second day of the U.S.-led Operation Odyssey Dawn (OOD).
From the outset, and throughout the campaign, the Danish contribution to the Libyan mission was capabilities-driven, with the frameworks already determined by OOD and NATO’s Operation Unified Protector (OUP). The decisive strategic link was, therefore, formed by the in-theater military capabilities and the national objective for the use of force in the intervention (Figure 7). As a result of the capabilities focus, the F-16 fighter jets were highly effective operationally and the Danish pilots were soon nicknamed the “rock stars of the campaign” by the American commander (Jakobsen, Ringsmose & Saxi, 2018, p. 267).
Since the political aim was set on a “first wave” contribution of effective and fully operational fighter jets, national frameworks and theater-specific objectives for the deployment enjoyed little political attention. To provide capabilities as quickly as possible, Denmark integrated directly into coalition frameworks without national priorities, restrictions, or caveats (Jakobsen & Møller, 2012, p. 114). The Danish Parliament passed an open-ended mandate encompassing both no-fly zone enforcement and counter-surface force operations (The Danish Parliament, 2011). Thus, the fighter jets were equipped with every type of precision-guided munition in the RDAF’s arsenal, and mandated to conduct all types of offensive operations throughout the Libyan theater, even though the Danish Defense Intelligence Service’s threat assessment focused on no-fly zone enforcement operations over Benghazi (The Danish Parliament, 2011, p. III).
To achieve the political “first wave” aim, the Danish Defense Command hastily coordinated host nation support in Italy, dispatched a delegation to the U.S.-led Combined Air Operations Center in Ramstein, Germany without notice, and coordinated the coalition rules of engagement through the U.S. Embassy in Denmark (Jakobsen & Møller, 2012). A 2016 Danish Broadcasting Corporation television documentary reveals how the Chief of Defense resisted political pressure by insisting on national approval of the coalition Rules of Engagement prior to take-off from Denmark (Danmarks Radio, 2016). Getting the implementation structure, legal mandate, and operational concept right was not a political priority (Jakobsen, Ringsmose & Saxi, 2018, p. 265). After 43 missions in just 12 days, Danish F-16s proudly continued bombing, with few complications, when NATO assumed command of the air operations (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark & Danish Ministry of Defence, 2011, p. 27).
Since providing timely and requested capabilities took top priority, theater-specific objectives “to prevent further attacks on civilians and eliminate the threat to international peace and security in the region” were vaguely formulated in the Parliamentary Resolution (The Danish Parliament, 2011, p. IV). Prior to the deployment, the Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller explicitly stated that the military contribution was to protect civilians and “not in any way get involved on one side of a civil war” (The Prime Minister’s Office, 2011). As the deployment was capabilities-driven, however, Denmark continued the highest operational tempo among small states with 4,716 flying hours delivering 923 bombs (Anrig, 2015, p. 275ff); to be efficient and capable, then, Danish jets conducted air interdiction deep inside Libya to degrade regime military assets and provided close air support to the local forces opposing the Gaddafi regime (Jakobsen & Møller, 2012, p. 116). In this way, Danish efficiency helped the rebels to overthrow the Gaddafi regime, something that soon became the objective informing the entire campaign (Heier, 2015, p. 59).
This small state dilemma between the legal mandate for and the coalition use of the capabilities, however, never caused a political problem in Denmark. As the military engagements shifted from “protection of the civilian population” to “regime change,” only one political party, the Red-Green Alliance, withdrew its support; the party’s spokesperson argued that “the coalition had overstepped the UN mandate and sided with the rebels” (Jakobsen, 2016, p. 203). This perception was in line with the concerns of Germany and Turkey, two large NATO countries, on the nature of the operation prior to the organization’s takeover of all three tasks of UNSCR 1973. Both countries expressed concern over a violation – or, at least, an over-extension – of the UN mandate (O’Brien & Sinclair, 2011, p. 13). In Oslo, a similar political dispute over the legal mandate caused Norway to terminate its mission in August, two months before NATO ended OUP (Heier, 2015, p. 59).
In Denmark, broad parliamentary support was sustained as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs formulated a strategy for the Libya engagement five weeks after the first bombings. This “Libya strategy” outlined national theater-specific objectives and defined “no-fly zone plus” as the operational concept to align national objectives and applied capabilities (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark & Danish Ministry of Defence, 2011, p. 17).
Pre-emptive use of fighter jets to protect civilians by degrading regime military capabilities were now an officially approved part of the operational concept. Thus Danish theater-specific objectives were defined by the overall political aim of contributing efficiently within existing coalition frameworks. Consequently, as the theater-specific national objectives were the critical element of the contribution, the catastrophic political and military outcome in Libya following the intervention is hardly discussed or evaluated in Denmark. Politicians rarely debate the aftermath of the campaign; Danish pilots regard it as a mission operatively well done and academics define it as a strategic success for Denmark, since Denmark clearly made a difference in the bombing campaign and was internationally praised for its actions (Heier 2015, p. 59; Jakobsen, 2016, p. 204; Jakobsen, Ringsmose & Saxi, 2018, p. 267).
Conventional wisdom has it that Western European small states primarily use military power as a strategy to gain influence and prestige in Washington. To fully comprehend the political aims of different small states, this article developed and applied three novel conceptual models for the analysis of military deployments within the traditional ends, ways, and means understanding of strategy. These models focus on the links between the three theater-specific elements of objectives, frameworks, and capabilities. As small states lack international influence, implementation structures, and military capabilities, they cannot adjust every strategic element when contributing to international interventions. Therefore, small state deployments focus on one theater-specific element alone, creating a decisive strategic link to another element. Balancing this strategic link is the primary success criteria for the military deployments of small states – as the three case studies revealed.
The Danish counter-piracy operations at the Horn of Africa arose from the national strategic goal of defeating the Somali pirates. Consequently, the political aim equaled the theater-specific objective. Given Denmark’s lack of military capabilities, however, the decisive link was between the theater-specific objectives and the frameworks. By actively harmonizing existing multinational efforts and Danish national objectives, Denmark changed the operational concepts and mandates in theater. Danish counter-piracy operations thus serve as a unique example for small states pursuing national theater-specific objectives. During the 2007–2012 Helmand effort, Denmark focused on implementing the Comprehensive Approach in a national area of operations. This political aim of creating a national showcase within the overall NATO theater-specific objectives, however, created a decisive link between the guiding framework and both military and civilian capabilities. During the effort, Denmark continuously lacked capabilities and, consequently, left the central part of Helmand in February 2012 achieving neither the overall political aim nor the theater-specific objectives. The Danish contribution to the Libyan intervention, on the other hand, focused on the provision of operationally effective fighter jets for the first wave by expediting both the political and the military operational processes. Consequently, the decisive strategic link formed was between the Danish capabilities’ effectiveness in Libya and the theater-specific objectives. Denmark succeeded in Libya as the national objectives for the deployment were adjusted in accordance with the operational concepts and mandates of NATO and U.S. frameworks.
The article analyzed how Denmark pursued political aims other than prestige by using three different deployment procedures during the same overall security environment alongside like-minded Western European small states. Doing so, the article contributed to a broader understanding of the rise in the military contributions to international interventions made by small states.
The following three main findings can be deduced from the case studies.
First, small states looking beyond prestige tend to harmonize existing multinational efforts with national military objectives in theater; doing so, they expand existing frameworks or initiate international cooperation to accomplish national theater-specific military objectives. Second, small states leading missions link national military and civilian capabilities to national operational concepts in theater. Accordingly, small states commit to sectorial lead or task force command to promote their own political aims with national capabilities. Third, small states deploy immediately available national military capabilities in accordance with national political ends. The more available and operational flexible the capabilities are, the more aligned the small state’s theater-specific military objectives are to great power or coalition ends.
The article offered examples of the manner in which Denmark, as a small state, aligned links between theater-specific objectives, frameworks, and capabilities in accordance with the national political aim of the different deployments. The willingness of small states to contribute with requested military capabilities, assume leadership, or to make a real tactical difference is thus not prestige-seeking as defined by contemporary research. The degree of willingness or the scale of commitment is not an index of the drive for prestige. To fully comprehend the military contributions to international interventions made by small states, both overall prestige motives and national theater-specific political aims must be considered; when analyzing the use of military power in these cases, the ways in which the overall political aim of the military deployment is linked to the deployed force in theater makes a significant difference. More case studies of the links between objectives, frameworks, and capabilities and international interventions in military contributions made by small states are therefore needed. By analyzing such links within the suggested conceptual models, a broader understanding of the different political aims of, and the inherent risks within, military deployments made by small states can be achieved. Analyses of different small state-contributions to the same international intervention can provide additional knowledge of the balance between overall prestige motives and theater-specific objectives. Furthermore, the suggested conceptual models can elucidate the critical element and the decisive strategic link of a specific military contribution prior to deployment. Understanding this link, it is possible to mitigate against the risk of command losing control of units, suffering a strategic overstretch, failing to achieve the defined theater-specific objectives, or losing parliamentary and public support.
The author has no competing interests to declare.
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