By Alessia Nobile
Defense and Security Analyst at NCT Consultants Alessia Nobile discusses Denmark’s CBRNe preparedness, international cooperation, and the country’s COVID-19 mink crisis.
As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and yet ever more uncertain, many countries are striving to enhance their capabilities to counter the threats posed by chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive (CBRNe) incidents. The Scandinavian nation of Denmark is one stand-out example of a country committed to safeguarding its citizens against these multifaceted dangers.
Denmark’s geographical position is both a strategic asset and a source of vulnerability concerning CBRNe threats. Its proximity to maritime routes, key European partners, and exposure to unique environmental factors necessitates a comprehensive and adaptive approach to CBRNe preparedness.
This article will discuss Denmark’s proactive approach to CBRNe preparedness, tracing its historical foundations, current security measures, stakeholder engagements, procurement strategies, participation in programs and joint exercises, CBRNe incidents, and its overall contribution to global security efforts.
Historical and Security Overview of Denmark
Denmark’s contemporary security landscape has been borne from its long history of adhering to international commitments and taking part in collaborative initiatives. To this end, today Denmark is a member or signatory of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), and the European Defense Agency (EDA).
Denmark’s partnership with NATO began on April 4, 1949, when the nation became a founding member of the alliance. Denmark’s decision to join NATO was driven by the imperative of collective security amid Cold War tensions. Although Denmark’s military spending as a percentage of their GDP has consistently been under the 2% NATO target in recent years – averaging around 1.3% since 2010 – their participation in NATO has remained steadfast, demonstrating a commitment to the mutual defense and shared responsibilities enshrined in the NATO charter. Denmark’s contributions to alliance-led operations and exercises exemplify its dedication to safeguarding not only its national interests but also the stability and security of the broader international community.
In an analogous spirit of global responsibility, Denmark signed the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) on April 10, 1972, and ratified it on March 8, 1973. This early adoption of the BWC underscores Denmark’s recognition of the catastrophic potential of biological weapons and its commitment to prevent their development, production, and acquisition.
Denmark also became a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on January 13, 1993, and its accession to it signifies its recognition of the grave consequences of chemical warfare, resolute commitment to the elimination of chemical weapons, the prevention of their use, and the promotion of peaceful and safe chemical practices.
For example, Denmark’s decision in 2022 to end their defense opt-out from the EU with a majority of 66.9% in a referendum marked a turning point in its defense trajectory. The choice to join the European Defense Agency (EDA) and embrace the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative were milestones that eradicated any remnants of the opt-out policy reversed in the 2022 referendum, propelling Denmark into a fully-fledged participant within European defense cooperation and bolstering international military bonds across the EU and NATO.
CBRNe Foundations: Overview of CBRNe and IED Stakeholders
The evolving nature of security challenges led to the establishment of specialized units and agencies in Denmark dedicated to addressing CBRNe risks effectively.
These stakeholders include:
1. Danish Police: The Danish Police play a vital role in domestic security, responding to potential CBRNe incidents and coordinating with other agencies for a comprehensive response.
2. Danish Security and Intelligence Service (PET): PET focuses on intelligence-gathering to prevent threats related to terrorism and CBRNe attacks. It works closely with other agencies to mitigate risks.
3. Danish Environmental Protection Agency: This agency is responsible for monitoring and managing environmental risks posed by CBRNe incidents, ensuring a swift and effective response to minimize the impact on public health and the environment.
4. Centre for Biosecurity and Bio-Preparedness: This institution plays a crucial role in preparing Denmark to respond to biological threats, offering expertise in the areas of research, preparedness, and response strategies.
5. Danish Health Authority (Radiation Protection): With a focus on radiological threats, this authority oversees measures to protect public health in case of a radiological incident.
6. Danish Defense (Defense Command Denmark): The Danish military plays a vital role in CBRNe defense, providing expertise, resources, and support in case of emergencies.
Finally, the Danish Emergency Management Agency (DEMA) stands at the forefront of CBRNe response. It operates as the central authority for crisis management, coordinating efforts during emergencies. DEMA also conducts risk assessments, training programs, and the develops response plans.
Procurement, Programs, and Joint Military Operations and Exercises
Denmark takes a proactive approach in preparing its military forces to respond effectively to CBRNe threats. As part of this commitment, Denmark has organized and participated in several significant military exercises focusing on CBRNe defense. These exercises not only enhance national defense capabilities but also foster international cooperation in tackling CBRNe challenges.
Skive Kaserne has long been at the forefront of CBRN defense training. For 44 years this Danish military facility has played host to some of the largest exercises in CBRNe defense. BRAVE BEDUIN 2023 (BRBE23) was just one of Skive Kasern’s marquee exercises, attracting 400 participants from 20 nations.
BRBE23 was sponsored and organized by the Danish Defence, serving as a crucial platform for training CBRNe collection centers in CBRNe countermeasures and reporting. The primary objective was to enhance the readiness of personnel within an international joint operational environment while increasing their level of interoperability. BRBE23’s training curriculum encompassed a wide range of skills, including CBRNe calculation, warning, and reporting in accordance with ATP-45 and utilizing National and NATO SOPs/Directives. During the exercise participants in the CBRN Warning and Reporting (W&R) Collection Cell gained the expertise required to brief and advise commanders on tactical and operational aspects of CBRNe incidents.
Denmark also collaborates at the regional level with its Nordic allies Finland, Sweden, and Norway in the Reccex23 exercise. Having taken place in the southwestern and southern regions of Finland from August 27 to September 8, 2023, Reccex23 was led by the Pori Brigade and focused on addressing complex CBRNe threats. Reccex23 was designed to enhance readiness for reacting to CBRNe threats jointly with allied troops, international partners, and Finnish inter-authority agencies. The exercise involved approximately 220 personnel, predominantly comprising service personnel and reservists of the Finnish Defence Forces. Denmark’s participation in Reccex23 with Nordic allies underscores its continuing commitment to regional CBRNe defense.
The COVID-19 Mink Crisis in Denmark: An Unprecedented CBRNe Incident
Despite its comprehensive CBRNe preparedness, in 2020 Denmark found itself embroiled in a unique and controversial incident that attracted international attention.
In November 2020, a mutated COVID-19 variant was detected in mink farms in the north of Denmark, ringing serious alarms bells about whether mink could become a reservoir for the virus and potentially create new strains. In an attempt to curb the transmission of COVID-19, the Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen ordered a cull of the country’s entire farmed mink population, numbering up to 17 million animals.
However, what followed was a tumultuous series of events that exposed a significant shortcoming in the government’s order: it soon became clear that there was no established legal framework to order and carry out the mass culling.
This revelation triggered widespread public and political outrage, and Danish farmers affected by the decision appeared on television expressing their anguish over the loss of their livelihoods. Mass graves in the Danish countryside filled with the slaughtered mink served as a grim reminder of the consequences of the decision. The culling order and ensuing outrage led to the resignation of Agriculture Minister Mogens Jensen, and prompted the launch of a formal inquiry to determine whether the government was aware of the legal framework’s absence when the culling order was issued.
The COVID-19 mink incident not only exposed the Danish government to criticism but also garnered attention globally. It raised questions about the ethical treatment of animals, the balance between public health and economic concerns, and the importance of having a well-defined legal framework for handling such situations. The mink crisis serves as a stark reminder that CBRNe incidents are not limited to traditional threats but can manifest in unexpected ways.
The lessons learned from this episode underline the necessity for governments and authorities to be adequately prepared and equipped to address unconventional CBRNe incidents, adapt to rapidly evolving situations, ensure that the relevant legal bases to respond to emergency situations are in place, and consider the wider ramifications of their decisions. To this end, the COVID-19 mink crisis in Denmark will be remembered as a poignant chapter in the country’s history, sparking debates on public health, animal welfare, and the responsibilities of government in the face of unforeseen CBRNe challenges.
Denmark’s unwavering commitment to countering CBRNe threats reflects its proactive and responsible approach to global security, with its strategic geographical position emphasizing the need for comprehensive and cooperative CBRNe preparedness. Historically, Denmark’s membership and ascension to alliances and treaties like NATO, the CWC, BWC, and the EDA underscore its commitment to collective security and the prevention of CBRNe threats. Denmark’s robust CBRNe defense system involves various stakeholders collaborating seamlessly to ensure effective response and risk mitigation.
The nation’s military actively participates in significant CBRN defense exercises, enhancing national defense capabilities and fostering international cooperation. However, the COVID-19 mink crisis of 2020 served as a stark reminder that CBRNe incidents can manifest unexpectedly and in unconventional ways, necessitating well-defined legal frameworks and comprehensive preparedness. Denmark’s adaptability and lessons learned demonstrate its commitment to improving CBRNe preparedness.
Denmark sets a commendable example for nations worldwide, emphasizing the importance of preparedness, cooperation, and considering broader implications when addressing CBRNe threats in an interconnected and ever-changing world.
Alessia Nobile is a Defense and Security Analyst at NCT Consultants.