Danish Defense Minister argues for greater civil-military integration in Afghanistan

| Dec. 10, 2010

In a public address for the Future of Diplomacy Project entitled “From small state to smart state,” Gitte Lillelund Bech, Denmark’s Minister of Defense argued that new threats required new responses and that tough choices had to be met with smart decisions.

While threats in the Cold War era were distinct, the entry of non-state actors on the international stage, the threat of proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons and growing instability in certain areas of the globe had created a “multi-dimensionality of problems.”

At the same time, more actors were crowding conflict areas: 48 countries are currently engaged in Afghanistan, she noted, while 60 additional countries give aid, in part through development commitments. Ongoing engagement in the country was crucial, but noted that the most active form of international involvement comes at a cost: The price of life.

“We lost time in Afghanistan,” she said. “Now we need to win the peace. We should have realized in 2003 that we need more than the military, we need the civilian leg as well. Those are the two legs to stand on.” Capacity –building among the local security force was a pre-condition of a future hand-over to Afghan authorities, she said.

“We could not have foreseen what happened in Afghanistan. But when I am there now, I need three pairs of shoes: First, sandals, to show that our commitment to civilian rebuilding and development is earnest. Second, I need stilettos to show the national and provincial governments that we mean business and need respect. Third, we need the combat boots to demonstrate that we are serious about our ongoing military commitment.”

The military arm and civilian rebuilding efforts had been too separate for too long. “These have to work closely together,” she said, taking out two Lego bricks to illustrate her point. “They must fit seamlessly together, like this children’s toy.” A simple concept but still a difficult vision to realize in certain cases, she noted.

“Close coordination needs joint execution. Cooperation isn’t easy and reliance, trust is hard-won. But we cannot afford to duplicate efforts within NATO.”

With an eye to NATO’s new strategic concept she said “a small civilian hum within NATO is necessary.” Integration of these efforts would have a positive impact on the public diplomacy of the North-Atlantic Alliance and its members, as it would cut down on the bureaucracy and reduce tax spending in a time of fiscal austerity. The current command structure was too expensive and heavy-handed.

What role should small states play in NATO and in international relations? According to Bech, they have “legitimacy” to pull their weight: “We want to leave a distinctly Danish fingerprint on situations that we are involved in,” she said, pointing to the fact that Denmark has the largest number of soldiers in Afghanistan, relative to its own population size. “Reliable and responsible countries should live up to their promises,” she said. “How can you not be in the South, where the action is?”

Over time the quality of a country would be evidenced by the quality of its military commitment to areas of international instability, she noted.

In conversation with Nicholas Burns, Director of the Future of Diplomacy Project and Karl Kaiser, Director of the Program on Transatlantic Relations of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, she also commented on public diplomacy on NATO and the future of Denmark’s engagement in the Arctic region.

Bech agreed with Kaiser that the new NATO strategic concept had to be supported by public consensus in order for it to reach its full potential. “The public needs to be addressed; otherwise it is no more than an elite project.”

She also noted that classic problems of territorial international relations were returning: The conflict over resources and maritime access routes in the Arctic and the South China Sea could be extremely contentious in the near future. She called for better, closer transnational cooperation to address these issues.

For more information on this publication: Please contact Future of Diplomacy Project
For Academic Citation: Cluver, Cathryn. “Danish Defense Minister argues for greater civil-military integration in Afghanistan.” News, , December 10, 2010.