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Interview: Danish Defence Minister, Soren Gade

Denmark's Minister of Defence, Soren Gade, outlines Denmark's take on the emerging issues in the High North.

Here, he touches on how to bring civilian and military responses together, the role of Greenland, and the issue of oil.

Video length: 11:15 mins

 Subtitles: On / Off

Søren Gade is Denmark's Minister of Defence.

NATO Review caught up with him at a conference on the High North in Reykjavik

in January to ask him about Denmark's perspective on developments in the region.

How do you draw the line between civilian and military issues in the High North?

It is very, very difficult, actually, because we, me, a Minister of Defence,

I have a lot of responsibilities in Greenland,

but a lot of those responsibilities are actually civilian.

Now in Denmark we have made it quite easy because those tasks belong to me,

so it's civilian tasks done by the Armed Forces.

So I do not have a coordination problem with myself,

but a lot of countries do have problems or challenges about coordination among the civilian and military part.

And you talk about coordination there, how difficult is it to coordinate the various challenges

that the Arctic throws up? For example, coordinating the energy with the environment?

That's a very good question. I mean, the High North is on the agenda today,

but you know, in a few years time it will be even more on the agenda.

I see this seminar as a kind of new start discussing High North.

We have a lot of challenges, not only today,

but even more in the years to come when the ice cap is shrinking

and you can develop oil fields and stuff like that in the High North.

Now there is no question that it's going to be dangerous.

And there's no question there's going to be a lot of environmental issues,

and if you have shifts in the area, if you are starting

to explore oil in this area you will have an effect on the environmental system.

I mean, even though you do everything you can to protect it, it is not... there will be issues.

And we have to deal with those issues. We have to make sure

what's going to happen if there's a... a ship

sinking and there's an oil leak and stuff like that.

And there's no... really there's not an easy answer to this,

because you have thousands of miles of coastlines and even though you do the same

as you do in the waters back home, so to speak, it's still very difficult to take...

to remove the oil. I mean, you have the environmental is very tough so there's a lot of issues to be dealt with.

And we have to make sure that we coordinate our scarce resources among those states

who actually are stakeholders in the area. And even though we do this, even though

we do it to a 100 percent, we cannot solve all the problems.

I have to make a kind of warning today saying that even though we do the best

there might be an issue, a ship is sinking and we cannot deal with all the passengers

or we cannot reach this ship in due time, about the environmental affairs,

even though we have done all the exercises,

we have coordinated everything, but the oil leak is too big, we cannot deal with it.

So there's a lot of issues, but it shouldn't stop us from coordinating and that is the reason

why a seminar like this is so important because we hear

a lot from different speeches a lot of different points of view.

The military sides, the Minister of Foreign Affairs from Norway

did a very good speech on the issues.

So... and there's an audience, a big audience.

Even a lot of my... a lot of colleagues and experts from the south in Europe,

they are also here ... they're present. So it is a problem and challenge for all of us.

How would you qualify the level of cooperation at the moment within the allies?

Oh, I don't think the coordination is going far enough today. I think we can do better.

And I also think we can do better on the military side.

I don't feel as there's an opposition against more cooperation.

I just think we need to figure that one out, we need to put it on the table like we do today.

Now in Denmark we have good cooperation with Iceland.

We have a Memorandum of Understanding.

We are helping each other on the Search and Rescue issue.

We're helping each other training our... the Icelandic Coast Guard

and the Danish navy have a very good cooperation.

We try to do it in the framework of the Nordic countries.

But I mean, we can still do better.

I mean, we are still discussing among the northern countries

how to help each other if there's an oil leak, in the Scandinavian area.

But having said that, I mean, we have to do even more in the Arctic area

and we have to do more with our friends and allies and in the area.

And of course, also Russia. Russia is a very important player in this area.

Having spoken to some scientists here in the region,

one of the things that's clear is that we don't know enough.

Is the lack of knowledge about what's happening in the High North

one of the biggest challenges for the region?

It is. I mean, you have a lot of issues. You have the issues, the legal frame issue.

I mean, who owns this area? We have the Ilulissat declaration where we,

you know, it's a very important declaration, I think.

We agree that it all should be settled by international law, so to speak.

That's a good start because then you do not have an arms race in the area,

or you do not need to put troops in this area to show that it's kind of your area.

So that's very important.

But due to the fact that there might be a lot of oil in this area,

it is... I mean, very high on the agenda in all nations,

because actually you can be pretty rich if there is a lot of oil

and it belongs to you and you want to explore it.

Maybe not today when the oil barrel is $40, but at $140 it could make a difference.

So you're absolutely right, we do not know enough.

We use a lot of money on research in this area.

I mean, we do this in Denmark, but all countries, all those countries in the area,

I mean Russia, Canada, U.S. Norway, Denmark, other countries,

they use a lot of money to get knowledge about this very vulnerable area.

But you're absolutely right, we do not know enough yet.

Is there a danger that some of the problems may purely be about

misperception of the issues in the High North,

in that four of the Arctic countries are NATO allies and the other one is Russia?

We have to fight that image, because it's not NATO against Russia.

But it is difficult because when there was a lot of ice and it would still be there... you know,

we thought it might be there for the next thousand years,

well, there wasn't a big issue.

But today there's an issue. But it's not NATO against the rest of the world,

and that's also why it's so important that it's not about NATO redefining its role.

I mean, those four countries inside NATO, I mean, that's a military Alliance,

but we are also talking about four nations

and we need cooperation with Russia and other stakeholders in the area.

We have to make sure that we do the proper coordination.

I mean, the taxpayers expect it, whether you are in Russia or you are in Denmark,

because at the end of the day it affects all of us if there's a catastrophe,

and it might be a Russian vessel or a Danish vessel

and people would be pretty upset if we didn't coordinate in the proper manner.

So, we need to talk that issue down, so to speak,

and that is a very important part of it, even though it's difficult.

I mean, the Minister of Foreign Affairs from Norway, he said it very... I think he put

the finger right in the centre of the question,

saying that we have this issue discussing it with Russia right now,

but even though it's slow it's going in the right direction.

It's been mentioned here today that there can be healthy competition and unhealthy competition.

What do we do to ensure that the competition remains healthy?

Everybody can see that well, it's best for all...

all countries and all parties if there's a kind of an agreement on this vulnerable area.

The reason why we did the Ilulissat declaration was of course

there was a minor dispute with Canada.

They went to a small island, Hansen Island, and they put up a Canadian flag,

and of course, it's kind of stupid if I came the week after and put the Danish flag up there,

so we said, you know, we might save those money and we went for this declaration saying that

it should be settled by international law,

and I think that's a very good start, because then we do not have an arms race in this area.

Can you tell me about Denmark's specific situation?

Clearly there's just been a referendum in Greenland about this autonomy.

How much will that impact on Denmark's Arctic policy?

You know, if Greenland want to go independent tomorrow they can do it.

That's only one... I mean, they have to get... they do not receive any money from Denmark anymore.

Today it's the fact that we have the politics on foreign policy it's from Copenhagen,

but a lot of other issues now belongs to the people in Greenland.

Of course, in Greenland they have high expectations on the oil reserves and stuff like that,

but we are not... we still have a responsibility.

We are still using a lot of money in research.

We are still... we have military bases in Greenland.

We have the inspection on the fishing boats from other countries and we have a lot of different,

and a lot of tasks to do in Greenland, and it hasn't been changed,

and it will not change in the years to come.

Are you confident there's sufficient equipment and training to deal with the issues of the High North?

We have our vessels up there and we have a station based in the southwestern part of Greenland.

We have the Thule base and it might be one of those places we can use,

you know, a few months every year if and when the ice cap actually is shrinking.

So I think we are prepared, but we have a white book on defence coming out in a few months time

and we'll deal with this particular problem to make sure that we have seen all the challenges

we are facing in the years and decades to come.

Minister, thank you very much.

Thank you very much.

Søren Gade is Denmark's Minister of Defence.

NATO Review caught up with him at a conference on the High North in Reykjavik

in January to ask him about Denmark's perspective on developments in the region.

How do you draw the line between civilian and military issues in the High North?

It is very, very difficult, actually, because we, me, a Minister of Defence,

I have a lot of responsibilities in Greenland,

but a lot of those responsibilities are actually civilian.

Now in Denmark we have made it quite easy because those tasks belong to me,

so it's civilian tasks done by the Armed Forces.

So I do not have a coordination problem with myself,

but a lot of countries do have problems or challenges about coordination among the civilian and military part.

And you talk about coordination there, how difficult is it to coordinate the various challenges

that the Arctic throws up? For example, coordinating the energy with the environment?

That's a very good question. I mean, the High North is on the agenda today,

but you know, in a few years time it will be even more on the agenda.

I see this seminar as a kind of new start discussing High North.

We have a lot of challenges, not only today,

but even more in the years to come when the ice cap is shrinking

and you can develop oil fields and stuff like that in the High North.

Now there is no question that it's going to be dangerous.

And there's no question there's going to be a lot of environmental issues,

and if you have shifts in the area, if you are starting

to explore oil in this area you will have an effect on the environmental system.

I mean, even though you do everything you can to protect it, it is not... there will be issues.

And we have to deal with those issues. We have to make sure

what's going to happen if there's a... a ship

sinking and there's an oil leak and stuff like that.

And there's no... really there's not an easy answer to this,

because you have thousands of miles of coastlines and even though you do the same

as you do in the waters back home, so to speak, it's still very difficult to take...

to remove the oil. I mean, you have the environmental is very tough so there's a lot of issues to be dealt with.

And we have to make sure that we coordinate our scarce resources among those states

who actually are stakeholders in the area. And even though we do this, even though

we do it to a 100 percent, we cannot solve all the problems.

I have to make a kind of warning today saying that even though we do the best

there might be an issue, a ship is sinking and we cannot deal with all the passengers

or we cannot reach this ship in due time, about the environmental affairs,

even though we have done all the exercises,

we have coordinated everything, but the oil leak is too big, we cannot deal with it.

So there's a lot of issues, but it shouldn't stop us from coordinating and that is the reason

why a seminar like this is so important because we hear

a lot from different speeches a lot of different points of view.

The military sides, the Minister of Foreign Affairs from Norway

did a very good speech on the issues.

So... and there's an audience, a big audience.

Even a lot of my... a lot of colleagues and experts from the south in Europe,

they are also here ... they're present. So it is a problem and challenge for all of us.

How would you qualify the level of cooperation at the moment within the allies?

Oh, I don't think the coordination is going far enough today. I think we can do better.

And I also think we can do better on the military side.

I don't feel as there's an opposition against more cooperation.

I just think we need to figure that one out, we need to put it on the table like we do today.

Now in Denmark we have good cooperation with Iceland.

We have a Memorandum of Understanding.

We are helping each other on the Search and Rescue issue.

We're helping each other training our... the Icelandic Coast Guard

and the Danish navy have a very good cooperation.

We try to do it in the framework of the Nordic countries.

But I mean, we can still do better.

I mean, we are still discussing among the northern countries

how to help each other if there's an oil leak, in the Scandinavian area.

But having said that, I mean, we have to do even more in the Arctic area

and we have to do more with our friends and allies and in the area.

And of course, also Russia. Russia is a very important player in this area.

Having spoken to some scientists here in the region,

one of the things that's clear is that we don't know enough.

Is the lack of knowledge about what's happening in the High North

one of the biggest challenges for the region?

It is. I mean, you have a lot of issues. You have the issues, the legal frame issue.

I mean, who owns this area? We have the Ilulissat declaration where we,

you know, it's a very important declaration, I think.

We agree that it all should be settled by international law, so to speak.

That's a good start because then you do not have an arms race in the area,

or you do not need to put troops in this area to show that it's kind of your area.

So that's very important.

But due to the fact that there might be a lot of oil in this area,

it is... I mean, very high on the agenda in all nations,

because actually you can be pretty rich if there is a lot of oil

and it belongs to you and you want to explore it.

Maybe not today when the oil barrel is $40, but at $140 it could make a difference.

So you're absolutely right, we do not know enough.

We use a lot of money on research in this area.

I mean, we do this in Denmark, but all countries, all those countries in the area,

I mean Russia, Canada, U.S. Norway, Denmark, other countries,

they use a lot of money to get knowledge about this very vulnerable area.

But you're absolutely right, we do not know enough yet.

Is there a danger that some of the problems may purely be about

misperception of the issues in the High North,

in that four of the Arctic countries are NATO allies and the other one is Russia?

We have to fight that image, because it's not NATO against Russia.

But it is difficult because when there was a lot of ice and it would still be there... you know,

we thought it might be there for the next thousand years,

well, there wasn't a big issue.

But today there's an issue. But it's not NATO against the rest of the world,

and that's also why it's so important that it's not about NATO redefining its role.

I mean, those four countries inside NATO, I mean, that's a military Alliance,

but we are also talking about four nations

and we need cooperation with Russia and other stakeholders in the area.

We have to make sure that we do the proper coordination.

I mean, the taxpayers expect it, whether you are in Russia or you are in Denmark,

because at the end of the day it affects all of us if there's a catastrophe,

and it might be a Russian vessel or a Danish vessel

and people would be pretty upset if we didn't coordinate in the proper manner.

So, we need to talk that issue down, so to speak,

and that is a very important part of it, even though it's difficult.

I mean, the Minister of Foreign Affairs from Norway, he said it very... I think he put

the finger right in the centre of the question,

saying that we have this issue discussing it with Russia right now,

but even though it's slow it's going in the right direction.

It's been mentioned here today that there can be healthy competition and unhealthy competition.

What do we do to ensure that the competition remains healthy?

Everybody can see that well, it's best for all...

all countries and all parties if there's a kind of an agreement on this vulnerable area.

The reason why we did the Ilulissat declaration was of course

there was a minor dispute with Canada.

They went to a small island, Hansen Island, and they put up a Canadian flag,

and of course, it's kind of stupid if I came the week after and put the Danish flag up there,

so we said, you know, we might save those money and we went for this declaration saying that

it should be settled by international law,

and I think that's a very good start, because then we do not have an arms race in this area.

Can you tell me about Denmark's specific situation?

Clearly there's just been a referendum in Greenland about this autonomy.

How much will that impact on Denmark's Arctic policy?

You know, if Greenland want to go independent tomorrow they can do it.

That's only one... I mean, they have to get... they do not receive any money from Denmark anymore.

Today it's the fact that we have the politics on foreign policy it's from Copenhagen,

but a lot of other issues now belongs to the people in Greenland.

Of course, in Greenland they have high expectations on the oil reserves and stuff like that,

but we are not... we still have a responsibility.

We are still using a lot of money in research.

We are still... we have military bases in Greenland.

We have the inspection on the fishing boats from other countries and we have a lot of different,

and a lot of tasks to do in Greenland, and it hasn't been changed,

and it will not change in the years to come.

Are you confident there's sufficient equipment and training to deal with the issues of the High North?

We have our vessels up there and we have a station based in the southwestern part of Greenland.

We have the Thule base and it might be one of those places we can use,

you know, a few months every year if and when the ice cap actually is shrinking.

So I think we are prepared, but we have a white book on defence coming out in a few months time

and we'll deal with this particular problem to make sure that we have seen all the challenges

we are facing in the years and decades to come.

Minister, thank you very much.

Thank you very much.

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