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A Policy of the Utmost Flexibility
Danish Nuclear Weapons Policy 1956-1960

(101:1, 109-110)

The Danish practice concerning access to governmental records has not equaled that of comparable countries. Nevertheless, this practice is beginning to change. Thus, it has been possible to base this article mainly on recently declassified documents from the Danish Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Defence.

From the beginning nuclear weapons played a pivotal role in NATO's defence of Western Europe. In December 1956 the North Atlantic Council approved a political directive to NATO's military authorities. It stated that all NATO forces should have the capability to respond quickly and with nuclear weapons to any type of aggression if so required by the situation. At the same meeting the United States stated that various modern weapons with nuclear capability would be offered to all NATO countries. Thus, the Danish government was forced to formulate a policy on nuclear weapons.

As early as Autumn 1956 the Danish Minister for Defence, Poul Hansen, had received an initial NATO proposal for deployment of HONEST JOHN missiles within the Danish Army. On 13th February 1957 the United States formally offered the Danish government a delivery of one battalion NIKE missiles and one battalion HONEST JOHN missiles. On a meeting 6th March with MAAG, Poul Hansen was forced to accept the NIKE delivery in principle. The most important obstacle to a formal acceptance was the forthcoming national election in May 1957. Besides these political considerations the government was concerned with the economical consequences.

Subsequently, the Danish governmental decision-makers on national security were double-dealing the rest of the government as well as the Parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee. Both parties were told that the American offer had not yet been formally accepted, even though Poul Hansen had actually accepted both NIKE and HONEST JOHN. It is noteworthy that apparently at this point the government's (i.e. the Social Democratic Party's) policy on nuclear weapons had not yet been finally laid down. After the election the Social Democratic Party formed a new government with the Justice Party (Retsforbundet) and the (antimilitarist) Social Liberal Party (Det radikale Venstre). During the initial negotiations H.C. Hansen (Prime Minister and Foreign Minister) stated that when not in war or in time of crisis Denmark would be safer if atomic warheads were not stockpiled. Therefore, the parties of government agreed that Denmark would not accept an offer of nuclear ammunition stockpiling under the present circumstances. Thus, the seeds were sown for one of the most momentous reservations in Danish alliance policy.

During the Spring and Summer of 1957 the Danes sent rather ambiguous signals to their NATO allies on the nuclear weapon question. On several occasions the decision-makers expressed an amazingly positive attitude towards nuclear weapons as such. However, the question of nuclear weapons on Danish soil remained unsolved. When H.C. Hansen was forced to take a stand in December 1957, he declared that the government would not stockpile atomic warheads and deploy IRBMs on Danish soil »under the present circumstances«.

Subsequently, especially the Foreign Ministry tried to keep the Danish policy

[p. 110]

on nuclear weapons as flexible as possible. It was expected that, in time, the government would have to adopt another position. At the same time the government aimed at bringing the Danish defence into accord with NATO's (nuclear) defence strategies. Thus, Denmark not only received missiles with nuclear capability, but also storage for atomic stockpiling was built, and the establishment of storage for the German forces was accepted.

During Winter 1958 and Spring 1959 the Social Democratic Party was put under rather strong pressure by both NATO, the United States, the non-socialist opposition and the Danish Defence Authorities. In connection with the passing of a new National Defence Act, the Social Democrats actually contemplated changing their policy on atomic weapons. It was, however, ultimately maintained.

The Danish nuclear policy was a delicate balance between considerations for the Soviet Union and NATO. However, the actual making and development of the political line seem to be even more influenced by domestic considerations than by the unquestionable fear of Soviet retaliatory measures. Particularly considerations for the Social Liberal Party were important, but presumably attention was also to some extent paid to the public opinion latently critical of nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, it can hardly be doubted that the governmental stand on nuclear weapons could - and would - have been changed provided that the decision- makers, especially H.C. Hansen, judged that a distinct political advantage could be gained.

Still, the Danish reservation regarding stockpiling of nuclear weapons was effective only in peacetime. In times of war or crises Danish forces would have been equipped with atomic warheads for missiles, air crafts and field artillery - provided that the conveyance could be made in time. In any case both German and American forces armed with nuclear weapons would operate on Danish territory.