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WHETHER Denmark can possibly manage to keep out of a future European war as she did the war of 1914-18 is a question that puzzles all Danes. There is no split of opinion as to whether she ought to maintain her neutrality if she can. Since the Napoleonic wars she has taken no active part in the struggle for power in Europe; and only once -- in 1864 when she was the victim of Prussian aggression -- has she been even a passive object of power politics. Like many other small Powers, she has no expansionist aspirations and nobody has ever suggested that she ought to enter into international combinations for imperialistic ends. Like most of the smaller European countries, Denmark is still a member of the League of Nations, and she joined the other small northern and western countries in what is called the Oslo trade agreement. But in a conference at Copenhagen in July 1938 these countries proclaimed themselves individually free to impose sanctions only if they choose to do so. Consequently nobody can suspect that they nourish aggressive aims of any kind.
The main problem of international politics for the Danes therefore is whether or not they would be able to keep aloof from any future general conflagration.
A particularly important phase of the problem, of course, is whether in the long run Denmark is likely to become the object of direct aggression. Since Munich, fewer people in Denmark comfort themselves by saying that England will never allow it. But there still is less apprehension on this score than might be supposed abroad. True, Denmark profited from the now generally abused Treaty of Versailles by getting back the northern part of the province of Slesvig which she lost in 1864. But the German minority in Northern Slesvig is small -- only 30,000, or 15 percent of its population -- and they do not form a majority in any city or municipality.[i] Moreover, this minority is one of the most liberally administered in Europe. Whether that counts for anything with German "liberators" seems doubtful after the Czecho-Slovak experience. More important, probably, is the fact that, unlike Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 or the Sudeten areas in 1938, Northern Slesvig is not strategically important and does not contain valuable raw materials calling for emancipation from the Danish yoke. In general, then, Copenhagen does not greatly fear that the next time Greater Germany feels inclined to become still greater she will make territorial demands on Denmark.
Denmark's fate in a war would depend on two factors, one economic, the other strategic. The war I speak of is any one in which England opposes Germany, regardless of what other belligerents might be involved. The importance of such a conflict for Denmark would be economic. The Danish economy is based on exports created by her scientific system of agriculture. The chief customers are precisely the two neighboring Powers just mentioned. Britain buys mainly butter and bacon to the value of 823 million kroner a year; Greater Germany buys mainly live cattle and cattle products to the value of 300 million kroner. These two countries accounted for 73 percent of Denmark's total export trade of 1,541 millions in 1937.
Under normal conditions, it is estimated that Danish agriculture is able to feed some 12 million people in addition to the 3.8 millions in Denmark. The yield would of course go down in case imports of forage and artificial manure (valued respectively at 110 and 47 million kroner in 1937) were cut off by blockade or other belligerent measures. Even so, the productive capacity of Danish agriculture might tempt a country that had to cut its own production in order to place a great army in the field.
Will this fact imperil Denmark's neutrality? During the Great War she managed -- sometimes with all the diplomatic skill and powers of rhetoric commanded by her statesmen -- to remain apart, selling to each side with the more or less tacit consent of the other. Will she be able to do so again in a still greater war, involving a degree of economic warfare not imagined in 1918?
A belligerent obviously might feel tempted to interfere actively with Denmark's neutrality in order to monopolize her agricultural output. Fortunately, the danger seems less likely now than before Munich. Developments in Eastern Europe since last September promise to make Germany less dependent than before on Danish provisions. As the agricultural countries of Eastern Europe come into the German orbit, Germany will feel more and more doubtful whether the direct seizure of Denmark's store of food would compensate for the dislocation in Danish production inevitably created by a foreign occupation of the country. If a war comes it will probably be a long one, especially now that much-needed supplies of raw materials seem to have come within Germany's reach. In a short war she might be tempted to seize Denmark's food reserves without caring about future production; but that would not be true in a long war.
More threatening is the possibility that sooner or later a belligerent might find itself without the means to pay for Danish supplies, either in cash or by barter. Obviously the best way to get things without paying for them is to come and help oneself.
So much for economic considerations. How about strategy?
The strategic position of Denmark has two basic features: one, the country is situated at the entrance of the Baltic Sea; and two, its terrain offers ideal sites for airports.
The first factor does not necessarily imperil Denmark's neutrality. With the signing of the Anglo-German naval pact Britain renounced the mastery of the Baltic; that sea is now in fact a German lake. Britain will hardly choose to challenge Germany there. Nor is it likely, even if Soviet Russia were Britain's ally, that much non-German-controlled shipping would be left there, because -- since the construction of the Baltic-White Sea Canal and of a naval and merchant ship base at Murmansk -- the bulk of Russia's traffic with Great Britain can avoid the Baltic. This might possibly counterbalance the circumstance that Germany might choose to guard the straits from the Danish shore since her present navy is smaller than the one she had in 1914. Or again, the absence of any rival navy might lead the Germans to establish their first line of naval defense in the Kattegat; and this in turn might lead them to erect bases on certain small Danish islands, regardless of whether that operation drew Denmark into the conflict.
In other words, naval conditions have not changed fundamentally since 1914-1918. But this is not the case with air warfare. No other weapon has developed so much in the intervening years, and although hardly anybody pretends that air forces will be decisive in the next war, the course of events in Abyssinia, Spain and China leaves no doubt that bombings of cities and industrial plants will play a great rôle. In this respect the situation of Denmark is entirely different from what it was during the Great War, for large parts of it are as flat as a pancake and airports for land planes as well as for hydroplanes could be easily constructed almost everywhere. Indeed, Denmark might be likened to an enormous aircraft carrier permanently anchored within striking range of both Britain and Germany.
Supposing that the British possessed an air force able to take the offensive, the control of Denmark would permit them to attack Berlin and other important centers in northern Germany with devastating effect. The German aircraft industry, for instance, is almost entirely concentrated in northern Germany. The distance from southern Denmark to the German coast is about one-third of the distance from middle England to the same point. The German air force would not have a comparable advantage if it occupied Jutland, because the distance thence to Britain's industrial centers would be no shorter than from the Heligoland Bight. None the less, German airports in Jutland might be important. If the Soviet Union were also engaged, then German planes operating from Jutland might interfere with shipping on the main wartime route between Russia and Britain via Murmansk and Scotland. Further, German air bases in Denmark would threaten Sweden in case Germany had trouble in getting Swedish iron ore supplies.
However, there are obstacles in the way of either of these two assaults on Danish neutrality. The establishment of British bases in Denmark would require a landing force on so large a scale that it would hardly be thinkable except as part of a much larger operation, such as the outflanking of the Siegfried Line by an immense attack on Germany from the north. The vital centers of Germany are far too exposed to aërial attack from the north for the Germans to allow an adversary to entrench himself in Denmark without the most vigorous opposition. And Denmark, a country without natural defenses such as mountains or rivers, would not be easy for the British to defend. After their lesson at Gallipoli they will not undertake another great landing operation half-heartedly. On the other hand, a German occupation would be easier. Whether Germany attempted it would depend on what resistance she might expect, what forces she could spare from other fronts, and, last but not least, on what importance she set on the use of Denmark as an aërodrome. This latter she would weigh against her interest in maintaining Danish neutrality so as to continue drawing on Danish agricultural supplies.
The question of Denmark's neutrality thus is very complex. Military and economic factors by no means point all in the same direction. The war office, the air ministry and the economics ministry of the same foreign Power might entertain quite opposite opinions on the subject, and might change them during the course of operations on the major battlefields. Obviously, much will depend on what other Powers are involved and on where the main battle front is located. For instance, will Italy stick to the Axis? Will Japan be kept in check by what remains of China and by the Soviet Union, or will she meanwhile have established herself as the ruler of the East? Only if Mussolini could be induced to desert Hitler so that Great Britain need not fear trouble in and along the Mediterranean, could London spare the necessary forces for a large-scale attack on Germany from the north. Again, on how many fronts must Germany fight at once -- will she have to stand up against Russia at the same time she faces Britain and France, or will her back be free?
How much can Denmark herself be a factor in the great decisions which would so greatly concern her? Can she do anything to keep belligerent Powers away from her shores? If so, what?
There is no difference of opinion whatsoever about one basic fact, namely that Denmark is quite incapable of creating a military force strong enough to defend the country single-handed against a Great Power. Nor is there any serious body of opinion which proposes that the country ought to protect itself by means of a defensive alliance. An alliance with a Great Power -- supposing one were available -- might perhaps be a protection against another Power; but it also would spell Denmark's certain entanglement in a war involving that Power.
A defensive alliance with other Scandinavian countries is often suggested, but usually more frequently outside than inside Scandinavia, and never from well-informed sources. The economic, military and psychological prerequisites are absolutely lacking. Though akin in race and language as well as in democratic traditions, the Scandinavian countries are far from being a unity geographically, strategically or economically. They are often competitors in foreign markets, and inter-Scandinavian trade is not of first importance to any of them. Denmark absolutely rejects the idea of sending soldiers to Finland to help protect her against the Red Army, exactly as Finland rejects as absurd the idea that her regiments protect Denmark against Germany.
But if Denmark cannot stand alone against an invading foe, and if alliances cannot be thought of, what can she do to maintain her integrity?
The Government recently appointed a committee, containing representatives of the chief parties, to study the matter. That Denmark's existing military forces amount to next to nothing is everybody's secret. A distinguished military expert, Brigadier-General Tuxen, characterized them not long ago in a leading conservative paper as follows: "Not the slightest attempt has been made to secure the land frontier against Germany with even simple barricades. The Danish forces are divided into two equally feeble parts, east and west of the Great Belt; and it would be impossible to unite them against Germany, since the German fleet is the unrivalled master of the Danish seas. The Danish forces maintained under arms are so weak that Germany could master the country before the first Danish reserves appeared at the mobilization stations. The capital and the other larger cities have no anti-aircraft defenses whatsoever; hence, the threat of an air attack alone, in which the aggressor would run no more risks than in target practice, could force the Danish Government to abandon any resistance, active or passive, against German demands."
The question is being asked whether this position could be remedied by reorganizing national defenses or whether the experiment would merely be a waste of good money to no real purpose. The answer given generally runs along party lines. The Conservatives and Liberals are at the two extremes, the former favoring rearmament, the latter utterly pacifist. The Social Democrat Party maintains a middle-of-the-road attitude.
The point of reference for all parties is the Defense Act of 1932, revised technically in 1937. This Act was a compromise between the Conservative attitude and the disarmament program of the Social Democrats. It was never put into practice, as the Government only recently got a majority in the upper house of Parliament, and then the whole idea was dropped in the light of European developments. The Conservative Party -- which, incidentally, speaks for elements that would be the first to profit by rearmament -- asserts that national honor demands one attempt to defend one's country whether or not there is a chance of success. The theory is that if Denmark died fighting heroically it would have a chance of resurrection at the peace conference.
The opposite opinion is held by the small but politically important Liberal Party, one of the last real European strongholds of pacifism. Recent developments have strengthened rather than impaired this party's anti-militarist views. It maintains that as Denmark is helpless anyhow there is no use in spending vast sums to produce a fine army. Denmark has small capital resources, only 11,000 persons having an income of more than 15,000 kroner a year. Hence, practically the whole burden of rearmament would fall on the less well-to-do, among whom are found most of the Party's supporters.
The thesis of the Social Democrats, who command the great majority of the votes, is in principle much like that of the Liberals. But though they do not renounce their outspokenly anti-militarist past, they realize that, all sentimental considerations aside, the Conservative argument has some realistic foundations. They are aware that even if no effective resistance could be offered against a first-class Power, an efficient Danish army would have a deterrent effect by promising to make the invasion costly. As this article has shown, the question whether or not to enter the Danish larder and seize the supplies stored there would be weighed carefully by Germany in the event of a general war. The existence of a Danish force able to offer resistance for a certain period of time might easily be a decisive factor in Germany's calculations. Further, a well-organized and well-disciplined force might be useful in case the defeated and hungry forces of some neighboring country attempted to penetrate onto Danish soil. Last but not least, an efficient army might make it possible for the Danish Government to choose its enemy should circumstances make neutrality impossible, whereas an unfortified frontier leaves the country the prey of the firstcomer.
Yet all these considerations do not quite overcome the Social Democratic Party's reluctance to lower the country's remarkably high standard of living in such measure as the organization of a really efficient army would entail. Nobody knows beforehand when war will come -- if it comes at all. Nobody can tell whether the military instrument which might be built would ever be used, or by whom. Those who are interested in maintaining Denmark's democratic system of government would be reluctant to sap the strength of the country's democratic traditions by lowering the economic status of the workers and by militarizing all classes.
[i] Only in the two tiny country parishes of Ubjœrg and Højer Landsogn, with 463 and 398 inhabitants respectively, according to the 1935 census, are there German majorities.