As Denmark looks to recruit more Greenlanders to its armed forces, Greenland eyes an opportunity to simultaneously prevent conflict and prepare its young people for the future
In the Kingdom of Denmark, the only truly mandatory aspect of conscription is attendance at a forsvarets dag session. To be sure, the constitution requires that all men born in metropolitan Denmark make a “corporeal contribution” to the defence of the fatherland, but these days, that, for the vast majority of the 30,000 young men who turn 18 each year, requires solely undergoing a mental and physical assessment and attending an introduction to a career in the armed forces. The military takes in fewer than 5,000 recruits each year and all but a handful volunteer.
If you are a woman, or a resident of the Faroe Islands and Greenland, you are not obliged to attend a forsvarets dag (Danish for “military day”) session. Recruiters and indeed a good number of lawmakers in both countries would like to see more of all three types join up, but requiring them to do so would take a constitutional amendment.
Instead, in the name if gender equality and national unity, three three groups have been granted the legal right to choose take part in forsvarets dag sessions. For most women, doing so simply requires showing up at the closest recruitment centre on the same day as the men have been told to do so.
To make it easier for young men and women from Greenland and the Faroe Islands to learn more about serving and to have their fitness for service assessed, the military has occasionally taken its show on the road, with some success. In Greenland, until the sessions were first postponed by the pandemic, then ended entirely in 2021 at the request of that country’s government, the annual ritual had led to some progress towards its recruitment goals there, even if the 22 recruits who signed up in 2019, the last time sessions were held in Greenland, was about half of the number of Danish recruits per capita.
Now it appears the military will pick up where it was forced to leave off. According to KNR, a broadcaster, as many as six forsvarets dag sessions are planned for later this year. In addition to selling the regular military, they will also be looking for the first 20 or so members of an Arctic-oriented civil-defence corps that, ironically, will closely resemble the volunteer home guard envisioned by Greenland’s nationalists, whose aversion to seeing the country’s youth in a Danish uniform was the motivation for cancelling the sessions.
The current government does not have the same qualms, and last year told the defence ministry that it was free to resume recruiting in Greenland. Last month, though, Vivian Motzfeldt, the foreign minister, seemed to suggest the government had done an about-turn on the matter in the meantime, saying forsvarets dag sessions would not resume. She has since clarified herself: the recruiters are welcome, but the thrust of their spiel needs to be on the civil-defence corps and the educational opportunities of service.
“The recruitment sessions are just as much a matter of getting training that is also widely applicable in the civilian world. Our goal is to attract young people who are more interested in civil defence than they are in military service,” Ms Motzfeldt said. “Besides, we live in uncertain times, and this sends the signal that we want tensions in the Arctic to remain low.”
It just may turn out that, for Greenland, the best offence is a civil defence.
Kevin McGwin, Polar Journal
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