Row over role in NATO prompts snap election in Denmark

Until a few days ago Frank Carlucci expected to be savoring Danish herring and cheese this week. Instead he'll be eating Belgian bouillabaisse. The reason the US Secretary of Defense and NATO's other defense ministers had to move their Nuclear Planning Group meeting from Kolding to Brussels is the snap election called by Denmark's Conservative Prime Minister Poul Schl"uter for May 10. And the reason Mr. Schl"uter had to call an election was NATO.

More precisely, the reason was the 23rd defeat on NATO policy for the four-party coalition of Schl"uter's Conservatives, the Liberals, the Christian People's Party, and the Center Democrats.

The mainstream opposition Social Democrats, seeing votes slipping away to the anti-NATO, anti-European Community Socialist People's Party, have increasingly been hearing the siren of Nordic neutrality ever since they resigned their government leadership in 1982. And the out-of-power Radical Liberals, who regularly give Schl"uter a majority in the legislature on economic issues, are longstanding pacifists who regularly give a majority to the opposition on defense issues.

Schl"uter's snap election repeats his appeal to the public in 1986 in a referendum over Danish ratification of the Single European Act. That bid worked. But this time around no observers expect the election to give any different makeup to the splintered parliament. That spells trouble for NATO and continued Danish membership in the alliance. Denmark has already become, along with Greece, a perennial ``footnote'' nation in NATO, most conspicuously in refusing to back deployment of or help pay for support for NATO Euromissiles in the early '80s.

The parliamentary resolution of April 14 that set off the snap election required the government to notify visiting warships that Copenhagen's policy is to bar nuclear weapons on its territory in peacetime. This in fact has been Danish policy since 1956. But the practice until now has been for the government to ``assume'' that visiting vessels have no nuclear weapons aboard.

Britain and the US, Denmark's allies, have publicly said the new resolution could effectively prevent their naval vessels from calling on Danish ports, since their policy is neither to confirm nor to deny the presence of nuclear weapons on ships. Already Britain has canceled naval visits planned for the next two weeks in order, it says, not to get involved in the election campaign.

More bluntly, British spokesmen have added that their ability to exercise in Denmark and their promise to reinforce Denmark's tiny Army in case of any attack could be called into question if Britain could not guarantee nuclear cover for its forces. This warning reiterated British doubts about reinforcement expressed two years ago when Denmark's Social Democrats were floating the idea that Denmark need not rush to join the defense of any ally under attack, but might wait until its territory was violated.

Denmark's inching away from NATO commitments has irritated its alliance partners, who begrudge any attempt to enjoy NATO's guarantee of Danish defense while shrinking Denmark's own contributions to defense. After the latest parliamentary resolution, NATO's secretary-general stated that notifying every visiting NATO ship of Danish non-nuclear policy ``would run counter to the basis of NATO strategy and the principles of shared burdens and benefits.''

NATO defense officials also worry about the possible nudge Denmark's Social Democrats might be giving the Norwegian Social Democrats to press for a declaratory nuclear-free zone in the Nordic area. Any such zone, they fear, could in effect accord a nuclear monopoly in northern waters to the Soviet fleet operating out of Murmansk.

On land, where nuclear units are openly identifiable, Denmark's (and Norway's) policy of banning nuclear weapons in peacetime is fully honored.

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