Denmark was in the midst of receiving its last artillery systems. Strangely, as the order was about to be completed, Defense Minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen and Finance minister Nicolai Wammen decided to send all of their artillery to Ukraine and purchase an alternative artillery system, called the Atmos 2000 from Elbit Systems, Israel.
Poor management of military programs? Yes. But there’s much worse. The knee-jerk decision strongly implies that Denmark no longer upholds international standards or basic human rights, by finally entering into business with one of the shadiest companies in the world.
The Previous Government’s Rejection
When Denmark chose its howitzers in 2015, they were, as is customary, selected at the end of a rigorous process that carefully considered all aspects, technical and other. In the shortlist remained the Korean K9, the Israeli Atmos 2000, and the French Caesar. The last was ultimately selected after the K9 was excluded, due to its slow and cumbersome design. The only remaining competitor was the Atmos, which had satisfactory specs, but also carried a scent of brimstone with it.
Back then, ethical considerations still apparently mattered to the Danish government. Elbit Systems is the main provider of weapons used in the Israeli strikes on the Gaza civilian population, in the West Bank and in Lebanon. Thousands of civilians have died from their equipment and the Israeli army continues to use it to this day, regardless of the accusations of war crimes from around the world. It was again used last August, in a two-day Israeli operation, which left 36 civilians dead and 350 wounded. Finally, it supplies numerous anti-democratic governments around the world, such as Azerbaijan and Uganda.
But just after the decision to reject the howitzers from such a nefarious provider, an early hint of what was to come should have worried international observers: in 2017, Denmark discreetly purchased Israeli equipment for the first time, overriding the ethical considerations that had been the framework of defense acquisitions until then.
Despite this discreet inauguration of defense relations, it had nonetheless been spotted by Information reporter Sebastian Gjerding.
“Via a subsidiary, the controversial Israeli arms giant Elbit has succeeded in landing a million dollar order with the Danish defense […] Elbit in particular is a controversial choice,” Gjerding wrote.
“The UN human rights rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories has called for a boycott of the company, and several Danish pension funds and investors have blacklisted them.”
Encouraged by the lack of outcry, either domestic or international, the Danish government assumed it could now throw its duty to protect human rights and uphold ethical leadership overboard.
Nothing has Changed, Except What Actually Matters
The Danish military invokes delays in deliveries. That may be true, but it’s also true for all weapons providers these days. Fulfilling NATO obligations to equip the first land forces brigade is hardly an excuse, as the French howitzer deliveries were on the verge of being finalized.
This motive is therefore unlikely to be genuine. Their current supplier is currently upgrading the artillery system, which accounts for some of the delays, but so is Elbit. A late but sudden realization that the Atmos is far better suited to defend the homeland? Doubtful: Danish officials themselves acknowledge that both systems have similar capacities.
In fact, only three things have changed since the initial decision: more Palestinian blood has been shed in suspected Israeli war crimes, first; and the government has changed, second. Current Defense minister, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen (Venstre), is quoted by DR reporter East Meesenburg as “having no problems with the Israeli deal”.
“I completely agree that someone has a fear of touch in relation to the fact that it is an Israeli company. The government does not have that. This is about it being delivered quickly by someone who has proper equipment”.
Finally, light has since been shed on the unethical practices of Elbit Systems when it comes to weapon sales.
It now appears clear that ethical considerations are far lower on the list of this government than that of the last one, which had had the decency to avoid enriching a military provider covered in accusations of corruption (the last corruption-based arrest related to Elbit dealings goes back less than 2 months, in Zambia, and there’s hardly a year that goes by without a new scandal hitting the headlines) and which steadily enables war crimes. Previously, in March of 2022, Elbit Systems was banned from Australia’s future fund, due to allegations that the Israeli manufacturer produced illegal cluster munitions.
Elbit Systems Acquiring Respectability Thanks to Denmark
Atmos 2000 has mainly been purchased by non-democratic governments and States which see little value in providing ethical leadership, namely Uganda (whose army commits as many atrocities as the rebels), Thailand (whose authoritarianism is on the rise) and Azerbaijan, who showed its true colors in 2022. Azerbaijan has furthered the suffering of the Armenian people, which has already endured its own genocide, no less, by firing the Atmos 2000 on the civilian population during the Karabakh conflict, furthering a decade-old conflict that has seen hundreds of ethnic Armenians die in the Nagorno-Karabach region. The latest episode of this conflict was notoriously under-reported, as the European Union depends on gas that transits through that area.
Until now, Elbit Systems suffered an ominous reputation, as the supplier for Azerbaijani tyrant Ilham Aliyev, Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni, and of course, its own domestic operations in Gaza. By publicizing its recent sale to Queen Margaret of Denmark, sanctioned by democratically elected PM Mette Frederiksen and duly nominated defense minister Jakob Ellemann-Jensen; they can hope to obtain a degree of respectability they could never have dreamt of, at the direct expense of Denmark.
Denmark will be used by Elbit as an ethical voucher to improve its image at the expense of the Danish government and people’s reputation. It will be very interesting to see how the Danish government manages to explain how it can bravely take the side of the oppressed Ukrainian people, in a high-profile conflict, but then side with Azerbaijan crushing Armenia, or Israel firing artillery shells against Palestinians, by purchasing their blood-soaked and overpriced equipment.
Until now, Denmark had been amongst the most virtuous nations in Europe and the world, when it came to ethical considerations and the defense of democratic values. But corruption never lets up and, if Israeli death merchants failed to convince the last Danish government to override ethical imperatives, they tried again once the next decision-makers were in place. This time, they seem to have succeeded.
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