After a spate of attacks in the Persian Gulf that left several tankers damaged, political pressure is mounting on European governments to contribute to the coalition that the US is trying to assemble in order to escort oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz, the hub of international oil trade.
In Denmark, there is no shortage of supporters of this idea. Right-wing Danish People's Party foreign rapporteur Søren Espersen pointed out the fact that Denmark possesses the world's fifth largest merchant navy, which is larger than that of US and the UK. Therefore, he argued, it is obliged to contribute.
“We're not the little brother, but the big brother here, and as one of the great [maritime] powers we have to step in. We have a duty to provide free passage for our merchant ships, wherever it may be”, Espersen told the daily Jyllands-Posten.
Espersen suggested that whether or not it would elevate tensions between the US and Iran is irrelevant, if Tehran were to close the Strait of Hormuz. While acknowledging that entering one of the world's most highly disputed conflicts is, “of course, dangerous”, he contended that it will give Iran a feeling that the “international community will not accept this”.
According to Espersen, one frigate will suffice at the beginning.
“It is very operational and can hold its own over large distances. But if more are needed, we must of course send more”, he stressed.
Liberal-conservative party Venstre foreign rapporteur Michael Aastrup Jensen, is also positive about sending Danish warships on a mission to the Persian Gulf, but intends to wait and see what the government is up to. He was in total agreement with Espersen in that Denmark, as the world's fifth-largest maritime nation, is obliged to make sure that its ships “can sail unhindered around the Gulf”.
Michael Aastrup Jensen fears that at worst civilian traffic in the Persian Gulf may be stopped altogether. This will lead to a spike in oil prices, which, in turn, could have “a tremendous effect” on the world economy, he pointed out.
“We have to deal with it with the utmost earnestness and draw a line in the sand and say that civilian shipping is important to the entire international community and must not suffer any nuisance”, Jensen said.
By contrast, the centre-left government sidekicks Red-Green Alliance rejected the idea that military engagement in the Persian Gulf will make a positive contribution. According to defence spokeswoman Eva Flyvholm, the tension-filled relations with Iran are already “insanely worrying”.
Ruling Social Democrats party defence spokesman, Bjarne Laustsen, assumed a wait-and-see stance, stressing that Denmark “has no tradition of doing this”.
The US is currently working to assemble an allied coalition designed to avert the threat of armed attacks in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, which Washington did not hesitate to pin on Iran despite the lack of evidence. So far, Norway has admitted to being asked to join. The invitation, however, has triggered polarising reactions among the country's politicians as well.
Denmark has a reputation as a dutiful NATO and US ally. Since 1991 alone, almost 47,000 Danish soldiers have participated in missions in Afghanistan, Kosovo, the Balkans, Iraq, Syria and Libya, to name a few. Most recently, Danish troops took part in an international coalition against Daesh*, where they were tasked with training and advising Iraqi military units. Incidentally, the very same Espersen recently decried the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
* Daesh (ISIS, ISIL, IS, the Islamic State) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and other countries.