Danish Ambassador Touts 'Dangerous' Example

Danish Ambassador Touts

Before addressing a UCLA audience this month, Ambassador Petersen (left) chats with CIBER's Robert Spich. (Photo by Kevin Matthews)

How Denmark stays progressive, pro-U.S., and thoroughly multilateral, as explained by Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen, the country's top representative in Washington.

The three U.S. presidential contenders are all in favor of cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases. "So why would you spend a lot of time arguing the architecture [of an agreement]?"

"We are dangerous people," said Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen, tongue lodged in cheek. "We have universal healthcare for everyone. We also have high taxes to support social programs."

At the same time, Denmark regularly tops the Economist's list of countries most conducive to business. It has a "well-functioning," fluid market for labor, which is a diplomat's way of saying that companies freely hire and fire.

However, he said, "We don't let people sort of suffer the slings and arrows of that mobility."

The remarks and the allusion to a theatrical Dane came at a March 7, 2008, luncheon in Petersen's honor, cosponsored by the UCLA Center for European and Eurasian Studies and the Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER), which is part of the UCLA Anderson School of Management. On that and the previous day, Danish consuls from around the United States, the L.A.-based trade commissioner, Danish and U.S. executives, and management school faculty met at the 2008 Danish American Business Summit. The event, more often held in convention space in various cities, was hosted this year at UCLA by CIBER.

In response to deliberately provocative questioning from CIBER Faculty Program Director Robert Spich—"Why should we listen to small countries?"—Petersen observed that Denmark, a country of five million, enjoys outsized wealth and an enviable global reputation. Among other things, one percent of its gross national income goes to foreign humanitarian aid, above the United Nations target for wealthy nations, while U.S. contributions have not pierced 0.2 percent.

Petersen devoted more of the discussion, however, to the shared values and interests of his country and the United States, which he said have been extraordinary friends. Denmark was singled out with the Netherlands and the United States in Arab nations' 1973 oil embargo, over support for Israel, Petersen said. The events helped to propel a strong environmentalist movement in his country. A NATO member, Denmark permits the development of U.S. missile defense systems in Greenland, which is a Danish province, and works to ensure that a European-wide defense initiative develops in close cooperation with the United States, according to the ambassador. It maintains forces of 700 troops in Afghanistan and, after a drawdown, 50 in Iraq.

Petersen did not acknowledge any tension between this unflagging support of the United States—"rightly or wrongly" it sided with President Bush on Iraq—and what he called Denmark's thoroughgoing multilateralism in foreign policy. Any Danish attempt to alter the direction of U.S. policies evidently will take place, if at all, in multilateral settings such as NATO and the United Nations.

When it comes to creating a framework for reductions on global greenhouse emissions, Petersen suggested, putting pressure on America would have little effect. All three of the U.S. presidential contenders appear determined to create an international market that would set the upper limits for such emissions.

"They are all in favor of cap-and-trade, so why would you spend a lot of time arguing the architecture?"

Petersen was introduced by Professor Timothy Tangherlini, chair of UCLA's Scandinavian Section and a scholar of Danish, Scandinavian, as well as Korean folklore.

Published: Friday, March 14, 2008