Ladies and Gentlemen.
On the occasion of the visit of NATO´s Military Committee to Iceland, it gives me great pleasure to welcome all of you this evening. Unfortunately, our guests from Brussels will be here only for two busy days, so I hope that this dinner will provide some compensation in terms of both informal dialogue and relaxation.
The Committee´s visit takes place during a period of transition, both within NATO and in Iceland. The Alliance´s transformation is still ongoing and Iceland is adapting to changed circumstances following the recent withdrawal of US forces from the Keflavík Base. Although the resulting challenges are different in nature and scope, there are clear interlinkages. The enlarged Alliance and the smallest Ally will continue to be relevant to each other.
The Cold War is history, Russia has become a partner and the North-Atlantic is no longer the theater of extensive military operations. This is the conclusion we all sought and this is how it should remain. However, regardless of any short-term threat assessment, the area continues to need vigilance and preparedness, as any other part of the Alliance. Furthermore, NATO should be mindful of prospective geostrategic developments in the “northern” North-Atlantic with regard to energy security and related maritime security. We fully support NATO´s current order of priorities, including the crucial mission in Afghanistan, to which Iceland contributes. At the same time, we also believe that NATO should not completely loose sight of its own back-yard.
As the only Ally without national armed forces, Iceland places particular emphasis on maintaining the collective defence commitments contained in Article 5. NATO is the cornerstone of Icelandic security policy. We also value the bilateral Defence Agreement with the United States and a recently signed Joint Understanding. Additionally, we are exploring possibilities for increased peacetime security cooperation with other Allies bordering the North-Atlantic or those interested in specific bilateral cooperation with Iceland. Again, NATO is the point of departure.
Following the departure of US forces, the Government of Iceland has taken measures to strengthen civilian institutions, which have security-related tasks, and it is well understood that Iceland will have to shoulder increased responsibilities and financial burdens in the coming years. There are, however, some tasks which Iceland cannot assume in a credible way. This applies, in particular, to airborne surveillance and interception capabilities. We are convinced that it is in the interest of both Iceland and the Alliance as a whole, to ensure that this area of considerable trans-Atlantic aviation activity is not neglected. At the Riga Summit, I requested that NATO would develop options for meeting Iceland´s need in this respect and I understand that this issue is currently under consideration in the Military Committee. I am confident that you will arrive at a constructive conclusion, based on the principle of the indivisibility of security within the Alliance. We look forward to cooperating with our Allies in the eventual implementation.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
As we enter the 21st Century, senior military officers are expected to know the unknown and to be prepared for it. At the same time the common definition of security is steadily becoming broader, so as to encompass the whole spectrum from armed conflict to environmental disasters. This means that aligning priorities with limited resources has become increasingly difficult. The overall demands made upon our military commanders are probably greater today than ever before in relative peacetime. Therefore, it is very encouraging to know that the quality of leadership within Allied armed forces is so high and to see that this is impressively reflected in the Military Committee.
I hope that you will return to Brussels with fond memories of Iceland and with a clearer understanding of the challenges facing your Ally in the North-Atlantic.
I would like to propose a toast to the Alliance.