Address by H.E. Mr. Halldór Ásgrímsson,
Icelandic Minister for Foreign Affairs at the
Change of Command Ceremony, U.S. Naval Air Station,
Keflavík, 26 March 2004
Admiral Waickwicz, Admiral Preston, distinguished members of the US military and other guests.
It is an honor to be here today and it is always a pleasure to have the opportunity to visit the base. Change of Command is an important event that gives us an opportunity to reflect on the past and think about the future. It signals changes, like the name suggests, but at the same time we take assurance in the continuity that it presents.
Iceland and the US have since WWII enjoyed close friendship and we have worked together towards our common interests over the years. In my opinion the relationship between Iceland and US is a sure symbol of how two nations, one big and one small, can work towards their common goals. The relationship is deep and strong because it is based on shared values, democracy, liberty and respect for the rule of law.
The two main pillars in Iceland´s security and defense policy are the membership in the Atlantic Alliance and the Defense Agreement with the United States, which the US military presence here is based on.
History serves us as a stark reminder that security can never been taken for granted. Like the weather here in Iceland the security environment can suddenly change, for better or for worse. You have to prepare and plan for the unexpected and one must have the capacity to react to threats.
As it says in the words of wisdom of the Vikings, in the old poem Hávamál:
away from home
ahead of your axe and sword.
You cant feel a battle
in your bones
or foresee a fight.
In the present time it is as vital as ever.
Ladies and gentlemen,
During the Cold War thought we knew the enemy and we could assume its actions and plans. Mutual Assured Destruction was in nobodys interest, as its acronym suggests. Today we face a different kind of threat, a threat that is harder for us to understand and comprehend.
Recent atrocities in Madrid, only few days ago, remind us of the terrible terror we face today. The killing of innocent people is a crime that we cannot under any circumstances tolerate yet it is a reality we must now unite against. United we stand, divided we fall, is the moral of one of Aesops Greek fables written in 6th. century B.C. Moving from threat to greater security has never been an easy task. To do so we must work together, like we have done in the past, to confront the security challenges we face today and in the future. That is how we have succeeded in the past and that is the only way we will succeed in creating a safer future for us all. United States has taken the leading role in the fight against terrorism. Iceland welcomes this initiative and fully supports it.
Iceland has in its foreign policy stressed the importance of good transatlantic relations and Iceland, in many ways, is the embodiment of the transatlantic link. The geographical position of Iceland, in the middle of the North Atlantic, half way between America and Europe will continue to serve as a bridge across the Atlantic.
Iceland fully understands and supports efforts by the US and other Allies to align their force posture to changed circumstances and new threats. During the last 12 years, there has been a radical reduction in the US military presence in Iceland, formalized in the Agreed minutes of 1994 and 1996. Iceland differs from other Allies in not having its own national armed forces and has, therefore, to be measured by a different yardstick in a global posture review. Reducing the defense preparedness in the country below the credible minimum, agreed in 1996 would, from the Icelandic perspective, endanger national security.
In this new security environment it would be irresponsible to think that this large area here in the vast North Atlantic, that ties together Europe and America, should not be as well protected and surveyed as it has in the past, including with fighter aircraft based in Iceland.
The Icelandic Defense Force and its members have done excellent work here in Iceland. Your presence here symbolizes the commitment to collective defense of North America, Iceland and other NATO Allies. We very much appreciate the important contribution you provide to the defense of Iceland and for the whole territory here in the North Atlantic.
I want to thank John and Eleanor, you now head of to the more sunny skies of California to take up a new posting. I want to thank you for your commitment to Iceland and the excellent work you have done here. All good relationships are a product of the effort and hard work that is put into them and I want to wish you and your family happiness and prosperity in San Diego. At the same time I want to use the opportunity to wish Admiral Preston success in his new post here, there are important tasks ahead and given your prior experience and expertise Im sure you are the right man to lead the way here at IDF. I can assure you of the full cooperation of the Icelandic Government and the officials at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in relation to your work here in Iceland.