Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Security and Defence

Madam Chair, ladies and gentlemen,

For more than sixty years, Icelanders have benefited from the fact that friendly nations have ensured the security of the Atlantic Ocean and the of region around Iceland. The demise of the Soviet Union was undoubtedly a watershed for our security and defence, but in fact it can be argued that the consequences of globalisation and the changed balance of power in the world was no less influential. At the start of the new century, extremist forces showed us to our cost how small factions can without warning attack the infrastructure of western societies. It was brought home to us that the international community had been caught napping by a new threat. It was primarily at that instant in time that we, like other nations, found ourselves confronted by a changed world order.

The changes in Iceland’s defences have therefore taken place in the light of new threats and a new world order. The permanent presence of United States military forces in Iceland is in the past, and ahead of us is a new chapter in our national defences. The Icelandic government has addressed the issue firmly and responsibly, but these changes unavoidable call for new perspectives in Iceland’s security and defence policy.

It is important to emphasise that the departure of the US armed forces from the country has in no way altered the fact that our Defense Agreement with the United Sates continues as the cornerstone of our defences, which will be put to the test in the event of any signs of conflict. However, during peacetime in our part of the world, as we are experiencing now, Icelanders face the prospect of taking full responsibility for securing the country’s defences. Our consultations and co-operation with friendly nations has the objective of ensuring that there are recourses available to defend the country at all times. Another fundamental change is that our defence co-operation with other nations will take place on the basis of mutual support and contributions to our common security, and Iceland will no longer be a passive recipient of defence capabilities, as in the past.

For decades, we have contributed land and facilities to NATO’s joint defences, while other countries took responsibility for the defence of the country in other respects. The current situation is that Iceland now has its defences in its own hands, and our defence policy will have the objective of meeting our needs as they arise.

For the first time in over a half a century there is no military presence in Iceland. To tell the truth, the experience over the months that have passed since the departure of the American forces has reinforced my belief that we should aim to keep things that way in peacetime. Advances in defence technology and our increased involvement in our own defence will enable us to secure our defences without the permanent presence of a military force. I would like to make it clear that there are no plans to establish an Icelandic army, as in fact there is no reason to do so. In my opinion, such a course would be inconsistent with the basic values of the Icelandic nation. I cannot even contemplate the thought of Icelandic mothers and fathers facing the prospect of sending their sons or daughters to war. Our defences can be addressed by means other than armament.

But this does not free us from the responsibility of preparing our own security and defence policy – far from it. States that do not ensure the security of their citizens, the integrity of their borders, their resources and lines of communications in a satisfactory manner run the risk of putting their independence in jeopardy. Icelanders prize their independence and sovereignty. History preserves numerous examples of the dire fate of defenceless nations, and we must never lose our vigilance in securing our national freedom.

As I mentioned earlier, the entire security landscape has been transformed in recent years. The protection inherent in distance from the battlefields was shown to be an illusion in the early winter of 2001, much as it was at the outset of the Second World War. With globalisation the community of nations has now become more dense and tightly integrated than ever before. But at the same time, the risk of tension and conflict is more complex, and threats are more difficult to perceive.

We became used to seeing the world in the clear light of two opposing power blocks in the second half of the twentieth century. Thus, Iceland, sitting on the volcanic junction of two tectonic plates, was located on top of the seething fissure between the opposing superpowers. This conflict – and conflict is the appropriate word even though there was no outright war – this conflict ended with the victory of democracy and human rights. Europe, formerly divided by the shadow of an iron curtain created by the raging power struggle and mutual suspicion, is now working together to improve the lives and opportunities of its citizens. The era of the balance of terror is behind us, and we no longer face the prospect of mass destruction that was daily on our minds during the Cold War.

However, this does not mean that the nations of the world have ceased to settle their disputes by force of arms. Conflicts have been frequent since the fall of the Soviet Union, and in many ways they are the result of the fundamental shift in the balance of power in world affairs. These changes are not at an end, nor are their resulting conflicts. The fact remains, however, that the threats of the present are more complex than before, and therefore governments need different measures to meet them wherever they arise.

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Last autumn saw the end of the US military presence in Iceland, which had in been gradually diminishing. However this milestone marks neither the end of the Defense Agreement nor the end of our defence co-operation with the United States. The Defense Agreement remains in effect, but the new agreement between our two countries provides for joint measures to ensure the involvement of American military forces in Iceland’s defence in times of danger. The only change is that the mobile forces of the US military in the world have replaced the permanent deployment of an American force in this country.

The visit by an amphibious assault vessel to Iceland last year is an example of the various resources available to the United States to defend Iceland. In addition, the proposed regular military exercises of the US Armed Forces in Iceland will have the effect of ensuring the efficiency and co-ordination of the measures that can be taken in times of danger. The first military exercise to be conducted in this country is scheduled for the second half of this year.

Measures have been taken to ensure clear lines of communication and exchanges of information on security matters between Iceland and the United States. This will enable the government of this country to assess the situation at any time. The defences of this country in times of danger are therefore secured as before, in the traditional sense, through our Defense Agreement with the United States. These defences are founded on Article five of the North Atlantic Treaty. However, the commitment of the United States is more extensive and means that action will be taken to prevent attacks by enemy states, while the basic undertaking of NATO states is to respond to any actual attack. This commitment of the United States is more important to us than to other states, since we do not have our own military.

The departure of the defence force also means that Iceland has taken on an increased role in the defence of the country. Iceland will take over the operation of the Icelandic air defence system, which is a basic premise for the air defence units of the United States and other states to be able to operate around Iceland. Ahead lie discussions between these countries and consultations within NATO concerning the system and the arrangements for its operation in the future. The principal emphasis will be on the continued ability to monitor the air defence area around the country and on ensuring that there are efficient air defence capabilities in this country in the event of any danger.

The agreement between the countries concerning defence also provides for a significant increase in co-operation and communication as regards defence against terrorism. Efforts will also be made to ensure close co-operation in naval defences and in other areas where the states have joint interests.

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At the same time that our defence co-operation with the United Sates is developed and strengthened, we have begun a consultation process with our principal neighbouring states concerning joint security interests. At the NATO Summit in Riga last November I had useful conversations with the leaders of our neighbouring states where we decided to take up negotiations concerning increased defence and security co-operation.

A joint committee formed by the Foreign Ministry, the office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Justice has already met with representatives of Denmark, Norway and the United Kingdom to discuss these matters and discussions with Canada and possibly other states are planned. Interest has already been expressed by these states in co-operation and work is in progress on exploring further and determining a format for the mutual support of these states in their efforts to ensure the security of the North Atlantic.

I wish to underscore the fact that this work does not represent an effort on our part to convince other nations to take over the role of the United States Defence Force in Iceland. We are not looking for a substitute for the United States in our defence co-operation and these nations will not have a permanent military presence in this country. Our initiative has the aim of reinforcing the security of our region in peacetime and increasing our co-operation with these neighbours – for the benefit of all the parties.

There is already excellent co-operation between these countries and Iceland in many areas. I am convinced that co-operation of this kind will increase and expand as our defence relations gain in strength.

But while I cannot visualise a permanent military presence in Iceland, it is nevertheless important to make arrangements so that all the necessary facilities are made available here to deploy defence forces in Iceland if the need arises. Accommodation, hangars, control stations and other infrastructure are a part of these facilities. Already, a security area has been set up at Keflavik Airport which will be used for exercises and defences as needed. The Danish Minister for Defence, Søren Gade, recently expressed his opinion in the course of a visit to Iceland that these facilities were exemplary. A Norwegian delegation that visited Iceland recently arrived at the same conclusion. In this way, Iceland has already laid the necessary foundation for the multinational defence co-operation that I referred to earlier.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our work in NATO has changed in recent years and will change even more in the light of our increased responsibility for our national defence. There are plans to strengthen our relations with the NATO and US military commands through the efforts of government missions. In addition, the scope of work of our permanent missions and the Icelandic representative in the NATO Military Committee will be increased.

In fact, Iceland has in recent years increased its role in the work of NATO, and in light of the changes in the country’s defences it is safe to say that Iceland is now for the first time a participant in all the key activities of the Alliance. We have taken a seat in the NATO Infrastructure Fund and there are plans for our air defence system to form a part of the Allied comprehensive network, to mention two examples.

In the field, Iceland has participated fully in Allied missions. Examples include airport administration on behalf of NATO in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The fact is that even though we have no military capability it has been demonstrated that we can contribute to the work of the Alliance. There is a constantly growing demand for civilian expertise within NATO in areas where Icelanders are capable of contributing. As an example, the Foreign Ministry recently decided to contribute about 20 million krónur to the construction of ten hydroelectric plants in the Ghor Province in Afghanistan. This project is a good example of the new points of focus that I presented in the work of the Iceland Crisis Response Unit last autumn. It is in fact my conviction that in international co-operation the participating countries should focus on the things that they do best.

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In the fields of law enforcement and coast guard operations significant improvements have been made to meet potential new threats and challenges. The Coast Guard has been greatly reinforced and further steps in that direction are planned. This development is a part of the effort to reinforce our capacity to the preserve the security of our own back yard in the North Atlantic. The Icelandic police force has been reorganised to take advantage of the increased capacity and synergy of larger units, and work is also in progress on expanding the Special Weapons and Tactics Team of the National Commissioner of Police.

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In addition to the need to strengthen our defence co-operation with our allies and maintain our defence facilities, we need to explore the possible means of gathering intelligence about the security situation in our region. Information is a key element of efficient defence. We cannot defend ourselves from the unknown.

The office of the Keflavik Airport Magistrate has in recent times taken responsibility for the analysis of information of this kind on behalf of the Foreign Ministry. Following the changes that have been made in the organisation of the police force an assessment is now being conducted of the best ways to organise this work, which includes relations with the military intelligence networks of NATO and the activities and co-operation of the Allies in this area, in addition to risk assessment relating to the missions of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit abroad.

This is intelligence which concerns the external security of the state, including military matters, but not domestic matters. The Foreign Ministry will therefore continue to handle these affairs in accordance with the constitution of our government. Risk assessment of this kind consists in gathering information and evaluating it so that it can be used in decision making and the formulation of policy, for example as regards our people that we send into the field to work on development co-operation and civilian peacekeeping tasks.

There have been signs of misunderstanding in the public discussion of this work, where it has been maintained, among other things, that it involves covert activities and espionage. Far from it. There is a huge difference between espionage, on the one hand, and situation and prospect analysis of individual countries and regions on the other hand. I would like to emphasise specifically that these activities all involve events outside Iceland, and there is no question of any domestic surveillance or intelligence gathering concerning Icelandic citizens, neither in Iceland nor abroad. Precisely for this reason, this is a task properly entrusted to the Foreign Ministry rather than, for instance, the police authorities or other parties concerned with domestic law enforcement.

In addition to risk assessment relating to the activities of the Crisis Response Unit, the risk analysis will involve assessment of international conflicts and threats. This will provide the government with an important tool which will enable independent assessment of security and military matters, instead of having to rely exclusively on the analysis of our allies. In this way we will strengthen our own ability to take measures in co-operation with other nations in the event of any threats. At the same time, we will be better prepared to undertake tasks such as participation in the United Nations Security Council. If our candidacy for a seat on the Council is supported, it is clear that there will be a need for independent assessment on our part of international trends, and analytical capacity of this kind will be important in that respect.

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In Iceland, as in other countries, the discussion of security and defence issues has invariably been shrouded in secrecy, and the general public has been kept in the dark with the argument that all security matters are sensitive. These are methods that I wish to change. I have therefore strongly emphasised consultation and transparency in security and defence matters and called for a frank appraisal of the past and a removal of the veil of secrecy.

There is no reason to maintain the suspicious atmosphere of the Cold War years; instead, we need to inform the elected representatives of the nation of our defence policy and security issues to the extent possible. Of course, it is not possible to reveal everything that concerns the national defence. However, I fully intend to disclose all the information that can be disclosed withouth jepordising our defence interests.

Our national security interests are not a political bone of contention, and the security of our citizens is the common aim of all Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers. For this reason I think it is important, and proper, to emphasise transparency and public understanding of the work and measures that need to be undertaken. The veil of secrecy that was formerly presented to the public, the Althing and the Foreign Affairs Committee in matters of defence is not in keeping with the working methods that I wish to introduce. As a matter of fact, I must admit that it has often been my impression that secrecy of this kind is more characteristic of men, who have a tendency to resolve issues in smoke-filled back rooms. It has certainly been for a long time been a tenet of foreign affairs that defence and security matters should be left to the men, while women should focus on the soft issues, such as human rights and the situation of women in the developing countries. This is simply inappropriate in this day and age. The discussion of security and defence could quite well do with a bit of daylight and fresh air.

I would like to mention in this context that yesterday I had a meeting with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Althing and gave them an account of the secret protocols that were added to our Defense Agreement with the United States of 1951. These protocols, which I intend to disclose, are not of the nature that there is any reason to keep them secret any longer, if there was ever any reason to do so. In the coming days the protocols will be disclosed on the website of the Foreign Ministry. At the meeting with the Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday I also discussed the risk analysis that I mentioned earlier, as well as the ratification of an agreement on the legal status of NATO forces here in Iceland; ratification of the agreement is one of the prerequisites for the participation of foreign forces in exercises in Iceland.

Following the departure of the Defence Force we are also facing another type of remnant from the past. Ever since the days of the British occupation in the Second World War there have been artillery and bombing practice ranges in Iceland. A total of about 90 such ranges exist, covering over 24 thousand hectares of land. Most of them are located in the metropolitan area of Reykjavík and on Reykjanes, but there are several also in Western and Northern Iceland, particularly around Akureyri and in the East Fjords. By far the largest areas date from the time of the Second World War and stem from the exercises conducted by the British occupation forces and subsequently the American forces. Now we are faced with the task of finally cleaning up these areas. This will involve a great deal of work, but we will enjoy the assistance of the bomb disposal experts of the Coast Guard who are entrusted with this task by law. The plan is now to complete an assessment of all the exercise areas of the Defence Force over the next five years, by which time the cleanup of the worst areas should also be completed.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

According to a declaration issued by the Cabinet concerning the new responsibilities of the Government following the departure of the Defence Force, a consultation forum of the political parties on Iceland’s security is set to be formed. There is good reason to begin this consultation process as soon as possible, and this will only serve to promote further dissemination of information and healthy exchanges of views concerning the principal points of focus in our security matters.

At the same time that this political consultation forum will contribute to the debate on security in its wide sense, it is also necessary to promote public discussion of these matters. To this end, it might be an option to establish a research centre for the study of foreign affairs and security matters which could address security and defence issues in their widest sense, including issues such as communications, environmental security, transport, development issues and so on. The political consultation forum and the international studies already in progress here within the walls of the University of Iceland and in other universities could be linked to the work of the Research Centre, which could supervise research and organise conferences to promote discussions of security and defence issues at the expert level.

This could also, under strong leadership, bridge the gap between academic discourse and policymaking. The participation by the experts of the Foreign Ministry, and perhaps other ministries, in the work of the Centre would give support to academic research and even contribute to teaching in this field. At the same time, the crucible of ideas that would be formed with the link-up of these three spheres would lead to creative ideas and imaginative policymaking.

In our neighbouring countries there are numerous similar institutions where we could seek co-operation. These institutions have regarded it as being to their advantage to operate independently at a certain distance from the academic and political community, while maintaining strong ties with both communities.

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Ladies and Gentlemen

It is important to attend to our long-term security and defence goals. It is human nature to focus attention on those threats which are imminent and urgent. However, it is frequently the case that threats that germinate over a long period of time pose a greater danger. Just as the terrorist attacks on New York had a long gestation time, a clear watershed is being reached in the security of our region of the world. This watershed is a consequence of the melting of the arctic polar ice and the resultant increase in the traffic of ships around Iceland. The possible opening of a North-East passage to Asia, together with the tremendous increase in gas and oil production in the Barents Sea have the effect that the traffic of giant vessels in the vicinity of Iceland could multiply in the coming years.

Even though there are prospects of peace in our region of the world, it is not impossible that the depletion of resources and the competition for energy could result in an imbalance. Secure access to sources of energy is a precondition for economic development, and any national security policy must take this into account. The position of Iceland in this regard is special in significant ways in comparison with our Allies. We possess renewable sources of energy which could meet virtually all our needs if necessary. To be sure, we still need gasoline and oil, but we enjoy a much more secure position in this regard than the European countries that use gas and oil for domestic heating and energy production.

States that are dependent on other states for their energy , thereby placing the latter in a position of advantage, are to some extent surrendering their control over their own security. This can unsettle the balance of power and even lead to conflict, as numerous examples from history will show us. Recently the European Union presented its lofty goals of increasing the weight of renewable energy. If Icelandic expertise on energy could be put to use for this purpose, this would in itself promote the improved security of the countries involved. It should therefore be kept in mind that the solutions to defence problems are not restricted to the use of force.

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Honoured guests,

Iceland’s security and defence policy has for a long time rested on two main pillars – our membership of NATO and the defence co-operation with the United States. Both of these pillars are still strong, but I would like to use this opportunity to discuss the third pillar which has always existed, but which has not been discussed.

This pillar could be referred to as the democracy and human rights pillar of security and defence.

The foundation of the defence co-operation of the Allies within NATO is their common set of values as regards democracy and human rights. Our open societies, which proved so vulnerable to the attacks of extremists, are the ideological premise of the joint defences of NATO and the Free World. The terrorist attacks on the West are designed to undermine this pillar. The importance of not sacrificing these values as we defend ourselves against the threat and take measures against terrorists is therefore beyond dispute. The international community is built upon this ideological foundation, and this foundation is, as I said before, the guarantee for the independence of nations and their continued raison d'etre.

For this reason, the respect of the international community for international law and human rights is the best available guarantee of defence in the long term.

The principal threats to the international community result from instability, extremism, crime and terrorism, which thrive under the shelter of repression and human rights violations. Of all the nations of the world, small nations stand to gain the most from promoting respect, in word and in deed, for international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Also, it is in the interest of small nations to promote international co-operation to meet these threats, which respect neither borders nor the rules of conduct of the international community.

It is for this reason that our new efforts in peacekeeping are primarily focused on building up war-torn communities. Only by laying a foundation that enables people to live a normal life, pursue their occupations and improve their living conditions is there any hope of lasting peace.

The Crisis Response Unit is not a tool designed to create in Iceland a group of people trained in the use of arms for the purpose of eventually establishing an army, or the seed of an army. The task of the Crisis Response Unit is primarily development and humanitarian work, whether under the auspices of the United Nations, NATO or other organisations. As regards these tasks, I wish to emphasise that it is my goal to achieve gender equality in the ranks of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit to the extent possible. In 2004, approximately 14% of our crisis response recruits were women, but today women represent a quarter of Iceland’s crisis response personnel. There are also plans to send women to perform work of this kind in Afghanistan, in the Balkans and in Liberia, which will bring the proportion of women to a third. But this is still short of our goal, and we will continue our attempts to attain gender equality in the work of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit.

Iceland has been, and will continue to be, a proponent of the system of human rights, peace and freedom on which the United Nations are built. This system has been under attack in recent years by a combination of repression, reign by terror and acts of terrorism in numerous forms. It would be wishful thinking to believe that we will face these threats only in distant regions of the world in the coming years and decades. The atrocities committed in London and Madrid are a reminder that acts of terror are not confined to the borders, or nationalities, of their perpetrators.

Our candidacy for a seat on the United Nations Security Council represents a part of our endeavour to shoulder increased responsibilities in international co-operation. Previously, we have held the presidency of the Council of Europe, which is a bastion of the same principles of human rights and freedom on which our participation in the Security Council would rest. Peace cannot be secured by force of arms alone, and this means that an unarmed nation like Iceland is fully suited for participation in the Security Council as an advocate of negotiations and reconciliation. We do not lack the knowledge or ability to do good work in the Security Council and at the same time to enhance the reputation of our country and our nation.

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In conclusion, I would like to say that there is no question at all of the Icelandic government having been caught napping. I am convinced that the goals that I have described will ensure that the country’s defences will be as secure as possible, while at the same time promoting the widest possible consensus concerning their arrangement. Iceland will participate in defence co-operation with other nations on an equal footing and will continue, as before, to endeavour to ensure the security of its citizens and promote the security of our neighbouring states and other states on the basis of human rights and democracy.


I thank you for your attention.








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