Hoppa yfir valmynd
Ministry for Foreign Affairs

An Alliance in Transformation - An Ally Transforming

An Alliance in Transformation

An Ally Transforming

Statement by H.E. Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir,

Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Iceland,

at the NATO Parliamentarians Political Committee,

6 October 2007, Reykjavík, Iceland.

Dear NATO Parliamentarians and other guests.

It is both an honour and a welcome opportunity for me as Foreign Minister to address your distinguished group.

Allow me to welcome you all to Iceland and to the city of Reykjavik and to express my hope and wish that you get the chance to see and experience the city and the country.


The timing of this first NATO Parliamentary Assembly to be held in Reykjavík is symbolic as it coincides with a year of new beginnings in the history of Iceland’s Security and Defence. Iceland is entering a new era and does so at a time when NATO itself is changing and adapting to new circumstances and challenges. 

In recent years we in the West have been reminded of the importance of democratic discourse in matters of Security and Defence, and how the lack of public support becomes a costly affair when taking on major operations.

During the Cold War, NATO membership was a divisive issue in Iceland and we lacked the kind of consensus most of our Nordic neighbors enjoyed with respect to their countries defense. After the end of the Cold war, this division subsided, yet an opportunity was lost to engage in a rethink of Icelandic Security and Defence policy. It was only with the end of US military presence last year that this issue took on a renewed urgency.

Therefore the strengthening of  political dialogue in Iceland on Security and Defence is important in the effort to establish consensus as regards both fundamental principles and their subsequent implementation.

I would like to state that it is a particular pleasure to receive the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Iceland at this juncture since it illustrates the democratic foundation of the Alliance and the way its policies and activities are contingent upon the monitoring by elected official in each member state. It is a fundamental principle that NATO is a democratic institution firmly connected to the national assemblies and electorate of the member states. The fundamental principles and values the Alliance is intended to defend should also be manifested in the organization and operating methods of the Alliance itself.



Less than a month ago, at a conference in Geneva, the Secretary General of NATO said in a speech that we are (quote) “seeing a major paradigm shift in international security”. The Secretary General attributed this shift to two factors: the end of the Cold War, and the acceleration of globalization. I had the opportunity recently to discuss with the Secretary General and other leaders of the Alliance, at NATO headquarters, the key features of this paradigm shift in international security.

In short, whereas the previous paradigm was based on the traditional safeguarding of territiorial integrity through deterrance, the current paradigm is, in the Secretary General’s analysis, reflected simply by the word engagement. Territorial defence no longer suffices to ensure the security of our populations, thus we need to engage with the rest of world “?to address security challenges at their source, whenever and wherever they arise.”

Iceland is experiencing its own paradigm shift, both on a national level, and in the way we are responding to the new global security environment.

Globalization has meant globalization of security as well. Conflicts in distant locations, whether in Darfur or Afghanistan, can have significant implications for our daily security. Expanding economic activity of Icelanders abroad requires Government structures to adapt and develop in the same manner. Climate change is also influencing and transforming our security environment in new ways. It affects living conditions and diminishes access to scarce resources, especially in the poorer regions of the world, but has also ecological and environmental consequences for us in the north. The bottom-line that we are all – big nations or small, islands or continental power – part of a wider world in a manner none of us could imagine only a couple of decades ago. 

These changed circumstances not only call for a reassessment of our security environment, but also necessitate a new public dialogue and more sharing of information on matters of security and defence. For this purpose the Government decided to set up a cross political consultative forum on security and defense as well as establish a separate committee of experts to prepare an independent threat assessment for Iceland. 

Following the US troop withdrawal from the Keflavik Base, Iceland has claimed responsibility for its own security and defence. That is a welcome burden to shoulder and we do that relying on our NATO membership.

The 1951 bilateral defense agreement with the United States continues to provide for US commitment to Iceland’s territorial defense, but it is now set in a fundamentally different context.

Iceland will assume greater responsibilty and a more active role in international affairs. Towards this end we are building new cooperative frameworks with our nearest neighbors. We will be more active within NATO. And we are assuming a greater responsibility within the United Nations, as manifested by our first time candidature to a seat in the UN Security Council.

Over the past year we have established, strengthened and increased cooperation with other neighbouring allies in the field of security and defence. We have held separate talks with Norway, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Canada and Germany, to name some examples, and we have already signed Memoranda of understanding with Norway and Denmark. The further development and definition of these new cooperative security undertakings will be a significant task; however, the need to carry this work forward is evident.

We participate more within the Alliance, both as regards our own, as well as allied defence.

  • First, the Icelandic Government has assumed the responsibilty for the Icelandic Integrated Air Defence System, previously operated by the United States. The system will be fully integrated into NATO’s integrated Air Defence System, or NATINADS, and thus in accordance with NATO decisions become a full part of allied air policing and surveillance. 

  • Second, to support defence and security operations and exercises conducted for the sake of Iceland’s and allied defence, we will provide facilities at a special security zone at Keflavik international airport.


  • Third, Iceland now engages in the dissemination, analysis and interpretation of information among allies. The main emphasis is on threat analysis connected to our participation in peacekeeping operations. Iceland, is as well for the first time, producing information and intelligence to share with other allies, specifically regarding air activities in our area of responsibility in Air Surveillance and Policing.
  • Fourth, the Government of Iceland has already committed to increase substantially its contribution in the area of peacekeeping, where appropriate. Obviously, the Icelandic contribution is civilian in form and nature. That in and by itself causes certain challenges, although none that we have not been able to overcome so far. Already, Iceland has played a role in specific assignments, such as in the operation of Pristina Airport in Kosovo and Kabul International Airport in Afghanistan.  Increased civilian and military cooperation in matters of peacekeeping is a precondition for success, as we have seen in Afghanistan. Iceland has played a role there and our commitment to restoration continues. 

No peace survives for long without healthcare, schools, roads, airports, electricity etc. The military can do some of this work, but it needs the support of the civilian reconstruction agencies. A comprehensive approach is needed and a better cooperation between the military and civilian aspects of peace building.


In matters of security affairs, Iceland will inevitably always focus on “soft-defense” where the Foreign Service plays a key role and where work on peacekeeping and development aid will be at the forefront.


Our candidacy to the the UN Security Council should be viewed in this context. The candidature, for the period 2009-2010, is actively supported by the other Nordic states, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, and reflects Iceland’s firm commitment to play an active role in cooperation with others in addressing the most pressing security threats of the 21st Century. 



Ladies and Gentlemen,

As I have explained, Iceland is like the Alliance itself, in a process of transformation. The lessons of recent decades do however tell us not to expect this process of transformation to end. Globalisation and increasingly assymmetrical challenges mean that security policy and strategic concepts are unlikely to ever be carved in stone again in the foreseeable future.


It is remarkable how well NATO has been transformed from a static Cold War collective defence organization, to a 21st century active collective security organization. Alliance membership has grown from 16 to 26 in less than ten years, and new prospective members continue to line up for membership. The Alliance now cooperates near and far with various friends and partners, and its cooperative fora such as the NATO-Russia Council, the Partnership for Peace, the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the Mediterranean dialogue continue to prove their worth.

Operationally, the Alliance has also undergone change, although much more can and should be done.

We should however always be mindful of preserving the essential geostrategic indivisibility of the Alliance.

Geostrategic changes since the end of the Cold War have triggered a refocusing on new threats and challenges. Geographically our focus has shifted to the Balkans and the Middle East. We recognize that given the more immediate focus on the Alliance’s southern flanks, the nations in our region in the north have to maintain their vigilance and foster certain self-reliance, yet within a NATO context.

The concept of NATO does rest on the indivisibility of security – so that we are together in meeting risks and challenges. We must remember that although our region, here in the north, is peaceful and the prospect of conflict minimal,  we also face asymmetrical challenges – many arising as a consequence of climate change and increased economic activity in the Arctic.

It is therefore important that NATO has the mission and the ability to monitor the situation in the Northern Atlantic and in the Arctic and analyse new possible threats.



Ladies and gentlemen,

All the activities mentioned earlier, reflect the emergence of a new, more active and comprehensive direction in Iceland’s Foreign Policy, including Security and Defense. Whether within NATO, the UN, the OSCE, the European Economic Area or in general development cooperation, we are in the process of readdressing Iceland’s participation, contribution, influence and responsibility in the new globalized world community. This is in line with the Government’s explicit commitment to be pro-active in international affairs.


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