The alliance with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Bilateral Defence Agreement of 1951 between Iceland and the United States remain fundamental pillars of Iceland's security and defence. Iceland is a country without a military and has emphasised a comprehensive and multilateral approach in security affairs and is a member of key organisations, such as the United Nations, NATO and the OSCE.
The concept of security is no longer restricted to territorial defence; the concept is much wider and extends to coming to terms with new challenges. Individual states will not by themselves prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, international crime, environmental degradation, financial security, cyber threats, human trafficking, the negative impact of climate change, poverty and destitution, nor the threat posed by fragile states. These global threats can only be met through active international cooperation.
The fight for human rights and women's empowerment, peace and disarmament has high priority in Iceland's foreign policy. These are values that the Icelandic Government wants to emphasize in international cooperation, values that the Government has also taken on as an international commitment.
There is a clear connection between the respect for human rights, including the rights of women, and sustainable peace and security. Iceland has in its work in international arena, especially endeavoured to contribute to the enhanced participation of women in decision making on all levels. Special attention has been given to UN Security Council Resolution No 1325 and to ways to enhance the participation of women in peace negotiations, post-conflict reconstruction and other peacebuilding initiatives.
Iceland has entered into cooperation with neighbouring states which entails dialogue on security and defence issues as well as situational awareness, search and rescue.
National security policy for Iceland
In 2016 Parliament approved a National Security Policy for Iceland, with no dissenting votes. This covers policies on foreign affairs, defence, and public safety and, among other things, provides for the establishment of a National Security Council that will oversee the execution of National Security Policy and promote effective discussion of security and defence issues.
The policy entails giving particular consideration to Iceland's environmental and security interests in the Arctic and stresses that Iceland's participation in NATO, and its defence agreement with the United States, will continue to be a pillar of the country's defence. Nordic cooperation on security and defence will also be developed and strengthened, and emphasis will be placed on effective cross-border collaboration based on international law and respect for human rights. It will be ensured that Iceland has the defence structures, equipment, capacity, and expertise needed to respond to challenges in the area of security, defence and human security. The Government's public defence and civil security policies are part of its national security policy. Emphasis will be placed on new global threats, brought about by climate change, natural disasters, food safety and security, health safety issues, and epidemics.
The national security policy encourages the promotion of increased cyber security and stresses that Government policy must take into account other global threats such as terrorism, organised crime, and threats to financial and economic security. Furthermore, Iceland and its territorial waters shall be declared free from nuclear weapons, subject to Iceland´s international commitments.
National Security Council
The National Security Council, established in 2016, will, amongst other tasks, monitor the compliance with the National Security Policy for Iceland, which was approved by the Althingi earlier this year and be a consultative forum for national security issues. The Council will also carry out regular assessments of the state of national security The law requires the National Security Council, in cooperation with academia, think-tanks and media, to promote an open and democratic debate on national security issues. The National Security Council will, on an annual basis, inform Althingi on the implementation of the National Security Policy and consult the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee of any issues that might affect the National Security Policy and its implementation.
Permanent members of the National Security Council are the Prime Minister, who will serve as the Chairman of the Council, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Justice as well as the Permanent Secretaries of the respective three Ministries. Furthermore, two Members of Parliament are permanent members of the Council, one from a party in government and the other from the opposition. The Council also includes the Director General of the Icelandic Coast Guard, the National Commissioner of the Police and a representative from ICE-SAR. The National Security Council can also call on other representatives to serve on the Council on an ad hoc basis if circumstances or subject matters require.
Iceland and NATO
Iceland has been a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since its foundation in 1949. An alliance with NATO and the 1951 Bilateral Defence Agreement with the United States of America remain the two main pillars of Iceland's security policy. With the changing security environment and the transformation of NATO, the contribution of Iceland to the Alliance has also undergone major changes. While having no standing armed forces, Iceland contributes to NATO operations with financial contributions and civilian personnel.
In its work within the Alliance, Iceland inter alia puts emphasis on NATO’s role in disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation, including nuclear issues; the common values of the Alliance, i.e. respect for democracy, rule of law and human rights; collective defence and the importance of solidarity, the transatlantic link and the indivisibility of security. Iceland also stresses the important role of NATO in implementing Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security; the High North and supports the notion that the Alliance should continue to be open to all European Countries that share the values of the Alliance as well as fulfil its conditions for membership.
Iceland operates an Air Defence and Surveillance system (IADS) which is part of the NATO integrated Air Defence System, composed of four radar sites and centrally controlled Air Command and Control System. IADS supports NATO allied air forces´ air surveillance missions in Iceland in order to ensure that air sovereignty is maintained.
NATO conducts air-surveillance missions in Iceland as decided by the Alliance’s North Atlantic Council in July of 2007. Missions are carried out by NATO Allies at an average of three times a year, for 2 to 3 weeks at a time.
Bilateral Defence Agreement with the United States
In 1951, Iceland and the United States of America concluded an agreement to make arrangements regarding the defense of Iceland and for the use of facilities in Iceland to that end. The agreement, along with NATO membership, remains one of the two pillars of Iceland‘s security policy.
In September 2006, Iceland and the United States concluded a series of documents related to the application of the Defence Agreement between Iceland and the United States of 1951, after the withdrawal of United States forces from Iceland. These documents include a Joint Understanding that establishes a framework for regular security consultations between Iceland and the US, which entails periodic senior-level strategic discussion and expert-level discussions on security issues, both military and non-military. Under this framework, Iceland and the US hold regular consultations on issues pertaining to the political, security and defence relations of the two countries, as well as international issues of mutual interest.
The United States participates in exercises and conducts air surveillance missions in Iceland.
- Bilateral Defence Agreement Between the United States and the Republic of Iceland, May 5, 1951
- Joint Understanding 2006
In 2009 Thorvald Stoltenberg presented a report on Nordic foreign and security policy cooperation, as tasked by the Nordic foreign Ministers. The report looks towards the next 10-15 years, making recommendations regarding a closer co-operation between the five Nordic countries, including on peacebuilding, air-policing and maritime monitoring, security in the High North, cyber-security, cooperation between foreign services and defence. In 2009 the five Nordic countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) with the aim to increase quality and enhance operational effect when it comes to defence cooperation. NORDEFCO provides an important platform for security policy dialogue and military cooperation in the region. The cooperation is built on shared values, and by acting together the Nordic countries can face the challenging security situation in the North and contribute to peace and security in the region. Iceland participates fully within the secuirty policy dialogue of the NORDEFCO framework. In 2011, the Nordic Foreign Ministers signed a Nordic declaration on solidarity, emphasising that it is natural for the Nordic countries to cooperate in a spirit of solidarity to meet challenges in the foreign and security policy area. This is particularly relevant in the face of potential risks, including natural and man-made disasters, cyber attacks and terrorist attacks.
Other Bilateral Cooperation
Iceland has entered into cooperation with neighbouring states which entails dialogue on security and defence issues as well as situational awareness and search and rescue. Since 2007 Iceland has concluded cooperation agreements with Canada, Denmark, Norway and the United Kingdom. In addition, Iceland has regular consultations with Germany and France on security and defence.
The Defence Act
The Defence Act No 34/2008 applies to the administration of defence matters within Icelandic territory as well as the co-operation and relations of Icelandic state authorities with foreign states, military authorities and international security and defence organisations. The Act does not apply to government matters that are civilian in nature, such as policing and civil defence.
The objectives of this Act are as follows:
- to define the powers of Icelandic state authorities regarding defence matters
- to define the limits between defence matters and civil activities pertaining to policing and internal state security;
- to differentiate between policy formulation and implementation in matters of defence;
- to facilitate democratic controls of defence-activities.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs is the central authority for defence and in charge of the implementation of this Act. The Minister for Foreign Affairs formulates defence policy within the framework of this Act and is responsible for the performance of a threat assessment regarding defence. The Minister is also responsible for the formulation and implementation of Iceland's Security and Defence Policy on the international arena and represents the Government of Iceland in relations and co-operation with foreign states, military authorities and international security and defence organisations, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.