"We need to ask ourselves about Iceland’s security and defense interests"

Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, the foreign minister of Iceland, says …

Þórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörð Gylfadóttir, the foreign minister of Iceland, says that the international situation calls for Iceland to consider its contribution to NATO. mbl.is/Eyþór

The Foreign Minister of Iceland, Þórdís Kol­brún Reyk­f­jörð­ Gyl­fa­dóttir­ says the current international situation makes the power of NATO, the commitments of the member states and their close co-operation more important than ever.

Iceland needs to ask itself how it wants to be an ally in NATO and what it can propose. It will be necessary to increase Iceland’s defense spending even further.

The NATO summit started yesterday in Washington DC, the US headquarters, and runs until Thursday. The summit is more festive than ever, as it marks the 75th anniversary of the NATO defense mission.

In the wake of the meeting, a journalist for Morgunblaðið spoke with the Foreign Minister about international cooperation, the commitments of the member states of NATO, and the importance of Iceland when it comes to defense co-operation.

Keflavík’s increased importance

Gylfadóttir says that the meeting is a great milestone, but it comes at a difficult time when the international system has changed considerably.

Therefore there are high expectations for the meeting, especially regarding Ukraine, long-term support for the country, and defense spending of the NATO countries.

The world leaders at the NATO summit in New York. …

The world leaders at the NATO summit in New York. Iceland's Prime Minister, Bjarni Benediktsson, is second in the third row from the right. AFP/Saul Loeb

When asked whether Keflavík is becoming more important in light of the development that has taken place there in connection with NATO, she agrees.

“The Keflavik area is important, not just for Icelandic security interests, but for the whole region. Yes, it is growing and will continue to grow. I am worried about developments in general when it comes to security and defense issues and behavior – primarily Russia’s, but also what other countries are doing.”

She also says that all the countries in the Arctic, except Russia, agree that it is necessary to keep tensions in the region low and not encourage them. Overall, the region is important and the geographical position of Iceland is equally important. Increased threats and changes in the international system make the Keflavík area more important.

Unfortunately, the situation is such that investment in the region needs to increase, not decrease.

What is our contribution?

“What I think is important here is that we need to ask ourselves about Iceland’s security and defense interests for us here, but also: What is our contribution as a worthy ally in NATO? Our geographical position is a contribution, but also to increase the capacity of those who may have to operate from Keflavík, and of course, there are training and other things. That’s also something we should ask ourselves,” Gylfadóttir says.

“It’s important to me that we are very aware that this development, and what’s happening, is in our direct interest in Iceland. We are not participants in NATO just because we want to be nice to others.

We are not taking a clear position on this just because it is the right thing to do. This is in Iceland's interest - that it can be said with certainty that the collective defense of NATO  exists and when we look at the old-fashioned land-winning war in Europe, which we didn't think we had to look at after the Second World War, it has clear consequences and it will be stopped.

Relying on international law

She says it is important for Icelanders to ask themselves what would happen to our export industries and our position as a tourism destination if the conflict in Europe worsened before it could improve again. Iceland relies on an international system and international law is respected.

“So I think it’s very important that we all here in Iceland understand what’s happening, what developments are, how serious they are, and think about how discussions are taking place in the countries around us, right next to us. All the Nordic countries have increased their defense budgets, not because they want to do so, but because they value their interests.

Taxes have been increased, education has been cut, and precautionary measures have been taken in all kinds of forms against the public in Iceland. We are certainly farther from the battlefield than many other countries, but we are not immune to what is happening around us.”

Calls for clear support

When asked, she said she wanted to see Iceland take the fact that it is a member of NATO seriously – being a worthy ally.

“We have been increasing defense spending, we will have to increase defense spending even further. We need to tighten our cooperation with our main alliance nations, both through the NATO-led alliance and through regional cooperation [...] We need to be aware that we are not immune to what is happening and we need to strengthen both our capabilities and our knowledge. It is a lot, but we are completely capable of doing this.

It needs leadership, which I have provided, and will continue to do. I know that it takes time to digest this changing world and I fully understand that, but politicians, media, and academia - we need to make this assessment clear and be ready to have the political leadership and courage to make decisions accordingly. It will, for instance, require increased defense spending, and this clear support will also continue for Ukraine.”

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