Will NATO ever understand Iceland?
Because its national interests are global in scope, the United States must be a global power capable of protecting distant interests. Since American resources are not unlimited, it is natural that the US should seek to extend its global reach by forging strategic consensus with like-minded countries in distant geographic regions. The central policy issue to be resolved is the nature of the foundation upon which strategic consensus is to be built.Skip to next paragraph
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Small states seem to be important to superpowers largely in terms of their strategic location or military potential. As in the case of Iceland, this can lead to a dependency relationship in which the smaller state is forced to acquiesce, but which it perceives as contrary to its real interests. Iceland has never and does not now maintain armed forces. Upon joining NATO in 1949, Iceland reaffirmed its intention neither to raise an army nor to maintain military forces of any kind. Largely because of this apparent contradiction, Iceland is frequently perceived as a ''reluctant ally.'' When Icelanders have such little interest in things military, many must wonder why Iceland belongs to a military alliance.
The 1949 acceptance of NATO membership was a contentious decision involving a dramatic change in Icelandic security and foreign policy perspective. In 1945 it was clearly the intention of the Icelandic government to return to a security policy based on neutrality. As the cold war developed, the international security environment was not conducive to this course of action. Iceland joined the UN in 1946, seeking security in the concept of collective security. As events in Eastern Europe unfolded and Soviet intentions became more intelligible in the West, Iceland showed some interest in participating in the formation of a Scandanavian defense pact. After this idea collapsed, and it became obvious that the UN could not insure the sovereignty of small states, Iceland became a founding member of NATO. Thus in a brief span of four years, Iceland experimented with three approaches for guaranteeing security.
To understand Icelandic defense psychology, it is important to realize that military alliance was viewed as a last resort.
Since World War II, Iceland's foreign policy has been designed to prevent external domination by either superpower. Although a member of NATO, Iceland's perceptions of threat to national security are not dominated by fear of Soviet military capability. Nordic Europe in general and Iceland in particular disagree with the larger, military powers in NATO over the primary values threatened and the best policy approach likely to protect core values. In Iceland the basis of national security is perceived to rest on four pillars: (1) maintenance of a broad social consensus for government, (2) continued economic growth, (3) development of a stable welfare system, and (4) maintenance of a regional balance of power at the lowest possible level of military activity.