Iceland—In yet another European election Icelanders flocked to the polls to decide their nation’s future.
Could the result spell trouble for NATO and U.S. interests in the Arctic?
First some background.
In the Second World War, the Allies had a strategically vital base in the small island nation. The Allied supply convoys from North America to Britain skirted Iceland. In the Battle of the Atlantic, German U-boats were a menace. The joint base in Keflavik, thus, became essential to the Allies for it housed surveillance and anti-submarine aeroplanes.
Keflavik Naval Air Station (NAS) retained its importance during the Cold War. The threat, submarines, was the same, but they were now Soviet and packed with nukes.
The Cold War ended, but Russia remained an adversary.
So, it was unexpected when in 2006 the base closed.
But an agreement signed last year between the US and Icelandic governments reverted the closure. In return for the presence of US troops on Iceland, the island nation will continue to enjoy the protection of the U.S. military.
In the FY2017 defence budget, the Pentagon allocated close to $22 million to renovate NAS Keflavik. NATO can also use the base.
Iceland is a founding member of NATO. But her defence capabilities are limited to the Icelandic Coast Guard and the National Police’s Víkingasveitin (meaning the Viking Squad), a counter-terrorism unit and rough equivalent to the FBI’s HRT.
So, it falls to NAS Keflavik to be vigilant of the Russian Northern Fleet. The Fleet is the largest in the Russian Navy and owns 75% of Moscow’s naval strength. Responsible for the Arctic and Atlantic, it includes everything from nuclear subs to the Russian Flagship.
The U.S. Navy’s Boeing P-8 Poseidons, a maritime, patrol, and reconnaissance plane specializing in anti-sub and anti-surface warfare and intelligence gathering, maintain a presence to monitor any abnormal Russian military activity in the Arctic and northern sea trade routes.
Underneath her frozen bosom lie the Arctic treasures natural resources such as mineral, natural gas, and oil. As the world gets warmer and icebergs melt, these resources will be left exposed for the taking. And with murky international boundaries, ‘accidents’ can happen.
In 2006 (the same year the base closed), the Arctic Council (AC) launched as a place of discourse between those vying for Arctic resources. The Council is comprised of eight countries: Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Russia, and the U.S.; the European Union and China are observers.
Despite her small size, Iceland has had quite a presence in the Council. In 2007, the Icelandic Government shot down an attempt by Denmark to create an ‘Arctic Five.’ This smaller version of the AC would have included only Denmark, Norway, Canada, Russia, and the U.S. Iceland, moreover, has been hosting the Arctic Circle Conference up to this year.
So, now that we’ve established some background, let’s go back to the question: could the elections’ result spell trouble for NATO and U.S. interests in the Arctic?
Iceland has a 63 seat Parliament.
Judging from the election results, a coalition between the Left-Green Movement (11 seats), the Social Democratic Alliance (7 seats), the Progressive Party (8 seats), and the Pirate Party (6 seats) is the most likely scenario. With a combined 32 seats, the above partnership will be able to form a government. And Katrin Jakobsdottir, the leader of the Greens, will probably be the next Prime Minister.
Iceland looks to a left-leaning government over the next four years.
All the above parties except the Progressive are centre-left or left-wing. The Greens, moreover, stress environmentalism, feminism, and pacifism as their most important political aims.
Thus, it looks like there may be some trouble ahead for Western military presence on the island. Although the agreement signed last year stands true, a left-wing government can always find ways to frustrate things. But that also doesn’t mean that they’ll make any approaches to Russia. On the contrary, based on their political vision, they would most probably push for a demilitarised Arctic and a ‘green’ approach to the region’s natural resources.
Featured image courtesy of Wikipedia