|Security in the High North|
2012 Other | Written by Magdalena Tomasik | Thursday, 26 April 2012
The Icelandic case study with regards to the problem of security in the High North was
brought up during the morning session at the IPY Conference by Margaret Cela, Ph.D student from the University of Lapland. Iceland, as the smallest sovereign country in the Arctic, chooses to go by the Arctic Council's definition of Arctic boundaries, which places the island as the only state fully within the Arctic territory.
During the Cold War and up to 2006, Iceland benefitted from a permanent US troop presence, not least financially. After the US base at Keflavik closed there have been drastic changes in Iceland. For the first time since independence Iceland is for the most part responsible for its own security affairs, and in 2011 the government launched the process of preparing the country's first ever comprehensive security policy.
After a few years of economic boom the oversized banking system crashed in 2008, leading to increased instability in politics and society. The political system and small administration are under a lot of pressure, forced to focus on the most prominent issues like Iceland's current entry negotiations with the European Union, unemployment and indebtedness at home. Combined with severe spending cuts in the Foreign Service, this has left little attention for longer-term issues like climate change and its consequences.
However, the Arctic is not being ignored. Indeed it has been optimistically spoken of in terms of financial gain and given high priority in terms of activity among elite policy makers. References to the Arctic have become commonplace in statements and speeches both by the President, and the Foreign Minister of Iceland. Yet the issue has never so far been a subject of wide popular debate, even in the context of the advantages or dangers of the EU application on which so many interest groups have been vocal.
A new official Arctic strategy is now in the making in which Arctic peace, cooperation and stability are emphasized. Iceland seeks to balance its hopes of economic benefit from sustainable exploitation of new Arctic resources with awareness of growing risks from accidents and pollution, especially at sea. In terms of process, Iceland seeks no radical change in Arctic governance, but aims to enhance its influence primarily through the Arctic Council and is not opposed to using the latter to accommodate new powers (EU, China) seeking a part in the region's affairs.