Friday, October 21, 2005

Will the Keflavik base cease to exist?

In 1949 Iceland was one of the founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At the request of NATO a 1951 agreement was sign between the United States and Iceland basically stating the United States will provide the armed forces and defense for the Icelandic people.

From the fifties to the late eighties the Keflavik base was a major deterrence and the first line of defense from the Soviet threat by sea and air. However because of the end of the Cold War downsizing of the Keflavik base was certain. Under Clinton administration during the 1990’s the Icelandic government and United States successfully negotiated a reduction of forces and aircraft but agreed to leave a smaller number of forces and aircraft there permanently.

In May of 2003 without warning the Bush administration announced plans to further decrease the U.S. forces in Iceland by pulling out the remaining F-15’s, rescue helicopters, and refueling tanker planes within one month. Iceland strongly opposed the plan arguing the aircraft are essential to its air defense and a symbol of the U.S. commitment to defend the country. With the help of the NATO Secretary General the plans were postponed and put on hold for further discussion.

However over 2 years later the future of the base is still uncertain.

There have been 2 or 3 high level meetings since 2003 to discuss the future the base. These have been closed door meetings so information is scarce. But indications are the meetings haven’t gone well. In a meeting this week in Washington D.C. the Icelandic delegation walked out apparently not happy with the latest proposal from the U.S. delegation as reported by Iceland Review.

Iceland Review and other sources indicate from previous meetings the U.S. wants Iceland to subsidize part of the defense cost. I assume Iceland is willing to do this however I do know Iceland doesn’t want the base or number of aircraft to be any smaller than it already is. Iceland’s position is if the U.S. puts out the aircraft they might as well just shut down the base. I wish I knew but I have no idea what the latest U.S. proposal is.

I can think of many other countries the U.S. could withdraw their forces from but Iceland shouldn’t be one of them. Iceland has been a long time ally of the United States. Their government supported the Iraq war when many European countries didn’t. Iceland has also contributed to peacekeeping operations in the Balkans and Afghanistan. They also will contribute millions of dollars in humanitarian and reconstruction aid to Iraq.

Iceland doesn’t have an armed force or an air defense with little hope of being able to maintain one. Iceland has come a long way economically since the 1950’s and has one of the world’s highest standards of living so helping subsidize part of the defense cost would be reasonable. The bottom line is Iceland paid their dues by allowing the U.S. to create a first line of defense on their land to protect primarily the U.S. interest during the Cold War. The base is already downsized and is the home of only four F-15 fighter planes. In the sprit of the original 1951 agreement we need uphold our end of the agreement and protect our friends the Icelandic people.


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