For some reason, Iceland has been cropping up in a few recent stories. For those who like unusual places and offbeat news, I thought I’d pass along small nibbles and a few bigger bites for a weekend read.
Can you name the only NATO country that has no army? Well, I gave it away, of course. It’s Iceland. According to this story in the National Post, Iceland dissolved its “defence force” in 2006
Ever since, Iceland has hosted what NATO calls “peacetime preparedness missions” in which, several times a year, a NATO country bunks down at Keflavik and takes charge of air defence. At any point, Iceland’s 300,000 citizens could see their skies patrolled by Germans, Norwegians, Danes, Portuguese, French or Americans.
If Iceland should ever find itself embroiled in “crisis or conflict,” however, the island nation’s game plan is to immediately put the United States in charge of defence.
Canada is now in the middle of “Operation Ignition“, a 5-week “turn” to patrol and defend Iceland, something it also did in 2011.
Would Iceland ever need defending? Well, that’s a good question, one that certainly concerns the U.S. If you like extensive background, here’s a detailed but readable paper from the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College “At Crossroads: Iceland’s Defense and Security Relations 1940-2011“.
Which brings me to the next item of curiosity.
According to a fascinating 3/22 account in the New York Times, a former communist party official from China has been trying to buy or lease land a far-flung corner of Iceland “…to build a luxury hotel and an ‘eco golf course’ for wealthy Chinese seeking clean air and solitude.” The area in question is Grimsstadir. It’s an isolated, barren and windswept expanse of next-to-nothing in the north-east. One might think it among the least likely spots for such development on earth.
It’s quite the tale, and generates much speculation:
A proposal by the Zhongkun Group to renovate a small landing strip in the Grimsstadir area and buy 10 aircraft led to anxious talk of a Chinese air base. The area’s relative proximity to deep fjords on Iceland’s northeast coast near offshore oil reserves fueled speculation about a Chinese push for a naval facility and access to the Arctic’s bountiful supplies of natural resources. Far-fetched rumors about Chinese missiles and listening posts led to worries about military personnel pouring in disguised as hoteliers and golf caddies.
Truly, stranger than fiction.
Lastly, in the Iceland file, with each new fiscal/banking crisis in the European Union, I go back and wonder about what life is like in Iceland, after that nation was in the center of its own bank collapse.
Given a choice between democracy and serving the financial industry, Iceland said democracy matters more. Their economy took some lumps, but seems to be muddling along. Ireland took a different route (austerity), which some have come to regret. Paul Krugman takes a whack at this comparison now and then, as with this blog from 2011 in the New York Times.
According to this 1/29/13 article in the Telegraph, a recent ruling bolstered Iceland’s decision, even while it raised new worries about European banking on the whole:
The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) court on Monday ruled that Iceland did not break European free trade laws on deposit guarantee schemes by refusing to compensate foreign depositors after Icesave’s owner, Lansbanki, collapsed in 2008.
The judgment obliterates any hopes the UK government had of pursuing Reykjavik for interest on the £2.35bn bail-out. It also raises grave questions about Europe’s cross-border banking arrangements, which allow overseas lenders to “passport” into a country without being subjected to local financial regulation
I’m no economist. Much of the financial mess is beyond my understanding. I couldn’t find much on how Iceland and Ireland compare now, in 2013. Also, observers are still arguing about the net effect of each country’s responses.
But how different places react – and what they chose to value – is both interesting and instructive. Especially as the crisis is far from over and many other countries are also facing hard choices.
It turns out that Iceland is worth watching for all sorts of reasons.