National Security and Defence
No army of its own
Iceland has never had its own army and had never taken up arms against others when the last World War broke out, at which time Iceland was dragged reluctantly into the whirlpool of the war. On the 10th of May 1940, only one month after German forces occupied Norway and Sweden, British forces occupied Iceland. Iceland’s strategic military importance was obvious: from there, a force might control vital shipping lanes between Western Europe and North America.
The Icelandic government protested the occupation, thereby stressing the nation’s neutrality. However, there was very strong and general support for the American cause in the war, as well as broad understanding of military necessity which was behind the occupation.
American forces took over from the British in 1941, after agreement was reached between them about the military protection of the island. It was stipulated in the agreement that the forces must depart immediately upon the conclusion of the war. The Americans did not keep to this part of the agreement, instead requesting the Icelanders to grant them use of three military bases in the country for a period of 99 years. There was an unanimous view that the American request should be rejected, but an agreement was reached which allowed the American air force use of the airport in Keflavík.
This agreement caused a great deal of dispute. Its supporters thought that the World War threw light on the clear strategic importance of the country and that this meant that Iceland could not remain passive while a new international balance of power was forming. Great opposition to the agreement existed both in the Parliament and amongst the general population. Many of the opponents were those in favour of Icelandic neutrality who feared for the future of such a small nation as Iceland if it developed closer ties with America, inevitable if some kind of permanent military cooperation was established. Those who believed in communism opposed supporting America, which they saw as the greatest opponent of left-wing policies. Despite these initially heated discussions regarding foreign affairs in Iceland, the agreement was approved by the Parliament.