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Militarizing the North Atlantic

Keneva Kunz and Ami Hjartarson — June 1984

HAFNARFJORDOUR – There is an old saying. in Iceland that under the ocean’s surface lurk a hundred hazards. However, with the ever-increasing militarization of the North Atlantic, the hazards can probably be numbered at least in the thousands by now, and the pace of the arms race in the area shows no signs of slowing in the near future.

Iceland pursued a policy of neutrality in international affairs from the inception of sovereignty in 1918 until the British occupation of the country during World War II. In 1942, the Americans replaced the British and remained for the duration of the war.

From the outset, the Americans expressed the desire for permanent military installations in the country. However, Iceland’s newly achieved independence in 1944 and the end of the war in 1945 served to strengthen the desire for continuing non-alignment, and the Americans were forced to withdraw. However, in 1949, the government agreed to join NATO (refusing to permit a referendum on the issue, despite widespread protest and even riots in the streets), on condition that military forces would never set foot in Iceland during peacetime.

Scarcely two years later, in 1951, American troops returned to Keflavik, as there was now a war going on – in Korea.

During the ’50s and early ’60s, American operations in Iceland consisted primarily of radar and surveillance installations, as well as forward bases for bombers. However, changing tactics and a growing emphasis on nuclear warfare have resulted in the increased strategic importance of Iceland and the waters of the North Atlantic for the waging of nuclear war. Consequently, the scope of American military operations in Iceland has increased enormously over the past decade or so.

Orion PC-3s and Phantom F4E fighters are based in Keflavik. Both are designed for nuclear armaments and are intended for anti-submarine operations.

From the western and eastern corners of the country lie SOSUS underwater listening devices to monitor submarine traffic. LORAN-C installations orient NATO submarines and satellite communication centres are operated. AWACS, flying radar and control posts for air and missile warfare, are based at Keflavik. Negotiations are underway for construction of more radar installations. Construction of new, reinforced hangar facilities and greatly increased fuel storage facilities near Keflavik are well underway.

Recently plans for the construction of missile bases in Iceland were discovered, in connection with proposals to make available facilities for the sections of the American military which control long-range bombers and land-based missiles.

The situation in Iceland is probably duplicated to a greater or lesser degree all across the North Atlantic. While the European peace movement protests the deployment of 572 new ground launched missiles, “Battlefield North Atlantic” will be getting 3995 sea-launched and 3418 air-launched cruise missiles.

Opposition to Icelandic involvement in NATO and to American military operations in the country has been widespread, both in and out of Parliament. Annual rallies, cultural festivals and 50 km mass peace marches from Keflavik to Reykjavik have become traditional forms of protest.

With the upsurge in the European and North American peace movements, the Icelandic Campaign Against Military Bases (SHA) has sought to cooperate with other organizations, especially in the British Isles and Scandinavia, to work toward common disarmament goals and to exchange information.

In April 1983, an international conference was held in Glasgow, where representatives from the peace movements in countries bordering on the North Atlantic met to discuss the common dangers and to coordinate efforts to reverse the trend. Participants expressed the desire to collaborate with other peace movements in the Faeroes, Greenland, and Canada, to draw all the North Atlantic countries into discussion of these questions.

A follow-up conference, sponsored by a steering committee elected in Glasgow, will be held in Reykjavik, Iceland, August 24-26, 1984. The conference will discuss the dangers facing all the countries whose coastlines border on the North Atlantic and what can be done to reduce them. The conference is open to all interested parties, and details can be obtained from:

Erling Olafsson
Einarsnesi 42
Reykjavik, Iceland

or from Campaign Against Military Bases in Iceland
P.O. Box 314
Reykjavik, Iceland.