The question maybe should be: Why is Iceland in NATO when it does not have an army? Which is an excellent question and has been a hot topic for many Icelanders since 1949 when Iceland became one of the founding members of NATO after years of neutrality.
But does Iceland really not have an army?
Iceland has no standing army. The most obvious reason is that the population of Iceland is too small to have a capable military, plus it is much too expensive.
The Icelandic Coast Guard maintains defences for Iceland and is armed with small arms, naval artillery and air defence radar stations.
Iceland also has the National Commissioner’s National Security and Special Forces Unit – the only armed police in Iceland. It is the equivalent of the US’ SWAT team.
Additionally, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Development operates the small Icelandic Crisis Response Unit, which is a peacekeeping force. Their operations are often military in practice, so everyone gets a basic infantry combat training.
But what happens if someone attacks Iceland?
Iceland has military agreements with every country that is in NATO. They are obligated to protect Iceland if something happens. Which was probably one of the reasons Iceland decided to take part in the treaty in the first place.
After World War II, the world’s nations were afraid of a war of this scale, breaking out again. Thus, it would be important to form an alliance as a pre-emptive strike, so to speak.
Is Iceland a silent partner of NATO?
Indeed, the country is not. As mentioned before, NATO countries are obligated to defend Iceland. Until 2006 the US military had a Naval Air Station in Keflavík, where Keflavík International Airport is located now (or there about).
The Icelandic Government also offers NATO to use Iceland as a practice ground for future military actions.
This does not mean that the Icelandic people agree with Iceland being a member of NATO. There were big protests on the day the treaty was signed in Alþingi in 1949, with the police shoot tear gas at the protestors.
There have been regular NATO protests as well. Between 1960 and 1991, many protest walks were held between Reykjavík and the Keflavík military base where people walked the 50 kilometres (which is now mostly open to the public to have a look, with a school and housing for Icelanders – and others).
Even the Prime Minister of Iceland is a member of a party which is a stout anti-NATO party. Which has put her in a seriously awkward position since she has had to attend many NATO meetings.
In essence, Icelanders are generally proud of the fact there is no standing army, and there is fierce opposition of arming the police, for example. We’re a peace-loving nation and want to keep it so.