By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK (IDN) – With a population of 344,000, Iceland does not have a military of its own. Nevertheless, it is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and as such was one of the countries that boycotted the discussions leading up to the potentially groundbreaking UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, adopted on July 7.
Prior to the start of the conference leading up to the Treaty, Foreign Affairs Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson replied to a parliamentary question by Left-Green MP Steinunn Thora Árnadóttir on whether Iceland would take part in the UN discussions about banning nuclear weapons, as she felt that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation Nuclear Weapons (NPT) had not been very successful. [P 15] | JAPANESE TEXT VERSON PDF｜
Thordarson replied that like other NATO countries, Iceland considered it necessary that the nuclear states take part in the disarmament process and it was clear that this would not be the case.
“On the other hand, I can easily agree that the process is going too slowly in these matters and there are various ominous forebodings concerning security matters … This does not revolve around the aim – a world without nuclear weapons … but rather the means to this goal. We do not believe in the means involved here,” Thordarson explained.
“Moreover, our Permanent Representative at the UN in New York will obviously keep a close eye to the progress of this issue,” he added.
Sverrir Jakobsson, professor of history and former chairman of the Icelandic peace organization Campaign Against Military Bases, is scathing in his critique of Thordarson’s statements. “Their [NATO States] actual position seems to be that THEY ALONE should decide everything concerning if and how nuclear weapons should be abolished… If it is a question of aims, why are there no proposals from the nuclear states which can be measured against those of the majority of countries which support abolition?” he points out.
After the Treaty was signed, Thordarson said that “Iceland’s position towards nuclear weapons is very clear: that the aim shall be a world without nuclear weapons, and that these weapons shall be destroyed in a systematic, mutual manner. The most realistic way to do this, which is also the way which we believe will be most effective, is to continue to rely on the agreements and processes that already exist, such as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).”
“For its part,” reports a Foreign Ministry official, “NATO agreed the aim of a world without nuclear weapons in its 2010 Strategic Concept, but specifies at the same time that nuclear weapons remain part of the deterrence and defence preparations while nuclear weapons exist. The minister says that this is a natural position of a defence alliance, but it must also be remembered that NATO states have reduced their nuclear arsenals by up to 95% since the Cold War.”
To which Jakobsson comments: “Almost the whole arsenal of the USA has been ‘modernized’, which is a pretty clear violation of the NPT treaty.”
In an interview with the Icelandic State Broadcasting Service after 122 countries adopted the Nuclear Ban Treaty, Thordarson said that the measures outlined at the UN Headquarters in New York were not realistic. When nuclear weapons were dismantled, “it was done on the premise that it was done mutually, in such a way that NATO member states and other countries are not left with some countries, such as North Korea, being the only countries with nuclear weapons. I don’t think anyone would want that to happen.”
“If the reason for the NATO refusal to work towards abolition is connected with North Korea, why then has NATO made no commitment not to use nuclear weapons pre-emptively against North Korea or any other country? Whatever people think about North Korea, they cannot be faulted for rejecting a deal that has never been on offer. The recent tension in Korea has been stoked by both sides, including the U.S. decision to place the THAAD anti-missile system in Korea (and it could be argued that the whole anti-missile project is a violation of NPT, as their only conceivable purpose is to be able to make a nuclear attack without fear of repercussions),” Jakobsson pointed out.
Despite the lack of a military, Iceland was one of the Coalition of the Willing countries for invading Iraq. It also sends people on peacekeeping operations and one Icelander is currently working in Afghanistan as a NATO press officer. NATO routinely carries out air policing operations in Iceland.
Iceland was the only Nordic country that did not take part in the recent BALTOPS (BALTIC OPERATIONS) 2017 (June 1-16) naval exercise – an annual recurring multinational, maritime-focused exercise designed to provide high end training for the participants. This year 14 countries (Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United Kingdom, the United States and NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners: Finland and Sweden) participated.
Norway is another Nordic country in NATO. In 2016, it proposed a resolution in the UN General Assembly on the verification of disarmament that was “overwhelmingly supported”, according to the country’s Foreign Minister Børge Brende. “Our efforts for verification are essential to lay the groundwork for future reductions in nuclear weapons networks,” he said in an op-ed Norwegian newspaper article about Norway’s position to the Nuclear Ban Treaty.
In Brende’s opinion, “Unilateral winding up of NATO’s nuclear deterrence did not increase our security, but has led to strategic instability. The Netherlands participated in the bargaining negotiations, but concluded that the new treaty was not compatible with the country’s NATO membership. Should Norway, as the only NATO country, have joined the new ban, we would have distanced ourselves from a common allied security policy that has given us security for almost 70 years. That would be irresponsible.”
However, Jakobsson says: “No one is asking NATO to disarm unilaterally, only to take any steps in some direction towards disarmament, which the alliance is refusing to do… Nuclear weapons are unique in many respects, including the universal annihilation their use would undoubtedly result in. There have been plenty of wars for the last years, including several initiated by aggressive countries who possess nuclear weapons.”
“An argument that is used for a ban is that it will delegitimize nuclear weapons. Some draw comparisons to other disarmament processes and the effect of these. Nuclear weapons are unique in their deterrent effect and can not be compared with other weapons. They add a completely different strategic and political significance and are weapons that have never been used since Nagasaki. This threshold must be maintained,” Brende continued.
Jakobsson disagrees. “Again, a very ingenious argument. Nuclear weapons are unique in many respects, including the universal annihilation their use would undoubtedly result in. Their deterrent effect is one of the few things that can be doubted, as they have not prevented wars for the last 70 years,” he says.
One of Brende’s political advisors, State Secretary Marit Berger Røsland, wrote another op-ed piece in response to ICAN Norway’s Anne Marte Skaland, in which Skaland asks “What’s the problem?” Røsland points out: “There is also a problem that the treaty negotiated at the UN in New York on July 7 does not require membership of the NPT or accession to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) Supplementary Protocol with robust control mechanisms. This could undermine the existing global non-proliferation regime.”
Skaland’s question was part of a letter she wrote that was published in the Norwegian daily newspaper Klassekompen. She concludes by saying: “Brende focuses only on the fact that nuclear weapons states are not included. I would also like him to value that previously underrepresented players take place, take power and set a standard for what is right and wrong. History has shown us that when change occurs, those who lose power, legitimacy and privileges will resist. But eventually you get used to it. Eventually, the new norm is established and accepted.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 23 August 2017]
Photo: A candle-floating ceremony in memory of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in which three officials of the Japanese embassy in Reykjavik participated. One of the speakers said there was now a great need for the Icelandic peace movement to encourage the Icelandic government to sign and ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Credit: Lowana Veal | IDN-INPS
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