Icelanders like to brag about Iceland being a country with no military. While this is true in some sense, some might argue that Iceland is not 100% without a military. Iceland has never invaded another country, it has no standing army and no defence agency, but it does have...
The coast guard
The Icelandic coast guard is perhaps what most closely resembles an Icelandic military. It’s purpose is to guard and protect the Icelandic coast, economic zone and territories. It is responsible for search and rescue on sea, explosives safety, radar stations etc. Furthermore, it is responsible for oceanographic surveys around Iceland. The coast guard employs 200 people and operates four armed sea vessels and four aircrafts. It cooperates with other European coast guards as part of the Schengen agreement. The coast guard was Iceland’s only defense against the British navy in the so called “Cod wars” of the late 20th century (which weren’t actually wars).
The Viking Squad
The special weapons and tactics team, or simply the Viking Squad, is the only police department in Iceland that carries firearms. The Viking squad consists of 50 specially trained police officers, who are part of ordinary police departments on a day-to-day basis but respond specifically to police duties that require the use of tactics and weapons when needed. Their duties include counter-terrorism, disarming of dangerous criminals, counter-espionage, bomb disposal etc. Force is used only as a last resort.
The Icelandic Crisis Response Unit
The ICRU, also known as the Icelandic peace guard is a 30 person unit of people with military training whose job it is to do keep peace, manage crises, give emergency assistance etc. in war zones. It cooperates with NATO (see blow) and the United nations, and has for example been deployed on missions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo.
Keflavík naval base
Iceland was occupied by the British navy in 1940 and again by the US navy in 1941. Ten years later, the US navy built a naval base in Keflavík. From then on, the US navy had a permanent base in Iceland and was responsible for Iceland’s defences until the base was abandoned in 2006. The naval base is still standing, but instead of a navy, it now houses schools and civilian apartments.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization
NATO was founded in 1949 and its objectives are to keep peace in Europe and North-America, and to support defence cooperation. Its member states agree to mutual defense in response to an attack by any external party. Iceland is one of the founding members of NATO and takes an active part in its operations, for example by managing military airports in Kabul and Pristina, and by deploying the ICRU on NATO missions. Iceland’s participation in NATO is highly controversial among Icelanders.
This article was written in cooperation with Áttavitinn