Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who left Iceland this morning after a two day visit with government officials, said at a press conference yesterday that Iceland played a “crucial” role in NATO. “In these unpredictable times, we need NATO more than ever. I count on Iceland’s support as we make the Alliance even fitter, faster and more flexible,” he said.
During his stay, Rasmussen met individually with both Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, as well as Minister for Foreign Affairs Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson. According to Morgunblaðið, Rasmussen’s primary reason for the visit was to discuss plans for the NATO summit, to be held in Wales in September, and which will primarily focus on the shift in allegiances which occurred following Russia’s invasion of Crimea earlier this year.
“Since the end of the Cold War NATO has tried to approach Russia through constructive collaboration. Now we have realized that Russia sees us as the enemy,” Rasmussen told Morgunblaðið. “Since the conclusion of the Cold War Europeans have generally grown used to a relatively stable and peaceful environment ... Now we are looking at a completely different situation ... Russia’s actions in Ukraine have woken us up from this dream. They remind us that we can no longer take our security as a given. In reality it is threatened,” he added.
NATO currently does not have any plans for a militaristic response in Ukraine, even in the event of a Russian invasion. If that were to occur, Rasmussen does however think it the responsibility of the entire international community to send a firm response, including harsher and further reaching economic sanctions against Russia. NATO plans to focus its attention to the fortification of Ukraine’s defenses and an increased collaboration with Ukrainian authorities.
Photo: Geir Ólafsson.
When it comes to Iceland’s role in these developments, Rasmussen says that that is for Icelanders to decide. “The current state of readiness in Iceland is meant for times of peace with allied nations taking turns to monitor Icelandic airspace. It does not involve a constant military presence, but rather patrolling that takes place every now and then ... Whether these actions should be expanded is mostly up to Icelanders to decide,” said Rasmussen.
“Iceland can also participate with increased monetary contributions. Even though Iceland cannot provide military equipment or personnel, the country can do their part through monetary contributions. These are things that will be discussed at the NATO summit in Wales,” he added.
Rasmussen expressed concerns about the cuts in military spending by NATO nations in the past decades. “In the past five years NATO’s allied nations have on average cut their contributions by 20 percent. Some of them up to 40 percent. At the same time Russians have increased the amount earmarked for their military by 50 percent. It is obvious that this development will not be sustainable.”
The Secretary General will retire at the end of September this year. When pressed, the former Danish Prime Minister said that he will not return to Danish politics following his departure from NATO, nor will he take up professional cycling. “In regards to the cycling, it will first and foremost remain a hobby,” Rasmussen said with a chuckle. “I will not return to Danish politics. I have considered several options in regards to my future post-September. I have not made a conclusive decision, as I want to focus my attention a 100 percent on completing my term,” Rasmussen concluded.