Feature of the Week: Invaded by Innovation

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Feature of the Week: Invaded by Innovation

A New Role for Former US Military Base

Out by Keflavík international airport in Iceland’s southwest corner, a former US military base has been transformed into a burgeoning venture zone with a focus on green energy, health and logistics. Called Ásbrú, the revamped site has plenty of projects that appeal to foreigners.

Published in the 2010 spring issue of Iceland Review – IR 48.01. By Lowana Veal, photos by Páll Stefánsson.

The American military first arrived in Iceland in July 1941, replacing the British military that had arrived 15 months earlier. But it was not until 1943 that the US military base near Keflavík was fully functional. That year, 50,000 troops were stationed at the base, although the number had fallen to 8,500 by September 1944. The American military left over a six-month period in 1946 under the terms of the Keflavík Agreement, but their duties continued to be carried out by an American civilian force. This situation did not last long, however. The military returned in 1951 as part of the deployment of U.S. forces to Europe in response to the Korean War, and stayed … until they gave six months’ notice and left in September 2006.

The Campaign Against Military Bases association and other peace organizations, which had organized eleven marches from Keflavík to Reykjavík between 1961 and 1991 against the presence of the base, applauded the departure of the military, but local residents from nearby towns on the Reykjanes peninsula were worried. The base provided employment for approximately 1,500 Icelandic civilians in its heyday, although only about 900 civilian employees were left when the base closed.

With the closure of the base, what would these people do? Would there be mass unemployment? What would happen to the local real estate market and house prices if hundreds of houses (which were widely perceived as sub-standard by Icelanders) were suddenly put on the market?

Luckily the situation is not as black as it could be although unemployment in the Sudurnes district has been the highest in the country since the departure of the US Army. Thanks to the hard work of the staff of Keflavík Airport Development Corporation (Kadeco), a multitude of new ventures has sprouted on the old military base, now called Ásbrú Enterprise Park.

You can read the remainder of this article in the 2010 spring issue of Iceland Review – IR 48.01. Four times a year the print edition of Iceland Review brings you a wealth of articles on all aspects of life in Iceland including Páll Stefánsson's latest images of the country's majestic landscape. Click here to subscribe and here to browse through a selection of pages from the current issue.