Selling Our Morality

26.3.2010
Words by Paul Nikolov
They say principles only matter when they're difficult to adhere to. That certainly comes to mind with regards to the Icelandic government's relationship with the Dutch military consultancy company ECA Program.

ECA Program is a private company that, according to their website, is “the world’s first politically and commercially independent training support company that ... answers the training needs of armed forces around the globe. This is possible thanks to the fielding of an integrated system that is composed of individual assets such as aircraft, drones, cruise missile simulators, ground based air defenses, radars, passive ELINT components and jamming complexes.” They have recently approached Iceland, offering 200 billion ISK to use the old NATO base in Keflavík.

There are a few problems with this. First of all, few sources apart from the company's own website can attest to what work they have done and intend to do. The source of their finances is even more obscure. It would be advisable that a private military company wishing to do business with Iceland would be more forthcoming on these points.

Second, one of the founding platforms of the Leftist-Green Party – which shares power with the Social Democrats – is anti-militarism. This is the party that celebrated when the NATO base closed in 2006. But apart from the Leftist-Greens, the Icelandic people themselves are decidedly pacifist. A Gallup poll taken at the time showed that about 80% of the nation was against Iceland supporting the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Iceland's quasi-military work in Afghanistan was also unpopular, and one of the first items on the budget to get the axe when spending cuts needed to be made last year was the Office of Defense. At the same time, Iceland is a NATO country. We pay our yearly dues into the organization, and have let member countries conduct exercises here. Our pacifism is tempered with realism when it comes to threat assessment.

But doing business with a shadowy private military company goes far beyond pacifism tempered with realism. It is the literal eschewing of one of our strongest principles for the sake of cash. This sets a dangerous precedent: who else are we going to let set up shop here, no questions asked, just because they wave a check under our noses? If you sell your scruples once, it gets easier each time.

To be sure, unemployment is nearing 10%. The people of Keflavík need jobs. ECA is offering a lot of money for use of the old base. However, unemployment is projected by the Central Bank to peak in June. Foreign analysts are already amazed with the speed of Iceland's economic recovery, with a balanced budget predicted in just two years' time. The government certainly needs to pay more attention to Keflavík, and the ECA matter should serve as a wake-up call. But there are likely better ways to help these people than to accept money from a secretive military firm.

Most baffling of all is this deal has apparently already been given the green light by Icelandic authorities. Social Democrat MP Björgvin G. Sigurðsson told reporters as much last week. Coming from a leftist government, this is especially bizarre – a backroom deal with a private military company about which little is publicly known sounds positively Reaganesque.

Not that the ruling coalition is alone in the blame. The same opposition parties who were quick to pound the pulpit and shout about democracy when it came to the terms of a business agreement over a failed bank have not only shown no objection to this backroom deal; conservative chairman Bjarni Benediktsson recently gave reporters a list of rationalizations for the ECA in Iceland. No calls for democracy, no calls for a vote, and certainly no calls for a referendum. Taking part in privatized, for-profit militarism warrants none of these things, apparently.

The Icelandic government would do well to say no to ECA Program. That the conservatives have no qualms with selling our principles should come as no surprise – these are the same politicians who gleefully brag to foreign journalists about how “green” we are in one breath, and then cheerlead for more aluminum smelters in the next. This leftist government has an example to set, not only in terms of standing by their own platforms, but staying true to the morals of our national character.

Troubled times challenge our principles. But can they even be called “principles” when they're for sale?

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