Iceland is well known for being a peaceful country with no standing army. However, that image deserves nuance: Iceland is a member of NATO, and has unquestionably abided anything NATO wants to do. Sometimes, Iceland goes even further than a lot of NATO countries do when it comes to militarism. Earlier this month at the United Nations was one of those occasions.
It came to light that Iceland was not one of the 122 countries that approved an international ban on nuclear weapons at a special session of the United Nations. Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs told reporters that he did not believe the ban was “realistic,” but said Iceland supports a “nuclear weapons-free world.”
As RÚV reported, while many countries approved the ban, many also chose not to participate. The United States, for one, harshly criticised the measure, and Holland was the only country to actually vote against it. Iceland was amongst the countries that abstained from participation.
“We have always supported the notion that we should have a nuclear weapons-free world, and we want nuclear weapons to be dismantled in a mutual manner,” Minister of Foreign Affairs Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson told reporters. “But it speaks for itself that the nuclear powers not participating in this ban means the practice isn’t realistic.”
NATO: Bringers of peace, lovers of nukes
Guðlaugur added that nuclear stockpiles have been reduced by 95% since the Cold War, “under the leadership of NATO.” However, it bears mentioning that NATO still possesses the majority of nuclear weapons in the world: 7,315 nukes in all, between the United States, France and the UK. Of these countries, the US has the largest arsenal—6,800 nukes—and the Pentagon’s own “nuclear census,” released in May 2016, showed that the reduction of nuclear weapons actually slowed down during the Obama presidency; in fact, it slowed down to a greater degree than during any other post-Cold War presidency. Which makes Guðlaugur’s remarks about a peace-loving, nukes-hating NATO ring hollow.
When asked whether he will push for further disarmament within NATO countries, Guðlaugur responded that this would be the case. However, he couldn’t simply leave it at that, and took his opinions of nuclear armament a step further.
Mom! Kim has nukes! I want nukes, too!
“Of course we will do what we can in the area [of nuclear disarmament],” the minister told reporters. “And there is solidarity on this issue within NATO. That’s why nuclear weapons have been decreasing. But this is done under the condition that this is a mutual operation. So NATO
and other countries will not tolerate that some other country, like North Korea for example, is the
only country with a nuclear weapon. I think that no one would want that.”
Putting aside the great unlikelihood that we could ever live in a world where North Korea is the only country to possess nuclear weapons, what the Foreign Minister is illustrating goes beyond Mutually Assured Destruction (a policy from the Cold War that ensured an uneasy peace by the understanding that both sides could annihilate one another), and seems to suggest that it is actually possible to win a nuclear war. A strange suggestion, not least of all from a Foreign Minister from the ostensibly most peaceful country in the world.