Contributing to International Welfare - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Contributing to International Welfare

Contributing to International Welfare

Published August 1, 2008

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A few years ago, the Icelandic government decided to contribute to
international peacemaking and established an organisation known as The
Iceland Crisis Response Unit, ICRU . Its activity is still somewhat of
a riddle to many and some of its operations have been heavily
criticised. The stated purpose of the squad is to promote stability in
war-zones and other areas in need of help, but various critics consider
the unit nothing more than a fledgling “Icelandic Army”. Some of the
unit’s personnel are armed at all times and the ICRU’s employee based
in Iraq was even withdrawn when Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Iceland’s
current Minister of Foreign Affairs, took over. Just after the release
of their 2007 Annual Report, Grapevine caught up with her and picked
her brains about this unique state-operated movement.

What exactly is The Iceland Crisis Response Unit, and what are its functions? 
The Iceland Crisis Response Unit is our contribution to peace cultivation in the world and is considerably new. Its actions are merely civilian, not war related at all. Some peace crisis response units are inclusive in a military setup, but of course we don’t possess an army of our own so that’s not the case here. Let’s keep that straight; all of our employees are merely civilian and not soldier-like at all. The unit’s main role is elaborate but it basically consists of developing communities damaged in warfare, the basic precondition for the ICRU’s arrival is that actual military conflicts have ceased.
What are the main goals of this Icelandic peace movement and how do you plan to attain them?
Well, the main goal is to do our best to encourage development following military confrontations. We emphasise the protection of women and children and the extensive difficulties faced by women and children in demanding times. A lot of them have suffered repulsive abuse; the strategy of using rape as an instrument of war is well known. This is but part of the substantial aftermath to conflict that needs to be dealt with. We try to achieve our goals with pragmatic assistance and useful instructions.
Many of the areas patrolled by the ICRU are rife with animosity against interfering Western forces. Have diplomatic methods always sufficed to meet ICRU goals? Have they resorted to more hostile approaches?
No, the ICRU has never been involved with anything of the sort. Our people do not possess the knowledge or training mandatory for extreme measures such as military operations; they have not been trained in warfare so it is really impossible.
It is still a well-known and heavily criticised fact that some of the unit’s personnel, for instance the ones in Afghanistan, carry weapons on a standard basis. Are you insinuating that these people have not had the appropriate training for carrying arms, and are incompetent?
No not at all. The ones working at the airport in Kabul carry weapons, and those people have received substantial training. We like to think that although they carry weapons, it is only for protection but not for any professed military responsibilities. The security in Kabul is military operated, though, and we have to abide to their control.
Do you think it is proper to mix development aid, which you say is the main role of the ICRU, with military actions such as in Kabul?
It is of course rather obvious that development aid isn’t exactly our main goal in Kabul. Although our professed agenda comprises of various objectives, such as development assistance, there are certain “advanced activities” that are not included in it.
So we are apparently taking part in various militaristic activities. But who decides the unit’s projects? Is it the Icelandic Government?
Yes. It’s merely us that decide where, how and why we operate.
Is the ICRU established to fulfil Iceland’s international commitments?
Not at all. Its establishment was a contribution to international welfare. However, it was always a goal that it would measure up to international criterion. But again, no, we weren’t under any international pressure at all. This is our idea, our policy formulation and our decision.
The present cost of sustaining the ICRU is about 600 million ISK a year. What are your future plans for it? Will you augment the budget?
Yes. It is on our agenda to increase funding for development assistance and co-operation, and that includes amplifying the ICRU, which will become a much more established organisation in the coming years.
Was revoking the ICRU’s member based in Iraq some sort of statement? If so, have you received any feedback?
Of course it was a statement. I was against the Iraq invasion from the beginning, and I think the whole situation was a genuine fiasco. When I came into office we reached the conclusion that we wouldn’t take part in any operations based in Iraq. Regarding feedback; everybody seems to have concurred with my decision, at least I haven’t heard any complaints.
It is on your agenda to obtain a seat in the UN Security Council. Is operating the ICRU perhaps a strategy to further that goal?
I mean, of course it’s connected to our bid for a seat in the Security Council. Any nation that sits in the council has to be familiar with the realm of the present conflicts, as they constitute the bulk of the council’s work.
Your annual report cites Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous quote: “We have to contribute to peace in a non-violent way”. Isn’t that a bit sarcastic, since you operate armed divisions?
There is a crisis going on in Afghanistan and the UN Security Council has ordered squads there to be armed for security’s sake. So I wouldn’t say it unsuitable to call our measures non-violent. I am not particularly fond of their bearing arms, and even think it might only entertain a false sense of security. But if experts have ordered them to carry arms for their own personal safety, I won’t dispute their verdict. It is after all they who face the dangers of that environment. 

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