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Military of Iceland

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Military of Iceland
Flag of Iceland (state).svg
State flag of Iceland
Service branchesIcelandic Coast Guard
Iceland Crisis Response Unit
HeadquartersReykjavík, Iceland
Minister for Foreign AffairsGuðlaugur Þór Þórðarson
General Director of ICGR.Adm Georg Kristinn Lárusson
Military age18
Available for
military service
73,557 males, age 18–49 (2015),
71,172 females, age 18–49 (2015)
Reaching military
age annually
2,349 males (2015),
2,217 females (2015)
Reserve personnel230 (ICG)
Deployed personnel200 (ICRU)
Percent of GDP0.26% (2015)
Related articles
HistoryMilitary history of Iceland
RanksCoast Guard officers
Coast Guard enlisted
Icelandic Flagship ICGV Þór, 27 October 2011, Reykjavík
Icelandic Flagship ICGV Þór, 27 October 2011, Reykjavík

Iceland's defences consist of the Icelandic Coast Guard, which patrols Icelandic waters and airspace, and other services such as the National Commissioner's National Security and Special Forces Units.[1][2][3][4] Iceland is however the only NATO member which maintains no standing army.

The Coast Guard consists of three ships and four aircraft and armed with small arms, naval artillery, and Air Defence weaponry.[5] The Coast Guard also maintains the Iceland Air Defence System, formerly part of the disestablished Defence Agency, which conducts ground surveillance of Iceland's air space.[5][6]

Units subordinated to the National Commissioner also take part in Iceland's defences. Foremost of these are the National Security Unit, which handles intelligence operations and the special unit Víkingasveitin, a highly trained and equipped counter terrorism unit which is part of the National Police force.

Additionally there is a Crisis Response Unit (ICRU), operated by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which is a small peacekeeping force that has been deployed internationally, since 2008. This unit also has an unarmed component.

There is a treaty with the United States, regarding the defense of Iceland, which until 2006 maintained the Naval Air Station Keflavik. The base, now operated by the Icelandic Coast Guard, has been regularly visited by the US military and other allied NATO members.[7] In 2017 the United States announced its interest in renovating a hangar, in order to fit Boeing P-8 Poseidon ASW aircraft inside, at the air base.[8]

There are also agreements about military and other security operations with Norway,[9][10] Denmark[11][12][13] and other NATO countries.

Iceland holds the annual NATO exercises entitled Northern Viking. The most recent exercises were held in 2011,[14] as well as the EOD exercise "Northern Challenge". In 1997 Iceland hosted its first Partnership for Peace (PfP) exercise, "Cooperative Safeguard", which is the only multilateral PfP exercise so far in which Russia has participated. Another major PfP exercise was hosted in 2000. Iceland has also contributed ICRU peacekeepers to SFOR, KFOR and ISAF.

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If you’re a fan of our show and you’ve seen the episode entitled, “Top 10 Most Powerful Militaries in the World,” then you already know which countries are regarded as packing superior military might. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are countries with very modest militaries, that are not necessarily equipped with state of the art weaponry that consumes a good chunk of their GDP. We thought it would be fun to take a closer look at countries that refrain from spending, or are unable to spend, large amounts of money on arming themselves, in this episode of The Infographics Show, “Top 10 Weakest Militaries in the World.” Don’t forget to subscribe and click the bell button so that you can be part of our Notification Squad. Number 10: The Bahamas This small Caribbean country is made up of 700 islands and has a population of approximately 400,000 (392,718) people, most of whom are the descendants of African slaves. The country doesn’t have a standing army or an air force to speak of, with its navy, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, being tasked with protecting its people. The RBDF has around 1,600 men and women enlisted, belonging to three squadrons: The Commando Squadron, The Patrol Squadron, and the Air Wing. The country has 11 sea vessels patrolling its waters while its Air Wing currently consists of just 3 aircraft. In 2014, the Bahamas’ 49 million dollar military budget was bolstered by a $232 million investment for what was known as the ‘Sandy Bottom Project.’ The extra money was spent on deploying ships and aircraft to protect marine resources and to reduce the amount of smuggling, drug-trafficking, and human-trafficking in the area. Number 9: Central African Republic This war-torn country has seen its fair share of internal strife, so one would think it should be endowed with a strong military. That’s not the case, and its 4,500 person-strong Central African Armed Forces has been criticized not only for its lack of military prowess but also for corruption, human rights violations, and general incompetency. Protecting its 4.7 million people are 4 T-55 main battle tanks, 4 aircraft, 2 helicopters and 51 armored fighting vehicles. Where the FACA has failed, the United Nations has stepped-in, in an attempt to bring about democratic freedoms and consolidate peace in the country. Number 8: The Gambia This West African country officially known as The Republic of The Gambia is also no stranger to internal conflicts. It’s reported that almost a third of its 1.8 million population live below the poverty line of 1 dollar 25 cents a day, which doesn’t bode well for a strong military. Only 2,500 personnel make up the two arms of the Gambia military: The National Army and the Gambian Navy. Since the country’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1965, there have been plenty of iterations of a military, only for coups and discord to unravel them. Currently, The Gambia National Army consists of 900 soldiers, with a total of 12 armored cars. Many of its soldiers are deployed in other African nations as peacekeepers. In 2002, a Gambian Air Force was mulled over when the country bought a Sukhoi Su-25 attack jet, but similar to its unreliable army, it never really got off the ground. Gambia also has a small navy consisting of around 250 personnel. Without much of a budget, the navy has relied mostly on donations to update its fleet. In 2013, Taiwan donated 3 eight ton armed vessels to replace the Gambian navy’s somewhat aged ships. Number 7: Barbados Barbados is a small island-nation with a population of just about 278,000 (277,821) people. Set up in 1979, its Barbados Defence Force is comprised of 3 components: The Barbados Regiment, Barbados Coast Guard and the Barbados Cadet Corps. It’s thought only around 1,000 people make up the BDF’s entire personnel, patrolling the waters for signs of criminal activity and stationed on the island in case of internal conflicts. The country’s Air Wing is said to have one Cessna 402C aircraft. While the Barbados has had to address few problems, in 2016 The People’s Republic of China donated 3 million dollars to the BDF, on top of its 49 million dollar defense budget. The money, however, was not to buy weapons, said the Chinese ambassador to Barbados, but rather for disaster mitigation. Number 6: Somalia Somalia has a population of over 12 million and the longest coastline on the African mainland. While its military is far stronger than our number 7 choice, Barbados, in terms of population and constant internal conflicts, Somalia has a very weak military. The Somali National Armed Forces is made-up of around 12,000 active soldiers, with 24,000 acting as reserves. On land, it has 140 tanks and 430 armored fighting vehicles. It’s air force was all but non-existent, until in 2012, Italy said it would help Somalia rebuild it. Somalia’s navy also suffered massive disintegration at the end of the 20th century, but in 2012 the United Arab Emirates donated 1 million dollars to help strengthen it. Somalia’s defense budget is a meager 58 million dollars. Number 5: Luxembourg You’d be right in thinking that a landlocked country not even a thousand square miles in size in a relatively peaceful area of western Europe wouldn’t need a very powerful military. The Luxembourg army might be one of the most restful places to work. With about 400 soldiers, 100 of whom are civilians, the army still has a budget of 369 million dollars. This figure might emphasize the small sum the Somalian government spends on its much larger military. Still, this modest army fought in 2 world wars and The Korean War. Its air-force consists of 17 Boeing E-3 Sentry aircraft and one Airbus A400M Atlas. Number 4: Tonga Situated in the South Pacific Ocean about 700 miles from Fiji, Tonga’s 169 islands are populated by around 103,000 people. Its defense budget is almost 5 million dollars, about 0.9 percent of its GDP. The country’s military, His Majesty's Armed Forces, has about 700 active personnel. Nonetheless, this small army fought with New Zealand’s Expeditionary Force in the first world war, and has also recently been deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s Maritime Force of three patrol boats and a tanker is mostly concerned with fishing zone violations and enforcing border regulations. The air wing has two small aircraft. Number 3: Antigua and Barbuda Antigua and Barbuda is a twin-island in the Caribbean with a population of 91,000. Its Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force receives a budget of 10 million dollars, and has a 245-strong personnel. Similar to other island nations featured in this show, the military is tasked mainly with reducing criminality on the high seas. In total, it has 7 active boats working as part of the Coast Guard. The ABDF might be one of the smallest militaries in the world, but it was still deployed in Haiti, Grenada and Trinidad in the recent past to deal with conflicts there. Number 2: Saint Kitts and Nevis This two-island country in the West Indies is home to around 55,000 people, and 300 of them work in the country’s military. The Saint Kitts and Nevis Defence Force infantry and maritime units have the job of dealing with internal strife and policing the local waters. The Coast Guard has one boat, donated by the United States. The army is so small that in 2016, The Saint Kitts and Nevis Observer reported the enlistment of just 28 new recruits. The national security minister was quoted as saying, “In the context of our small country, we have to make a very conscious effort to ensure that we are doing our part.” Number 1: The countries with no military 22 countries have no military at all, nor do they even have defense budgets. We’re adding them to the list, however, as they do have a defense of some sort. Iceland, for example, has no military, but it has a long pact with the strongest military in the world, the USA, in which the latter offers protection. It also has a militarized police force and a peacekeeping force. Monaco also has no military, but relies on the world’s fifth strongest military, France, for protection. The list of countries without a military also includes Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Samoa and Panama. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and we would love to hear your thoughts about this list in the comments section. There are countries we didn’t include that certainly could have been here; countries with meager military budgets and few personnel, but also countries with what might be considered a weak military in view of current crises and the risk of internal and external conflict. Feel free to tell us which countries you think we should have added! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. Also, please consider heading over to our Patreon; we are currently raising money to hire more writers so that we can continue bringing you this bi-weekly show!



In the period from the settlement of Iceland, in the 870s, until it became part of the realm of the Norwegian King, military defences of Iceland consisted of multiple chieftains (Goðar) and their free followers (þingmenn, bændur or liðsmenn) organised according to the standard Nordic military doctrine of the time in expeditionary armies such as the leiðangr. These armies were divided into units according to the quality of the warriors and by birth. At the end of this period the number of chieftains had diminished and their power had grown, to the detriment of their followers. This resulted in a long and bloody civil war known as Age of the Sturlungs. A typical battle involved fewer than 1000 men.

Amphibious operations were an important part of warfare in Iceland in this period, especially in the Westfjords, but large naval engagements were rare. The largest such engagement, known as Flóabardagi, involved a few dozen ships in Húnaflói (bay).

In the decades before the Napoleonic wars, the few hundred militiamen in the southwest of Iceland were mainly equipped with rusty and mostly obsolete medieval weaponry, including 16th century halberds. When English raiders arrived in 1808, after sinking or capturing most of the Danish-Norwegian Navy in the Battle of Copenhagen, the amount of gunpowder in Iceland was so small that the governor of Iceland, Count Trampe, could not offer any resistance.

Officers of the defence force in a trench on Vaðlaheiði in 1940
Officers of the defence force in a trench on Vaðlaheiði in 1940

In 1855, the Icelandic Army was re-established by Andreas August von Kohl, the sheriff in Vestmannaeyjar. In 1856, the king provided 180 rixdollars to buy guns, and a further 200 rixdollars the following year. The sheriff became the Captain of the new army, which become known as Herfylkingin, "The Battalion". In 1860 von Kohl died, and Pétur Bjarnasen took over command. Nine years later Bjarnasen died without appointing a successor, and the army fell into disarray.

Agnar Kofoed Hansen training his officers in the arts of war in 1940.
Agnar Kofoed Hansen training his officers in the arts of war in 1940.

In 1918, Iceland regained sovereignty as a separate kingdom under the Danish king. Iceland established a Coast Guard shortly afterwards, but it was financially impossible to establish a standing army. The government hoped that a permanent neutrality would shield the country from invasion. But at the onset of Second World War, the government was concerned about a possible invasion, and decided to expand the Icelandic National Police (Ríkislögreglan) and its reserves into a military unit. Chief Commissioner of Police Agnar Kofoed Hansen had been trained in the Danish Army and he moved to train his officers. Weapons and uniforms were acquired, and they practised rifleshooting and military tactics near Laugarvatn. Hansen barely managed to train his 60 officers before the United Kingdom's invasion of Iceland on 10 May 1940. The next planned step towards strengthening the army was to train the 300 strong reserve forces, but this was prevented by the invasion.

During the Second World War, the United States took over the defense of Iceland from the British, and this arrangement continued well after the war, eventually codified in the Agreed Minute. In 1949 Iceland was a founding member of NATO, and it was the sole member that did not have a standing army, joining on the condition that it would not be expected to establish one. However, its strategic geographic position in the Atlantic made it an invaluable member. Expansion of forces by Iceland was therefore concentrated primarily in the Icelandic Coast Guard, which saw action in a series of confrontations with British fishing vessels and Royal Navy warships known as the Cod Wars.

The Iceland Defense Force (IDF) was a military command of the United States Armed Forces from 1951 to 2006. The IDF, created at the request of NATO, came into existence when the United States signed an agreement to provide for the defense of Iceland. The IDF also consisted of civilian Icelanders and military members of other NATO nations. The IDF was downsized after the end of the Cold War and the U.S. Air Force maintained four to six interceptor aircraft at the Naval Air Station Keflavik, until they were withdrawn on 30 September 2006. Since May 2008, NATO nations have periodically deployed fighters to patrol Icelandic airspace under the Icelandic Air Policing mission.[15][16]

After withdrawal of US forces in 2006, Iceland reorganized some military functions in the form of the Icelandic Defence Agency (Varnarmálastofnun Íslands) founded in 2008.[17] under the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The Agency took over operations at Naval Air Station Keflavik, but was closed in 2011 in the wake of the economic crisis, with functions distributed to the existing organizations. [18]

 Icelandic Army Regimental Standard of the 19th century Army
FIAV 001000.svg Icelandic Army Regimental Standard of the 19th century Army

Coast Guard

Icelandic Coast Guard vessels. Týr in the center.
Icelandic Coast Guard vessels. Týr in the center.

Shortly after Iceland reclaimed its sovereignty in 1918, the Icelandic Coast Guard was founded. Its first vessel, a former Danish research vessel, was armed with a 57 mm cannon. The Coast Guard is responsible for protecting Iceland's sovereignty and vital interests including the most valuable natural resource—its fishing areas—as well as providing security, search, and rescue services to Iceland's fishing fleet. In 1952, 1958, 1972, and 1975, the government progressively expanded Iceland's exclusive economic zone to 4, 12, 50 and then 200 nautical miles (370 km). This led to a conflict with the United Kingdom, among other states, known as the "Cod Wars". The Icelandic Coast Guard and the Royal Navy confronted each other on several occasions during these years. Although few rounds were fired, there were many intense moments. Today the Coast Guard remains Iceland's premier fighting force equipped with armed patrol vessels and aircraft and partaking in peacekeeping operations in foreign lands.

The Coast Guard has four vessels and four aircraft (one fixed wing and three helicopters) at their disposal.

Iceland Air Defence System

Structure of the Icelandic Forces
Structure of the Icelandic Forces

The Iceland Air Defence System or Íslenska Loftvarnarkerfið was founded in 1987, and operates four radar complexes, a software and support facility and a command and report centre. It is a part of the Coast Guard.

Iceland's NATO allies also regularly deploy fighter aircraft to patrol the country's airspace as part of the Icelandic Air Policing mission.[16]

Icelandic Crisis Response Unit

The Icelandic Crisis Response Unit (ICRU) (or Íslenska friðargæslan or "The Icelandic Peacekeeping Guard") is an expeditionary peacekeeping force maintained by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. It is manned by personnel from Iceland's other services, armed or not, including the National Police, Coast Guard, Emergency Services and Health-care system. Because of the military nature of most of the ICRU's assignments, all of its members receive basic infantry combat training. This training has often been conducted by the Norwegian Army, but the Coast Guard and the Special forces are also assigned to train the ICRU.

Most of the ICRU's camouflage and weaponry is procured from abroad, with some indigenous development. Some arms and uniforms are also borrowed from the Norwegian Defence Forces.

The formation and employment of the unit has met controversy in Iceland, especially by people to the left on the political scale. In October 2004, three ICRU soldiers were wounded in a suicide bombing in Kabul. The incident led to tough questioning of the group's commander, Colonel Halli Sigurðsson, focusing on his conduct .[citation needed] Later the command was passed to Lt. Colonel Gardar Forberg followed by Colonel Lárus Atlason.

In 2008, the portion of uniformed ICRU deployed personnel still armed for self-defense returned their weapons and changed to civilian clothing. The policy since 2008 is that, unless under special circumstances, ICRU personnel do not wear uniforms or carry weapons.

ICRU missions

The ICRU has been or is operating in:

ICRU missions
ICRU missions

List of small-arms used by Icelandic forces

See also


  1. ^ Varnarmálastofnun Íslands. Archived 2011-11-20 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Lög um breytingu á varnarmálalögum, nr. 34/2008". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  3. ^ "Varnarmálalög". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  4. ^ "Landhelgisgæsla Íslands Hlutverk". Archived from the original on 2014-07-06. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  5. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2007-01-30.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  6. ^ "NATO Air Policing". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  7. ^ "U.S. military returns to Iceland".
  8. ^ Snow, Shawn (17 December 2017). "US plans $200 million buildup of European air bases flanking Russia".
  9. ^ "A press release from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  10. ^ "An English translation of the Norwegian-Icelandic MoU at the website of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs" (PDF).
  11. ^ "Norway Post: Norway and Iceland to sign defence agreement". Archived from the original on 29 September 2007. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  12. ^ Aftenposten: Norway to help defend Iceland Archived 2011-06-29 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Danmarks Radio". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  14. ^ "A press release from the Icelandic Coast Guard". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  15. ^ "French Air Force in Iceland". Ministry for Foreign Affairs. 5 May 2008. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  16. ^ a b "Air Policing". NATO Air Command Operations. Retrieved 2 October 2010.
  17. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-02-03. Retrieved 2014-10-21.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ John Pike. "Iceland". Retrieved 23 October 2014.

Further reading

  • Birgir Loftsson, Hernaðarsaga Íslands : 1170–1581, Pjaxi. Reykjavík. 2006.
  • Þór Whitehead, The Ally who came in from the cold : a survey of Icelandic Foreign Policy 1946–1956, Centre for International Studies. University of Iceland Press. Reykjavík. 1998.

External links

This page was last edited on 27 January 2019, at 01:54
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