Iceland’s Arctic Strategy 2024: A 12-month Assessment

Iceland’s Arctic Strategy 2024: A 12-month Assessment

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Competition in the Arctic creates economic opportunities and security challenges for Iceland. While the risk of direct conflict is low, Iceland’s Arctic security strategy focuses on collaboration with NATO allies on security issues in the coming year. Iceland is also one of the most environmentally conscious Arctic Council states and foresees potential threats to its ecosystems. Iceland’s policies in the year will determine if the small nation can capture the benefits of Arctic cooperation without sacrificing its security and environmental health.

Key Judgement 1. Iceland’s Arctic security policy will likely emphasize sustaining strategic positioning in the GIUK gap and enhancing military collaborations with NATO allies. 

Key Judgement 2. Iceland is highly likely to advocate for new sustainability and conservation measures in the Arctic to protect undisturbed ecosystems within the next twelve months.

Key Judgement 3. Iceland’s government and energy sector representatives will likely advocate for geothermal energy solutions in future Arctic development.

KJ-1. Iceland’s Arctic security policy will likely emphasize sustaining strategic positioning in the GUIK gap and enhancing military collaborations with NATO allies. 

a. Iceland’s Arctic security policy focuses on monitoring the region using satellite and radar technology to support national defence and NATO. Amended by the Icelandic legislative body – the Althingi – in 2023, the policy reflects a holistic approach to national security instead of militarisation. (source, source)

b. In November, members of the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), a UK-led multinational expeditionary force that includes Iceland, announced that they would increase surveillance of undersea critical infrastructure. (source)

c. In June, the JEF conducted an exercise in which it deployed its headquarters from the UK to Keflavik Airbase for the first time. (source)

d. The Greenland, Iceland, and United Kingdom (GIUK) gap is a strategic location for NATO and requires close monitoring and defence. Bilateral and multilateral exercises like Northern Viking help prepare Iceland for future contingencies in the gap. (source, source)

KJ-2. Iceland is highly likely to advocate for new sustainability and conservation measures in the Arctic to protect undisturbed ecosystems within the next twelve months.

a. Environmental sustainability in the Arctic is a guiding principle for Iceland and NATO. Since 2020, Iceland has committed itself to reaching carbon neutrality by 2040. (source, source)

b. Iceland unilaterally invests in meeting its climate goals and participates in the Arctic Council working group that researches sustainable development. (source, source)

c. In October, the Prime Minister announced that the government would implement a visitor tax on tourists to raise funds for environmental protection. (source)

KJ-3. Iceland’s government and energy sector representatives will likely advocate for geothermal energy solutions in future Arctic development.

a. There are still at least five years remaining before the Arctic is impacted by climate change enough to be exploited for commercially viable land-based natural resources, according to scientific consensus. (source, source)

b. Currently, there is no probable cause for Reykjavík to invest in or construct energy infrastructure in the Arctic region. (source)

c. Iceland is one of the world’s leading proponents of geothermal energy and green energy solutions. These solutions are a significant part of Icelandic Arctic policy and a likely function of strategy over the next year. (source, source)

d. As of October, an Icelandic energy company was pursuing eight geothermal projects in Poland. (source)

Analytical Summary

We have high confidence that Iceland will seek closer cooperation with partners on security and environmental issues. We base this assessment on local and international press, statements from the Icelandic government, and international organisations. We assume that Iceland will prioritise environmental concerns over security issues this year. If this assumption turns out to be incorrect, we would expect to see higher levels of Icelandic defence spending and resource extraction.

Intelligence Cut-off Date: 31 December 2023

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