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NATO cooperation underlines long-standing friendship between Iceland and Lithuania


Iceland´s deployment of a civilian expert to the enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup Lithuania is a new chapter in a story of close friendship between the two countries.


The NATO eFP Battlegroup in Rukla, Lithuania, a 1.300 strong battalion led by the framework nation Germany, just received some reinforcements recently, when an Icelandic civilian joined the multinational force as a public affairs officer.


Previously, another Icelandic representative was deployed to the eFP in Estonia.


Although Iceland is a nation of only 350.000 people and has no military, it is one of the 12 founding members of the Alliance and contributes to NATO operations by financial contributions and civil personnel.


Iceland also has a deep relation with the Baltic states, especially Lithuania, since Iceland was the first country to recognize Lithuania´s independence, in 1991. Ever since, the two countries have shared a close bond and mutual reverence where Iceland´s contribution to Lithuania´s independence is a well-known fact among the public.

Indeed, Raimundas Karoblis, the Lithuanian Minister of National Defence, says it is a special feeling to have Iceland represented in the eFP battlegroup in Rukla.


“We all know that Iceland was the first country to recognize our independence, but I also have personal experience of cooperation with Iceland. I conducted negotiations of free trade with Iceland as a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and was responsible for finalizing those negotiations. Then, when Iceland applied for membership of the EU, we were partners supporting Iceland in those negotiations. So, we have had close relations for a long time, and having an Icelandic member of the eFP here in Lithuania is very positive and reflects well on our relations.”


Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, the Foreign Minister of Iceland, concurs and says the two countries have a relationship built on solid foundations. “In this sense, Iceland's participation in the NATO eFP has a specific connotation. But Iceland and Lithuania also cooperate in several fields, for example within the Council of the Baltic Sea States, in addition to excellent bilateral relations. “


Iceland is a unique member of NATO in that it has no military, and as such, some might wonder about its role in NATO´s collective defence. Asked if the deployment of a single Icelandic civilian to the battlegroup can have an impact, or if it is purely a “symbolic gesture”, Karoblis is unequivocal.


“Definitely. First of all, it is a positive sign that more countries are joining the battlegroup and Iceland has various capabilities it can bring to the eFP, as well as being symbolic, but this is also a sign of a deeper relationship between Iceland and Lithuania.”


Thordarson agrees, but adds that Iceland´s participation in the battlegroup should also be seen in a larger context of NATO commitments.


“Although Iceland has no military, as founding members of NATO we have always contributed to the Alliance. In the last few years, the members of the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit have been involved in various NATO operations, including in the Balkans, in Afghanistan and now in the Baltic States. It is important to note that all Icelanders who are deployed to international operations are civilian. They do not carry weapons except under exceptional circumstances. They have applied their knowledge and experience to the resolution of complex projects, and therefore their skills are in high demand. Iceland's contributions are therefore not only symbolic, but most would agree that they are also beneficial to any operation.”


Story by Thorgils Jonsson,  ISL PAO eFP BG LTU


Raimundas Karoblis with Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson at a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in February 2018. (Photo/NATO)



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