Viewing cable 06REYKJAVIK431, ICELAND: PEACEKEEPING POLICY AT A CROSSROADS
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|06REYKJAVIK431||2006-11-27 11:11||2011-01-13 05:05||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Reykjavik|
VZCZCXRO8954 PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHIK RUEHKUK RUEHYG DE RUEHRK #0431/01 3311149 ZNR UUUUU ZZH P 271149Z NOV 06 FM AMEMBASSY REYKJAVIK TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3068 INFO RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0071 RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE 0043 RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE RUEHBUL/AMEMBASSY KABUL 0007 RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 REYKJAVIK 000431 SIPDIS SIPDIS SENSITIVE STATE FOR P (BAME) EUR/NB EUR/RPM IO/PSC SCA/INS SCA/A OSLO FOR DATT OSD/P FOR J. HURSCH, J. KELSO EUCOM FOR COL FRANKLIN and LTC GREEN CENTCOM FOR COALITION COORDINATION CELL (KURDIAN) E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: PREL KPKO EAID NATO IC SUBJECT: ICELAND: PEACEKEEPING POLICY AT A CROSSROADS REFTEL: REYKJAVIK 294 ¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Iceland's Foreign Minister has announced that Iceland will increase the number of peacekeepers sent abroad with the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit(ICRU), while focusing on civilian projects where Iceland has particular expertise and restricting behavior (e.g. wearing battle dress, carrying automatic weapons) that has dismayed the public. The decision reflects an ongoing debate in Iceland - which has no military - about where to draw the line between being a peacekeeper and being a warrior. Post believes that the GOI's "softer" peacekeeping policy is a sensible response to public anxiety, but risks offering unrealistic assurances that peacekeeping can be made safe rather than simply safer. End summary. --------------------------------------------- - A softer, less ad hoc approach to peacekeeping --------------------------------------------- - ¶2. (U) Icelandic Foreign Minister Valgerdur Sverrisdottir announced on October 19 that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is revising its policy on involvement in peacekeeping, with the goal of focusing more on "softer" civil affairs missions where Iceland has expertise - such as midwife training and airport management, the latter proposal reflecting Iceland's experience running airports in Kosovo and Afghanistan. The FM amplified these comments in her report to the Althingi (parliament) on Foreign Affairs on November 16, where she announced an MFA study of ways in which Iceland can increase its contribution to NATO's Afghanistan mission, pointing to the need for "experts in the fields of health, law enforcement, and judicial matters." She further requested the Althingi's support for draft legislation to formalize the legal framework for the Icelandic Crisis Response Unit (ICRU), an MFA department overseeing Icelandic peacekeeping efforts. ---------------------------------- Icelandic peacekeeping on the rise ---------------------------------- ¶3. (SBU) According to the MFA, Iceland currently has 25 personnel deployed abroad under the ICRU aegis: --13 in Afghanistan (NATO/ISAF management of Kabul International Airport and training of local Afghan managers); --10 in Sri Lanka (Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, monitoring cease-fire implementation - ref A); -- 1 in Iraq (NATO Training Mission-Iraq's Public Affairs Officer); and -- 1 in Serbia (assigned to UNIFEM's Belgrade office) Current plans are to increase this number to 34 by the end of 2006 through the deployment of additional personnel to Sri Lanka (1) and Serbia (5; 2 to UNIFEM and 3 under a new agreement with UNICEF) and a new deployment to Lebanon of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel from the Icelandic Coast Guard (2 EOD experts and 1 medic). The ICRU's stated goal is 50 deployed personnel by the end of 2008. Funding continues to trend upward; the ICRU will receive roughly ISK 600 million ($8.6 million) in 2007, up from ISK 573 million ($8.1 million) this year and ISK 463 million ($6.6 million) in 2005. --------------------------------- Crossing the line in Afghanistan? --------------------------------- ¶4. (SBU) Icelandic peacekeeping is already weighted towards "softer" tasks, a logical result of the fact that Iceland does not have a military. Iceland's participation in foreign peacekeeping efforts began with the deployment of police officers and medical personnel to Bosnia and Kosovo; according to ICRU figures, roughly 50 Icelanders have served in the Balkans since 1994. The optics of Icelandic participation changed markedly in 2003 when Iceland assumed the role of lead NATO nation at Kosovo's Pristina Airport. Iceland chose to provide its civilian peacekeepers with uniforms, even ranks and rank insignia - with the aim of improving credibility with NATO partners. Two armed Icelandic Coast Guard EOD specialists deployed to Iraq in 2003 as part of a Danish unit. ¶5. (SBU) This "paramilitarization" took place largely out of public view until 2004, when the ICRU took on the running of Kabul REYKJAVIK 00000431 002 OF 003 International Airport. In line with the more severe threat environment in Afghanistan, the ICRU personnel took to wearing helmets and body armor and carrying automatic weapons while patrolling their perimeter - a far cry from most Icelanders' idea of civilian peacekeeping. Icelandic media reports helped to create an image of Icelandic peacekeepers as overgrown teenagers playing soldier, with some questioning whether an Icelandic Army of had been created without citizens' knowledge. ¶6. (SBU) These questions turned to dismay (and a certain amount of "I told you so") in October 2004 when three uniformed Icelanders were injured (and an Afghan and an American civilian killed) in a grenade/suicide bomb attack when the ICRU members lingered in Kabul's dangerous Chicken Street market. Press and public concern mounted when the Icelandic unit's commander in Kabul as well as the Icelandic victims cavalierly shrugged off press inquiries about their judgment: "[Stuff] happens." --------------------------------- No guns, please - we're Icelandic --------------------------------- ¶7. (SBU) After the "Chicken Street Incident," the MFA became increasingly sensitive to accusations it was putting Icelanders at excessive risk. Iceland handed the Kabul Airport mission over to another ISAF nation in February 2005, four months early. Iceland fulfilled a commitment to deploy armed mobile observation teams ("jeep gangs" in Icelandic parlance) to two Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in Afghanistan in 2005 and 2006, but in both cases withdrew its personnel when security worsened. Similarly, when Iceland agreed in January 2006 to resume the Kabul Airport mission, it did so with the caveat that Icelanders' roles be limited to airport operations and training, with other peacekeepers pulling guard duty. ¶8. (SBU) The discussion continued when in August 2006 Iceland agreed to boost its share of the workload in the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission (Ref A). Commentators asked whether Icelanders had the experience to deal with armed conflict, and argued that "we should confine ourselves to those fields where we have relevant expertise." ----------------------------- Midwives yes, "Rat Patrol" no ----------------------------- ¶9. (SBU) Given this backdrop, most local commentators welcomed the Foreign Minister's announcement of a more "civilian-oriented" ICRU; with most media headlining her comment that the new policy represented "midwives in place of jeep patrols." Opposition lawmakers on the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee declared approval; one Social Democratic Alliance MP expressed hope that henceforth "we'll choose the projects we take part in, rather than the projects choosing us." ¶10. (SBU) The GOI is keen to remain active in peacekeeping. ICRU Director Anna Johannsdottir emphasized to Poloff November 2 that Iceland intended to live up to its commitments to NATO and would not bring home its Afghanistan contingent early. Asked to explain the distinction between "more civilian" ICRU missions and work carried out by the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA), Johannsdottir allowed that the two entities - both under the Foreign Minister's authority - will now have more in common than previously, but that the ICRU would focus on post-conflict response and ICEIDA on long-term development and poverty alleviation. -------------------------------- An inherently dangerous endeavor -------------------------------- ¶11. (SBU) MFA officials have confided to post that they do not believe the public is ready for the death of an Icelandic peacekeeper, which would raise questions "about the value of the mission and whether we should be doing these things," according to one. A senior MFA official expressed unhappiness with the way the Chicken Street Incident was handled, noting to the Ambassador that those in charge had tried to "sweep the problem under the rug." This made the MFA and ICRU look amateurish when the full story emerged. The official acknowledged the MFA's need to learn to be more frank to ensure the public understands the inherent risks of peacekeeping in case something unfortunate occurs. REYKJAVIK 00000431 003 OF 003 ------- Comment ------- ¶12. (SBU) The Icelandic Government's desire to codify its policy on peacekeeping brings needed clarity to what has been a largely ad hoc exercise, and should strengthen support across the political spectrum for the idea of Icelanders serving abroad. That said, the move carries with it some downsides for the GOI and its international partners. It will become harder to encourage the GOI to assist in areas it has not deemed within its area of competence. So long as the GOI remains willing to include within its definition of acceptable operations such high-value ops as airport management (as in Kosovo and Afghanistan), peace monitoring (as in Sri Lanka), and EOD (albeit increasingly in relatively permissive environments such as Lebanon but no longer in hot spots like Iraq), we should remain satisfied with Iceland's contribution. ¶13. (SBU) The larger risk is posed by the apparently widespread public conception - which the MFA has not addressed head on - that by assigning its personnel only to civil affairs projects, Iceland can largely eliminate the risk of casualties. Post has cautioned host officials of the importance of presenting the public with a realistic assessment of the inherent dangers of all peacekeeping, lest the next casualty leave the public and opposition too rattled to continue. VAN VOORST