Volume #22 - 626.|
NORTH ATLANTIC TREATY ORGANIZATION
Memorandum from Under-Secretary of State for External Affairs|
to Secretary of State for External Affairs
May 10th, 1956|
ICELAND, CANADA AND NATO|
A Norwegian newspaper has stated that recent developments in Iceland87 offered evidence that the Atlantic Pact had not yet created the political fellowship among the member countries which was necessary in the long run for its very existence. It added: "Here, we in Norway can reproach ourselves for not having done enough to knit the bonds more closely with our near kinfolk in that island. A more wide-awake fellowship and more intimate consultation regarding differences and problems could certainly make unity in the Pact more effective." If this is a Norwegian failure, it is a Canadian failure as well. In considering the recent developments in Iceland, it is easy to accuse the Icelanders of selfish irresponsibility, but it is thoroughly unreasonable to say that they have renounced the obligations they undertook when they joined NATO. When they joined NATO, they made no commitment to permit the stationing of foreign troops; it was the Korean War which induced them to do so, and it is difficult to argue that there is more risk of an outbreak of war today than at the time NATO was founded.
2. Our Minister to Iceland reported after his recent visit "that public opinion in Iceland is almost unanimous in opposing the principle of occupation of Iceland by foreign troops in peacetime." At the same time, most Icelanders with the exception of the Communists favour remaining in NATO. But this merely points up the failure of the NATO concept; rather than being proud to contribute to the effectiveness of the North Atlantic Alliance, to which they belong, by playing host to North Atlantic forces, they think of United States forces as foreign occupation troops.
3. This, it must be confessed, is a natural reaction to the fact that the forces in Iceland are exclusively United States forces. It might have been politically wiser if contingents from other NATO powers could have been stationed in Iceland; though it is worth emphasizing that the United States forces have, on the whole, behaved well.
4. The gravity of the present situation should not be magnified out of all proportion. Our Minister reported after his recent trip to Iceland (his despatch? is attached): "(1) The Althing did not demand withdrawal of United States troops from Iceland, but has requested revision of the military agreement with the United States; (2) Present relations between Icelanders and Americans in Keflavik are very good and have never been better; (3) Icelanders are confident that they themselves are capable of maintaining all present sea and radar installations in Iceland for defence purposes; and (4) Americans have trained Icelanders to man the air base and radar stations and are fully prepared to give Icelanders still greater responsibility in all the military installations in Iceland." In these circumstances, it should not be impossible to work out after the elections a compromise agreement providing for greater Icelandic control but allowing some United States forces to remain. It is possible, of course, that the election campaign may lead Icelandic politicians to take up positions which would make an acceptable compromise impossible.
5. But even if an agreement can be worked out, this will not solve the long-term problem: the problem of making Icelanders feel full-fledged members of a North Atlantic Community. Our Minister states: "There is no doubt about the fact that a great majority of the Icelanders are pro- Western, but the Communist Party is also unquestionably gaining influence." And the Communist Party is receiving skillful assistance from the Soviet Union. When the British fishing industry imposed a ban on the landing of Icelandic fish in the United Kingdom, in retaliation for Iceland's extension of her territorial waters, the Soviet Union stepped into the Icelandic fish market and the Soviet Bloc is now taking 29% of Iceland's fish exports. Considering that Iceland exports very little else, it has every reason to be grateful for the Soviet Union's timely intervention. In the meantime, Iceland's dispute with the United Kingdom has not yet been settled, and the U.K. Minister in Reykjavik is urging his Government, Mr. Ronning reports, to be prepared to escort British trawlers into Icelandic waters if Iceland extends its territorial claims beyond present limits, a move which would be scarcely designed to strengthen the feelings of fellowship between Iceland and its NATO partner, the United Kingdom.
6. The Soviet Bloc has not limited itself to increasing trade. Many Icelanders have been invited to Russia and China and a first-class Soviet cultural delegation has toured Iceland. China sent a contingent of its traditional opera company to perform in Reykjavik, and the Icelandic sagas have been translated into Russian. These are only some of the moves which have been taken to encourage friendly relations between Iceland and the Soviet Bloc. Clearly, the Soviet Union must believe that it is not wasting its investment in Iceland. I doubt if all the NATO countries combined have made anything like a comparable effort in Iceland, and this is important in a country where literacy and interest in the arts is high.
7. At a time when we are willing to spend considerable effort and large sums of money in the hope of keeping the uncommitted nations of Asia on our side, or at least neutral, it is, perhaps, worth spending a little effort and a little money on keeping Iceland in the NATO Alliance. In doing this, Canada might make a very useful contribution.
8. It must not be thought that the United States is not active in countering Soviet propaganda. However, the United States is not in the best position to convince Icelanders that NATO is more than an excuse for having United States occupation forces in Iceland, that, in fact, it reflects a genuine Atlantic Community of free and sovereign states. In addition, its very size and strength tends to frighten and over-awe the Icelanders.
9. Nor is the United Kingdom able to present Iceland with a very convincing picture of Atlantic cooperation in action. Norway and Denmark could do useful work, although Denmark is hampered by Icelandic memories of Danish rule; but both are members of the Nordic Council as well as NATO, and greater co-operation by them with Iceland would be more likely to strengthen sentiment favouring Scandinavian co-operation than to awaken a new enthusiasm for NATO.
10. Canada is a northern neighbour of Iceland and the only country outside of Iceland that has a sizeable body of citizens of Icelandic descent; they number only slightly over 20,000; but this, in relation to the population of Iceland, is as great as the number of French-speaking Canadians in relation to the population of France.
11. In the field of technical exchanges with Iceland, we have already taken a few modest steps. The Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources recently sent over samples of balsam fir seed collected in various parts of Canada for trial plantings in Iceland. We are sending 1,000 kilos of fescue grass seed, a type of grass which apparently does exceptionally well in Iceland. We have invited the officer-in-charge of their reforestation programme to visit Canada; it is interesting to note that this gentleman is at present visiting Kamchatka and parts of Siberia to obtain seed and seedlings. The Icelandic Government, in its turn, has invited one of our shelter-belt experts to visit Iceland at their expense.
12. We, ourselves, have received useful information from Iceland on the eiderdown industry, an industry in which the Department of Northern Affairs hopes to interest Canadian Eskimos.
13. This kind of technical exchange and assistance could probably be considerably expanded. For example, we might invite an Icelandic expert over to study our Experimental Farm methods. We could offer post-graduate fellowships in engineering and agriculture.
14. We can never become an important customer of Iceland, since we are a fish exporter ourselves. On the other hand, this very fact may mean that we could exchange information on fishery techniques which would be of use to both of us.
15. It is not suggested that Canada try to buy Icelandic friendship for NATO. Rather, that to convince Icelanders of the reality of a North Atlantic Community, it is essential to show a little community spirit, and one way is to share with Iceland any special skills we have which would be of use to her. It would be a pity if we continued to show less initiative in this regard than the Soviet Union.
16. Technical co-operation is not the only way we could show our friendship and respect for Iceland. It would be a simple matter for some Canadian Ministers to stop in Iceland when flying across the Atlantic. The Icelanders would probably be flattered at our desire to consult with them on international questions. The only occasion on which this seems to have been done was in 1951 when the Prime Minister's plane was forced to land at Keflavik.88
17. After the Icelandic elections, thought might be given to inviting the Icelandic President to pay a State visit to Canada. At the time of such a visit, we could discuss with the President and officials who might accompany him ways in which technical co-operation could be increased between our two countries. A gesture of this kind might contribute in a small way to making Iceland feel more a part of a Western coalition, and to end their inevitable feeling of isolation, also, a visit might prove quite popular with Canadians of Icelandic descent.89
18. It has been argued in this paper that the recent resolution in the Althing calling for a revision of the agreement with the United States providing for the stationing of United States forces reflects a failure of NATO powers to make Icelanders feel loyal members of a genuine North Atlantic Community, and that, even if a satisfactory compromise can be worked out after the elections, the long-term prospects are not good if Icelanders do not develop a more deep-rooted loyalty towards NATO. It is suggested that Canada could make an important and, in some ways, unique contribution in reminding Icelanders of their full membership in the Atlantic Community. The practical consequences of our failure to do so might quite shortly be felt in attempting to extend the DEW Line across the northern Atlantic, as it has already been felt with regards to the proposal of a new trans Atlantic cable, with landings planned on Canadian and Icelandic territory.
19. I propose, if you agree, that we investigate all steps which Canada can take towards this end.90