Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/8725
What features determine small states activities in the international arena? Iceland’s approach to foreign relations until the mid-1990’s
The aim of this paper is to analyse the features that have determined Iceland’s international activity and to what extent Iceland has been an active participant in the international system.
The paper focuses on the period from the time Iceland took full charge of the conduct of its foreign policy from Denmark in 1940 until 1994, fifty years after Iceland became a Republic and joined the European Economic Area (EEA). At the time of Iceland’s entry to the United Nations (UN) in 1946, it had the lowest population of all UN member states. Iceland soon joined most of the international organizations created in Europe and internationally after the Second World War. Iceland’s neighbouring states, the Nordic states, became pro-active within the UN and other international institutions, and the interesting question is to what extent Iceland, as a small newly-independent state, became involved in the international community.
The paper aims to answer the following three questions. First, what domestic and international features have determined Iceland’s international activity? Second, has Iceland
been reactive or pro-active in the international system? Third, did Iceland concentrate mainly on multilateral relations within international organizations, as the small-state literature generally claims is beneficial for small states, and as many states have done, or on bilateral relations in its international approach.
The paper argues that Iceland was reactive in the international community and did not take an active part in international organizations such as the UN, NATO, EFTA, the World Bank and the Council of Europe in the period under study. Instead, Icelandic governments concentrated on bilateral relations with neighbouring states and important trading partners, i.e. the Nordic states, Britain and the United States (US), in terms of both defence and trade. The paper claims that Iceland’s international activity was characterized by the pursuit of self-determination throughout this period, despite the country’s becoming a republic in 1944. This is particularly the case concerning Iceland’s moves to gain control over the 200-mile zone surrounding the island and its attempt to exercise full control over its whaling policy.
It is also evident in its reluctance to join supranational institutions in Europe. The commitment to self-determination is manifested in a battle to keep decision-making within the country instead of solely following decisions taken in European institutions. Furthermore, the legacy is that Iceland’s pursuit of self-determination – expressed in terms of independence from Denmark and control over its national resources – was carried through by unilateral decisions within the country and solved by bilateral relations, and not within multilateral international organizations. Moreover, the character of Nordic co-operation, which is built on bilateral contacts and a loose institutional framework within the Nordic Council, along with the development of the bilateral relationship with the US early on in the Second World War, paved the way for an emphasis on bilateralism at the expense of multilateralism (defined as a close co-operation between a number of states within a framework of international institutions).
Stjórnmál og stjórnsýsla, 1(1) 2005, 107-140