06.12.2006 · The Government

The Prime Minister's speech at the Conference - From Ice to Fire

When we talk about security and the potential threats against our peace and stability, what do we actually mean? What challenges do we face? What can a small country such as the Faroes realistically do to respond to these most challenging issues?

The Prime Minister's speech at the Conference - From Ice to Fire

First, I would like to express my thanks to the North Atlantic Group of the Danish Parliament for arranging this conference and providing us with this opportunity to address some of the security issues that are of foremost concern to the Faroese.

When we talk about security and the potential threats against our peace and stability, what do we actually mean? What challenges do we face? What can a small country such as the Faroes realistically do to respond to these most challenging issues?

In the main, a government's security policy is designed to protect its own vital interests – to defend its people and its territory from aggression and other serious threats both from within and from without, in essence to preserve its very existence.

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At a conference like this focus is on present and future challenges, but we also need to take the past into account. We are always born into a certain reality, defined by time and space, and to get a profound understanding of the security situation in the northernmost regions of the North Atlantic area, we need to both understand the importance of the geography and acknowledge the teachings of history. 

Located in the mid of the North-East Atlantic, closer to Iceland and Great Britain than to distant Denmark, the Faroes have security-wise been in an exposed position. Pirates and foreign warships have ravaged the islands. And all the way through the centuries up to our times it was a geopolitical fact that Denmark did not have the resources to protect us against those enemies.

Last time we had a major conflict in our region was the Second World War. Denmark and Norway were occupied by Nazi-Germany, while British forces went into the Faroes and Iceland to protect the North Atlantic region. America soon took over the defence of Iceland as they did in Greenland.

After the war this situation was actually maintained through the NATO memberships of the Kingdom of Denmark, which also encompassed the Faroes and Greenland, and the new Icelandic Republic. Iceland and Greenland were protected by US military presence, while the Faroes were protected by UK through the Danish membership of NATO. The Danish NATO radars on Sornfelli were actually working as an integrated part of the British Air Defence.
A special feature in the way Faroese elected representatives have behaved during the Cold War era are the Parliamentary Resolutions on military matters (“hernaðarsamtyktirnar”). The first one was a protest against the British occupation in 1940 and there were several more up through the Cold War years, all pressing for demilitarisation and neutrality. In this regard the Faroese Parliament was fairly consistent throughout. On the other hand both ordinary people and even the authorities in reality had a quite pragmatic approach to the situation, and there were only minor incidents between local people and the foreign military personnel.

By the turn of the Millennium the Faroese Government commissioned two independent studies, done by independent Faroese and Danish historians. They unveiled from American, East-German and Russian archives, in addition to Faroese and Danish ones, many instances where Danish authorities and their NATO allies made plans regarding the Faroes and even set up secret installations without notifying the Faroese government.

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In times past, we were primarily concerned about attacks from perceived hostile countries.  Fortunately, those threats seem to have faded away in our region.
At present we see a general decrease in the military presence of US and NATO in the North Atlantic Region.

In a Faroese context this implies that the Mjørkadalur NATO base is gradually being phased out and our symbol of national security, the radar on the mountain Sornfelli, is being dismantled. Denmark also wanted to close down the LORAN C installation at Eiði, but then France showed interest in keeping it going. As a result Denmark and the Faroes have made an agreement with France about continuation of the LORAN C.

Without the radar at Sornfelli there are some concerns regarding the security of civil aviation in the area that we are now in a process of sorting out with our Danish and Icelandic friends.

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The NATO summit meeting has just been held in Riga. At this summit, the importance of NATO was again confirmed, yet with the recognition that its tasks in large measure are now different. Now, to a great extent the challenge is to tackle conflicts in countries far beyond the territories of the member states. The deployment of 32,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan is but one example. The security policy in general is changing, and adapting to the new times and the new challenges that lie ahead.

When expecting the end of the Cold War to mark the beginning of a new era with peace and harmony, we were disastrously wrong.

The exact nature of the security issues facing much of the world today could appear rather bewildering. Formerly, our enemies were known. Everyone clearly understood from where the threat could spring.  Everyone clearly understood that the threat could very well engulf our region in a war of unprecedented magnitude that could endanger the entire world. When we think about the threat from terrorism, quite the opposite is true.  Our enemies are not clearly defined.  No one knows where our enemies may lurk. As long as those who would threaten our way of life do not possess weapons of mass destruction, their attacks against a peaceful world will in no way succeed, even though their acts do indeed generate fear among our fellow world citizens and cause extreme pain and suffering for their victims.

We only need to call to mind the terror attacks in New York, Madrid and London. We may have conflicting views on the military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq but it is in everybody’s interest to support the newly elected democratic governments of those countries. Ensuring the establishment of the rule of law throughout the globe remains a major goal for the international community.

The dangers now facing us have major consequences for security policy. For instance the NATO countries are in the process of re-organising their forces to facilitate smaller deployments to areas yet unknown, but where mobility, swiftness and flexibility in response to local conditions are of crucial importance.

The incorporation of advanced technology is essential in this new defence strategy as well as our geographic location in the North Atlantic has major strategic importance.  The Faroes is situated in the heart of the North Atlantic and thus can play a significant role in preserving the peace and security of the North Atlantic region.

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Ladies and gentlemen. I would also encourage reflection at this conference on a more profound and comprehensive understanding of the challenges facing our collective security.

One factor is the impact of climate change in the North Atlantic region.  The polar ice is melting, opening up possible polar sea lanes.  Even now, the transport of extremely dangerous cargo in Faroese waters is increasing. This fact alone places heavy demands on our emergency preparedness and response.  We must be ready to immediately defend our seas and the precious resources they contain.  Those resources are, of course, linked to the climate changes now affecting our planet.

The quantities of oil and gas found in the North Atlantic are steadily increasing.  This also presents a question involving security and defence issues.  The resolution of this question requires fundamentally new perspectives and strategic thinking that must incorporate and build upon the existing collaboration between NATO and for instance Russia.

The Faroes is a part of the regional search and rescue that is coordinated by the International Maritime Organisation. Our rescue station, with its geographical location in the heart of the North Atlantic, is particularly important and participates in all co-operative search and rescue operations with our neighbours.

I noted earlier the impact of terrorist activity around the world and that nearly each and every country has taken steps to enhance its security precautions. The same holds true regarding natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes.  Fortunately, in our part of the planet, we have been spared such horrific experiences, but the Faroese roam far and wide and our sailors can be found in nearly every port in the world.

Thus, it is necessary that we maintain excellent co-operation with other countries so that we can defend and protect our citizens abroad, whether they be faced with a natural disaster, an unexpected terror attack or some other misfortune.

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In 2007, the Faroes will assume responsibility for emergency preparedness.  This means that the Faroese government itself will be in charge of ensuring that the country is well prepared to face any disaster.

As long as the Faroes is not a sovereign nation, military preparedness and defence will remain the responsibility of Denmark. As a consequence, it is absolutely critical that the Faroes is afforded full and comprehensive access to all military planning issues relevant to the peace and security of the Faroes.

My government did set out to establish a renewed foundation for the Faroese-Danish relations. Our Parliament passed through a new resolution on a Faroese Security Policy demanding full information into security and military matters concerning the Faroes, and full participation of Faroese authorities in the decision making processes in this regard.

Access to information and to the processes of decision making regarding in principle all fields of foreign and security policy has been guaranteed by the Danish government in the Fámjin-charter, a document signed by myself and the Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Per Stig Møller.

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All in all, we have a stable security situation in the North Atlantic region.  Yet, it is absolutely critical that we all take the necessary steps to maintain and enhance the good co-operation we have today regarding security policy. It is, therefore, of great importance that the countries of the North continue to enhance their collective security through better communication, shared technological development and openness to the entire world.

As everyone knows, a chain is no stronger than its weakest link. Thus, even the smallest of countries have their particular roles to play in the difficult tasks ahead to overcome the many dangers facing the world today. We endured the chill of the Cold War, and are taking our precautions facing new threats. More literally the climate also seems to be heating up, melting away the icecap and thus paving way for new shipping routes, new opportunities and new hazards for a vulnerable arctic and sub arctic environment. We may be on our way from ice to fire in more ways than one. Nevertheless - whether our foe be smouldering climate change, or unbridled terrorism, standing together with our good neighbours, we shall prevail.  

Jóannes Eidesgaard
Prime Minister