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Cablegate: Iceland: Peacekeeping Policy at a Crossroads

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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

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