Three B-2 Spirit stealth bombers that arrived at Iceland’s Keflavík International Airport on August 23, 2021 spent an extended period in the country, Stars and Stripes reports. According to the outlet, Iceland was used as a new launch point for bomber missions to Europe. “this is the first time the B-2 has operated continuously from Iceland,” Lt. Col. Matthew Howard is quoted as saying. “Having the B-2s in the theater in Iceland allows us to respond to any potential crisis or challenge across the globe.” The three bombers returned to their home base in the United States on September 11 once their Keflavík mission was completed.
Large defence investments in Keflavík
Iceland does not have its own military. Its defence policy is founded on the country’s membership in NATO and the 1951 Defence Agreement signed by Iceland and the United States. In 2019, the Icelandic government increased its defence budget by 37%, citing four large projects as the main expenses. The largest proportion of the funding goes toward operation of Keflavík Airport and the Icelandic Coast Guard.
The US Military has also invested millions in renovations at the Naval Air Station in Keflavík to “support NATO air surveillance missions and the collective defense and military activities in this crucial North Atlantic location,” according to a press release from the United States Air Force.
Growing strategic interest in Arctic
Iceland is strategically positioned at the edge of the Arctic, which has become a region of growing interest for powerful nations, not only in relation to national security but also for its economic possibilities and vulnerability to climate change. Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir chairs the Left-Green Movement, which opposes the country’s membership in NATO. In 2020, she stated that “permanent [military] presence or a new military base in Iceland, is out of the question.”
During an official visit to Iceland earlier this year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that the United States planned “to continue to maintain the US presence on a persistent rotational basis,” adding that any changes to current operations “are closely co-ordinated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and all NATO allies.” He added that the Arctic “must remain an area of peaceful co-operation.”