Doctoral Dissertation: The defence relationship of Iceland and the United States and the closure of Keflavík base


M.A. Gustav Pétursson’s doctoral thesis identifies the key elements of the defence relationship between Iceland and the United States. The research results suggest that defence relationships between asymmetrical powers in the international system are not only shaped by developments of the security environment, but also by economic factors and perceptions of decision makers responsible for shaping a nation’s defence policy.

The worsening relations between Russia and the West following the 2014 annexation of Crimea translates into growing strategic importance of Iceland and an inevitability that Iceland will play an important role in any current or future NATO or U.S. military planning for the North Atlantic.

Pétursson’s analysis traces the defence functions of the U.S. military at the Keflavík base; the failed burden-sharing negotiations between the U.S. and Icelandic government in 2005/2006; and examines how the Icelandic governments between 2006 and 2013 adapted to the closure of the Keflavík base.

– To fully understand decision making in asymmetrical defence relationships, theories that lend role and influence to economic factors and perceptions of key decision makers are of critical importance, Pétursson explains.

Therefore, it is necessary to incorporate these views into approaches drawing from the more traditional state-centric theories of international relations.

A small state with no armed forces of its own, Iceland formed a close defence relationship with the United States after gaining full independence from Denmark in 1944. In 1951 the two states signed a bilateral defence agreement allowing the U.S. to set up a military base in Keflavík. Following failed burden-sharing negotiations, the U.S. government unilaterally closed down the Keflavík base in the autumn of 2006 and handed all defence functions over to the Icelandic government.

While this study is anchored within the theoretical schools of Neorealism and Institutionalism, its conclusions are that in order to gain a holistic understanding of the decision-making process during the burden-sharing negotiations and the aftermath of the closure of the Keflavík base it is important to look beyond the state-centric approaches of Neorealism and Institutionalism and factor in alternative theories on the motives of individual actors involved in the decision-making process.

Information on the defence

M.A. Gustav Pétursson will be defending his dissertation, The Defence Relationship of Iceland and the United States and the Closure of Keflavík base, with the permission of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland on 12 September 2020 at 12 noon.

The opponent is Professor Magnus Petersson, The Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. The custos is Professor Emeritus Lassi Heininen, University of Lapland.

The public defence will take place online at: https://connect.eoppimispalvelut/vaitos/

Information on the doctoral candidate

Gustav Pétursson has completed a Masters of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Iceland and has taught as a lecturer and a temporary Adjunct at the faculty of Political Science at the University of Iceland. During 2017 Pétursson worked at NATO headquarters in Brussels as an Icelandic Voluntary National Contribution to NATO International Staff.

Additional information

Gustav Pétursson

Information on the publication

Gustav Pétursson: The defence relationship of Iceland and the United States and the closure of Keflavík base. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 285. University of Lapland Printing Centre, Rovaniemi 2020. ISBN 978-952-337-222-1. ISSN 1796-6310.

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