2018 NATO Engages
“A Conversation with Katrin Jakobsdottir”

Moderator: Corinna Hörst
Women in Internatinal Security Brussels

H.E. Katrin Jakobsdottir
Prime Minister
Republic of Iceland

Location: Brussels, Belgium

Time: 9:15 a.m. Local
Date: Thursday, July 12, 2018

 HÖRST: Good morning, everybody, and thank you so much for joining us this morning in a fireside chat. I think we need the fire because it has been rather cold in this tent. This morning we have a conversation with a very unusual NATO member. It’s a member that doesn’t have a standing army. It is up high North, surrounded by water, which leads to some interest among either global players, Russia and China. It is also a country that is led by somebody who is very skeptical about NATO, but is part of a coalition government, so needs to make compromises. Please allow me and join me in welcoming the Prime Minister from Iceland, Katrin Jakobsdottir.

As we have learned sort of yesterday, there are many ways of how we can take a look at security and NATO. For the Icelandic Prime Minister, it’s the first NATO Summit that you’ve joined. Why don’t you share with us briefly your takeaways and how has it been?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, it’s been quite an interesting experience actually to come here to my first NATO Summit. As you mentioned, I come from a party which is very skeptical about the membership of NATO, but in Iceland we also have a great parliamentary majority for the membership of NATO. We have a national security policy. The measures I’ve been trying to bring over here at this Summit, because all of these people here are, of course, people we are working very closely with is really that we need to think about security in a broad manner. We need to think about security and how we can prevent conflict, not only stop conflict when it has already happened. Then we need to think about climate change. Then we need to think about cyber defenses. Then we need to think about social instabilities and social equality.

I think, for example, I said yesterday Iceland has been increasing its spending on defense, like all other NATO nations, without having any military, obviously, so we have a little special position, but it’s also important to think about development aid, humanitarian aid, and think of that as an investment in global security. That’s really our take on it in Iceland, how we can make the world a more peaceful and secure place and do it from a broad view.

HÖRST: Let’s take a seat and talk a little bit about multilateralism. Obviously, NATO is a multilateralism organization, shared values, cooperation, pulling of resources. There’s another institution, the UN, which in 2015 came forward with its sustainable development goals. There’s 17 of us, and it really has been a signal about looking at issues and problems differently, in a holistic manner, and sort of looking at sort of solutions. I’d be interested in your take. Are there some lessons learned about sustainable development goals that are maybe useful for NATO to look at and take on in its future work?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, I think we have a clash of ideas here, because a lot of people say NATO is just the military or defense alliance, and NATO shouldn’t be thinking about SDGs, NATO shouldn’t be thinking about what the UN is doing. But when you sit at a summit, like I did yesterday for the first time, these are all the same people that are also going to the UN summits. A lot of these people are also meeting at the EU summits. What we need to think about is that the things we are doing here don’t clash with the things that we are doing there.

I think it’s very important for NATO to think about the SDGs, what the NATO is doing is really how does it go together with everything else we are doing? For example, when it comes to gender equality, that was one of the things I talked about yesterday. We have the 1325 Resolution. Can we make the world a more secure and peaceful place if we think about gender equality also within NATO? I say yes to that question. I think NATO can and should do a lot better when it comes to gender equality. I think when we just look at history and look at the examples that we have seen is that when we have women around the table in all offices, also in security and defense, we get different solutions, different questions are asked, and the results are better.

HÖRST: So I want to pick on that. As UN Resolution 1325, which really focuses on women in conflict and post conflict situations, are there lessons learned from implementing the Resolution that we can apply to maybe a broader context in terms of bringing women to the table?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, I’m very proud to say that Iceland has been on top of the list when it comes to gender equality, the top of the list of the world economic forum, now for nine consecutive years. A lot of people come to me, foreign media, and ask, “Okay, isn’t Iceland just paradise on earth for women?” I always say, “Definitely not.” I’m Prime Minister number two that is women. When we have maybe 30 prime ministers who have been women, I can say that we have really reached gender equality. There’s a lot of work to be done also in Iceland.

What we have learned however, from all this, is that when we think about things from the aspect of gender equality, for example, when you’re in a conflict ridden area and think about the role of women and families, you take a different take than when you’re just looking at with glasses off the conflict really. That applies for every sector in life. You get a different education system, different health system, if you always have the gender glasses and put them on regularly.

HÖRST: Does your government regularly put the gender glasses on as you are sending people to the NATO headquarter?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Absolutely. As I said yesterday, gender equality shouldn’t be something that you talk about when you have spoken about all the serious business, when you have spoken about security and military spending, and then we’re going to talk about gender equality later in a side room. You have to have it always there. You have to have it as an underlying thought in everything you do and say. We are walking on that with our government, not only when it comes to defense, but in all sectors of society.

HÖRST: Okay, I want to pick on another SDG, number 16, which talks about justice and institutions. Multilateral institutions have been under stress and really been challenged, rule of law has been challenged, partnership has been challenged. Where is Iceland on this? Do you have some novel new ways of maybe addressing some of these challenges for these institutions that we can move forward, kind of doing things differently? I think one of the words that comes to my mind having read about you is that you want to do things new, as new ways of doing things or creating new institutions. How can we ensure that the rule of law is really being uphold and that people have a place to go and ask for justice?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: All politicians think they’re doing something new, so that’s nothing new about that, but it’s a common factor for us. Why is it important that we have international institutions that we are always thinking about the rule of law, that international law should be followed and obeyed? Well, for a small country like Iceland, we are 350,000 people, we really have learned it’s how important the rule of law, that international law, should be obeyed is. This is maybe, I don’t know, coming from a small country and only knowing that view of the world, I don’t know if it’s as important maybe for the really big countries, but for us, we gained independence in 1944 and became a republic then, so for us these mechanisms, these structures are highly important because they ensure that all countries, small and big, can actually survive, can actually make their points and have something to say really about how the world is run.

That’s why we, wherever we go, stress this item. This is of course part of the SDGs that we have institutions that are working transparently, that are democratic, and that are following the international law. I don’t think this is a novel idea actually, but I think in this world we are living in now, where maybe increasingly complex challenges, I think this cannot be stressed enough.

HÖRST: Thank you. I want to ask you one more question, but I also want to make sure that our audience gets ready. I want to give you a chance to ask your questions to the Prime Minister. I know climate and environment is very important to Iceland and you personally, coming from a Green Party. Is there anything that NATO and the UN can do together to be a bit more preemptive in terms of when it comes to potential crisis and disasters?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, climate change is definitely a key factor when it comes to global security, because what we probably will see is we are going to see more migration, we are going to see more social instability because of climate change. Personally, I think this is the biggest challenge we are facing now, how we are going to react to climate change, and I also think is everybody really must participate.

We have put forward an ambitious goal in Iceland to become carbon neutral, so we are not only reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but we are also planning to increase carbon binding, for example, by growing forests, restoring wetlands, et cetera. We can’t do this, just the government or just the individual. We have to have the local communities, we have to have the private sector, we have to have the individuals, we have to have everybody on the team. That’s why you ask can NATO do anything? NATO must do something, because we all have to deliver our share for this important project, which really revolves around that we all need to head for carbon neutrality. That’s a very important thing, and in spite of we all have different goals and aims, running private companies, running this alliance or whatever, this must be our common goal.

HÖRST: It’s actually a very important point bringing the private sector in and sort of the security also, how maybe we can maybe think about preemptiveness, but also the environment and the climate.

JAKOBSDOTTIR: I think also the private sector actually coming in really forcefully now into the climate discussion, and I think this is going to be maybe the most important thing to do something about it, seeing all those big companies really making a real change in their operation.

HÖRST: Thank you. Let me open it up to you. We have a question here. There’s a question there. Could I have microphones? Please, this gentleman up here in the front.

QUESTION 1: Thank you very much. It was a good presentation that you did. Putting your glasses gender equality, I would like to know what you think that was most important in the Declaration of this NATO Summit to your country, to the maritime roots that are near Iceland, and the problems of security this high North. I would like what you could underline as the most important in this Declaration. It is a Declaration of 79 points, so it was a very consensual Declaration. What is the most important there, not only the gender equality and the environment, but related to security, what was the most important in this Declaration to you? Thank you.

HÖRST: Thank you, sir. Do you want to respond?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, it’s always difficult to make a choice as you mentioned with so many points in this Declaration, but I would like to mention two things. One that I personally think is very important and that we talked about also during last evening’s dinner, and that’s the goal for disarmament, a nuclear proliferation. Hopefully, we are going to see some positive developments there in North Korea and the Korean peninsula, but also within NATO. Iceland is actually hosting a conference this Autumn about disarmament, and this is an issue we put very high on the agenda.

The other point I would like to mention, which is something that Iceland really needs to focus on and is part of the Declaration, and that is cybersecurity. That’s something that we have analyzing in our country, realizing really how vulnerable the modern society is when it comes to cyber threats, realizing how dependent we are when it comes to our information IT systems. I think that’s one of the key points in the Declaration, and this is something that we want to work closely with other nations in building up our cybersecurity.

HÖRST: Okay, two very important issues again, the nuclear and the cyber, the new threat. We have a question over there.

KIFINGA: Thank you.

HÖRST: Can you please introduce yourself?

KINFINGA: Certainly, Olga Kifinga, I work at the European Council on Foreign Relations and I’m also a member of WIIS UK. Iceland is very different from almost any other country, not the least geographically. You’re an island, you’re far removed from everyone. I was wondering how difficult is it for you to explain to your population how important it is or that it is important to be alliances, member of the international community, engaged all of that. Do the Icelandic people have a special view on that?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: That’s a very good question, and I would like to answer it because before I became a politician, I taught Icelandic literature. When you look at Iceland’s history, ever since Iceland was settled, and we are definitely … oops … far away … I did bring the talking points, but it’s good to have them though. I’m just going to put them there. We were settled in 874, and we’re definitely out on the periphery. We’re very far away, mainly by Norwegians and people from the British Isles. Ever since that moment, Iceland has been constantly in collaboration and cooperation with other nations.

I think maybe just because we’re an island, out on the periphery, the Icelandic public has always been very conscious about the importance of international cooperation. Icelandic poets wrote their poetry, and then they said, “What am I going to do with this? I’m going to go to the Norwegian king and recite it to him, because I need new audiences.” This is what we’ve been doing forever. We’ve been traveling around the world, talking to new audiences. It’s maybe partly because we’re an island, we have always been very much focused on international cooperation. As I said before, being a small country, we are really dependent on the rule of law, that international law is obeyed, and that’s why multilateral institutions matter very much to us.

For us, being a nation of 350,000, and I will just be very frank, this is something that we don’t like to admit to ourselves, it’s often more difficult for us to have a bilateral communications with bigger nations. That’s why multilateral organizations are very important to Iceland because there we actually find this audience we’ve been striving for ever since the early 900s.

HÖRST: Thank you very much for bringing the population and the people with it. You made another really wonderful plug about partnerships. We have one question over there, please.

POPTODOROVA: Good morning. I’m Elena Poptodorova from Bulgaria, Vice President of ATA, Atlantic Treaty Association, and also of the Bulgarian Atlantic Club. Madam Prime Minister, you would bear with me for one introductory remark having to do with our hostess this morning. I really need to commend Women in International Security. While I was serving in Washington for a total of almost 13 years, I engaged a lot with this organization, and I’m happy to see that it’s gaining more ground and more vigor. Obviously, I need to reengage again today. It’s in this particular context that I would like to share something with you, Madam Prime Minister.

You and I come from two opposite ends of Europe, and definitely we live in different cultures. My culture, for good or for worse, is more kind of a macho culture historically, traditionally. It’s changing very, very quickly, but obviously the military is a domain, an area, which is still very much a man’s world. I was wondering, although again I say it’s changing, it would be unfair to neglect the changes that have happened, especially after a NATO membership, but I was wondering do you have any instances of, how should I put it nicely, Me Too in your military? Do you a second rating of good women who can serve on an equal footing with men, but they’re somehow given more time to ripe, to mature? How would you describe the situation in your country from that perspective? Thank you.

HÖRST: Thank you for making the plug for WIIS. I do want to remember Iceland does not have a standing army, but you have coast guards, you have people that [crosstalk 00:19:26]

JAKOBSDOTTIR: We have police, we have coast guards.

HÖRST: Exactly.

JAKOBSDOTTIR: So our efforts for NATO, for example, are all on a civilian basis. Well, it’s a good question because obviously we had a lot of Me Too histories. It was quite something in Iceland, because I mentioned we were at the top of the global gender gap list, that list doesn’t measure gender based violence, and that’s why gender based violence is really one of the priorities of my government. It’s definitely something that we see that there’s a great difference, even though I can’t talk about any military in Iceland, there’s a great difference between different sectors. I can imagine that within the military, which is as you say, more dominated probably by macho culture than many other sectors, you would have such histories.

The most striking histories, however, in Iceland in the Me Too wave were not connected to police or coast guard or anything like that. They were connected to immigrant women who also were not only women, but also had a difficult social standing. That was the most vulnerable group when it came to the Me Too histories in Iceland. It wasn’t really sector based. It was more of the origins and the social status that you could say was the decisive factor there.

HÖRST: Do you want to talk a little bit about how you’ve addressed it? How has Iceland come together behind that?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, sometimes it is good to be small because when something happens in Iceland, you can somehow deal with it very quickly. What has happened in Iceland is actually the government institutions, private sector, we have all been together to talk about how we are going to react. We are all making plans on how to deal with Me Too and how to deal with gender based violence. We are focusing on it from the judiciary system, from the health system, from the education system, so we are actually making a holistic plan how we can really eradicate gender based violence.

HÖRST: So it’s a multi-prong approach.

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Yes, it is. Yes, it is, and as I said, the Icelandic way because we’re so small so everybody’s always participating in everything. I’m actually an expert in crime fiction, and I was once asked how is it possible to write crime fiction in Iceland because everybody knows everybody, so that’s maybe also good for our security because we all know everybody. That’s maybe an asset, too.

HÖRST: It’s another way of inclusive-

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Yeah, you could say that.

HÖRST: Thank you.

JAKOBSDOTTIR: I don’t know if it’s allowed to make jokes at such a serious convention.

HÖRST: I have one more question here, and then let’s see how we do with time to take two more. Please, the microphone.

SKOLSANPE: Yes, thank you. Ricard Skolsanpe from Latvia. Well, it’s great to see leading a very innovative country, Iceland, and I think we can take a lot from Iceland in terms of long-term planning. A fine example is football, national football team. I mean, what you have pulled off for the past-

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Thank you for mentioning that, thank you.

SKOLSANPE: … two years is really amazing. With a population of 370,000, it’s really amazing. I would like to ask you two questions. One is connected with cybersecurity. One is that, of course, I understand you are not about army physical defense, but cybersecurity, they don’t have borders, cyberspace and all that. Knowing that Iceland has become a hub for various actors in cyberspace, either for ill or for good, what would be Iceland’s stance in the long term in actually shaping the security in a cyberspace area

Second question, which I think is very interesting now with lots here, your insight, as you mentioned, it’s your first NATO Summit, what are your takes from last night’s dinner, [inaudible], from the leaders’ dinner?

HÖRST: Two very good questions. Thank you.

JAKOBSDOTTIR: Well, first about cybersecurity.

HÖRST: If you want to stand up, then you can address him and not awkwardly turn.

JAKOBSDOTTIR: First about cybersecurity, well, cybersecurity is a very diverse issue. We can talk about cyber attacks, and we’ve had our share of that. Our national public radio, for example, received a cyber attack and several public institutions have been experiencing that. So that’s one thing that we need to be very mindful of. But cybersecurity’s also about how, for example, we are seeing the spread of fake news and all sorts of non-facts being spread around social media. One of the things that we have discovered because we’ve been analyzing this, we’ve been working with the UK actually analyzing the situation in Iceland, is that the consciousness of Icelanders, partly because we are so few, we are very relaxed about what we are doing on the Internet, so we just do everything, and we are never worried about it, so all our information is really there. This is something that we need to do something about.

At the same time, because you mentioned that we have become a hub for several actors, we want to be a leading country when it comes to freedom of information, freedom of expression, so these two goals are difficult to match, and this is actually one of my priorities in my ministry, the Prime Ministry. That’s really writing a new law and information guaranteeing that freedom of information and freedom of expression, but still at the same time raising the consciousness of the Icelandic people about Internet and information and also ensuring the cybersecurity of all our important institutions, because what we’ve seen is that you can actually just disable the whole healthcare system by a cyber attack, for example. As I said, we have become so dependent on it.

The second question, the dinner, well, I think I’m not allowed to say anything. I could say that I thought it was interesting being here for the first time, feeling the great tension before the meeting and the dinner, and then experiencing much less tension in the meeting and in the dinner than in the media. That was one of the things I found really interesting, because if you look at the media you would have thought that everybody would have been just like going crazy in the meetings and in the dinner, but it was definitely not like that. That was quite an experience for me.

The meeting yesterday, we talked a lot about, I mentioned disarmament and nuclear proliferation, and that was one of the key topics, for example, at the dinner yesterday. Hopefully, we will see something good coming out of that.

HÖRST: Thank you. That’s very reassuring. I think we have time for one more question. Could we have a microphone up front? Please introduce yourself.

LINDNER:I’m Tobias Lindner, I’m the Defense Policies spokesperson of the Green Party in the German Parliament. I share your view that when we need to get a broader, a wider understanding what is security, and that it’s not only military. How easy or how hard is it to convince your allies in the alliance that they share this view, especially when it comes to spending?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: well, I’m not saying that I didn’t feel that everybody agreed with me, I can tell you that. I think it’s problematic talking about security differently. I think for me coming from the political direction I come from, it’s my duty to do that, to talk about security differently. Even though I can tell you that not many other leaders were talking in the same direction I was talking, I also got a positive feedback.

I’m still in politics. I’ve been in the Icelandic Parliament for 10 years now, because I’m a mindless optimist, so I really believe in dialog, I believe that it works in the end, so I’m just going to continue talking, even though it might take some time. Of course, definitely not everybody agrees.

This view on security, I personally think this is the view of the future. I think we need to look at security holistically. I think we need to look at it that we want to prevent conflict and not just stepping in when conflict has happened. We do that, for example, by implementing the SDGs, by thinking about equality, by thinking about peaceful institutions, national law and order, thinking about environment and gender equality. I think all these issues are also security issues.

HÖRST: Thank you. It’s a wonderful way to tie it back actually to the title of our event, NATO Engages. It’s about the partnership. It’s about the different takes on security. Thank you for bringing this message forward, and I encourage all of you, all of us, to keep on saying this. Are there any final words, things you would like to say that you haven’t been able to address?

JAKOBSDOTTIR: No, just saying that this Summit will be a chapter in my biography and it will be an interesting chapter.

HÖRST: Please join me in thanking the Prime Minister for joining us.