France plugs the American gap left at Keflavik

french-flagFor years Iceland’s Keflavik airbase was an important strategic outpost in the Cold War as American fighter jets and air force personal were based there to ward off any intrusion into North Atlantic airspace by hostile Soviet aircraft.

But when the US withdrew in 2006, it left Iceland defenceless, since the country has never developed a military of its own. In stepped the French, which explains the presence of their Mirage 2000 fighters currently seen at the base. While the Bush government had seen it as a superfluous Cold War relic, no sooner had they pulled out than Russian long range patrols began penetrating Iceland’s air space.

As a NATO member Iceland appealed to the Atlantic Alliance for protection, but an immediate United States return would have been seen as an embarrassment and strategic miscalculation, so four European countries were asked to jointly contribute on a rota system to help protect Iceland’s air sovereignty. These include France, Spain, Denmark, Poland – to be deployed in that order.

The order has been a low key one, hoping not to attract publicity and upset the delicate power balance struggle that continues between Moscow and Washington and which extends to the floor depths of the North Pole.

At present there are four fighter jets and limited personal from the French air force using the base and patrolling the airspace around Iceland.