Faroes islanders protest new NATO radar station

A large number of people sit to listen to a speaker at a protest.
Lowana Veal

During the Cold War a radar station was operated by the US military, under the guise of NATO, on Sornfelli mountain, 12 km from the capital of the Faroe Islands, Tórshavn. The radar station was set up without the knowledge of the Faroese public: the Faroes are a Danish autonomous territory and the Danes had provided NATO and the US military with land to use as a military base in both Greenland and the Faroes, on the basis that they would then have to pay less dues to NATO. Most of the time the base and radar station were operated without consulting the Faroese islanders, who knew little about what was going on there.

There is strong anti-militarist support in the Faroes, and when NATO announced that they would close the radar station on 1 January 2007 – three months after the US closed their military base in Iceland – the Faroese rejoiced.

But in recent years the US and NATO have become increasingly interested in the North Atlantic waters, and the idea was mooted of re-establishing the radar base on Sornfelli, using new equipment. Earlier this year the Danish authorities said that they had come to an agreement with NATO on a radar station structure on Sornfelli.

The previous radar station on Sornfelli
The previous radar station on Sornfelli, closed in 2007.

Again, the Faroese islanders were not consulted and, not surprisingly, they reacted strongly. While some islanders blindly follow whatever Denmark and NATO want to do and others are prepared to have the military back again if the Faroese islanders are consulted, opinion surveys indicate that the majority of Faroese residents are completely against the military build-up in the Faroes. But the make-up of the Faroese parliament does not reflect the latter view, and indeed it is unclear if in fact they will have a say in the matter at all.

On July 21, the youth groups of the Faroese political parties opposing the radar station organized a demonstration, which was initially envisaged to be up on Sornfelli mountain itself but was then relocated to the capital, Tórshavn. The demonstration, which was attended by over 100 people, focused on the right to self-determination. Their message was clear: We make the decisions; Faroese politics will be governed from the Faroes; we own the radar; and we own the free space. That same evening, Icelandic anti-militarists staged a small demonstration of solidarity outside the Faroese embassy.

Besides the radar station, Denmark also announced in February that it would purchase two surveillance drones for Greenland – another Danish autonomous territory. Together with the radar station on Sornfelli, these would cover “blind spots” and improve Denmark’s surveillance capabilities in Greenland and the North Atlantic. The Danes are planning to spend 1.5 billion Danish kroner ($245 million, €200 million) on the military investments in Sornfelli and Greenland.

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