Some analysts were surprised when the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao made a spring visit to Reykjavik earlier this year; others weren’t at all puzzled as to why the leader of the world’s most populous nation would want to call in on a country with a population of just 320,000.
Jiabao, a former geologist, was surveying the country’s geothermal potential and possibly even eyeing up the island as the site of a future Chinese outpost in the region. That’s because the remote North Atlantic isle could be China’s Arctic foothold. As the polar ice caps recede, the question of who has rights to the Northwest Passage (and who has access to the rich Arctic deposits of oil, gas and other minerals global warming might unveil) is fast becoming a contentious issue for the likes of the US, Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway.
Increasingly, China wants to be part of the debate, bolstering its diplomatic presence in Iceland. Its new Reykjavik embassy now has 10 diplomats and 39 administrative staff, yet it was only as recently as 1995 that they even returned to having one permanent ambassador in the country. China has also applied for observer status on the Arctic Council (as have Italy, South Korea, Japan and Singapore).
One area in the northeast hinterlands has provoked particularly high levels of speculation. Business tycoon and former Chinese government official Huang Nubo is after 300 sq km of strategically important terrain in the middle of what could become an important new maritime transport location.
Commercially, the Sino-Icelandic alliance is solid: Icelandic exports to China (mainly fish) increased by nearly 60 per cent between 2010 and 2011, and imports from China increased by 80 per cent. Whether this relationship might also accommodate a permanent shipping port or military station is still uncertain.
Vladivostok and Sevastopol are unlikely names for two French-built amphibious assault ships. However, after years of negotiation France has finally secured a €1.2bn deal for its prized Mistral-class warships. The first two ships will be delivered in 2014-15; two more are on order to be built in Russia. Each can carry 16 helicopters, more than a dozen tanks and a 69-bed hospital. Despite alarm in Washington and from France’s Nato allies, Paris is pushing ahead.
The UK Ministry of Defence has received its first F-35 Lightning II jet from Lockheed Martin at a cost of €129m; the Pentagon, meanwhile, is expected to spend €325bn on over 2,000 of the jets. It’s all good news for UK industry: the F-35 jet fuselage will be manufactured in Lancashire, in a €193m facility built by defence firm BAE Systems.
Austerity in the eurozone has hit military coffers. In 2011, Spain cut its army spending by 18 per cent and Greece by 26 per cent, while Belgium saw a 12 per cent drop.
Course founder, Centre for Gender at the Spanish Ministry of Defence
Spain has played a remarkable game of catch-up since 1991, when only 137 women were serving in the armed forces. Today that number has increased to an impressive 15,600 and a joint Dutch-Spanish initiative hopes to further the trend globally with the inauguration of an international course to advance the role of women in the armed forces.
What sets this course apart from other initiatives?
We’re targeting both military and civilian leaders with a course that challenges old ideas. We use case studies from our experiences in Afghanistan, which prove that female soldiers often liaise more effectively with locals.
What are the effects of a more diversified military?
When information can only be obtained from men, half of the population is frozen out of the system. Decision-making should involve everyone. It works in society; it can work in the forces, too.
When will we see a female general in Spain?
European countries have had female generals since the Second World War, yet the highest-ranking woman in Spain is a lieutenant colonel. It should never be about fulfilling quotas, but allowing everyone to pursue their career equally.