How does a sparsely populated island nation with no standing army have access to 8 million soldiers and the world’s largest military?

Two weeks ago, on September 3, President Obama delivered a speech in Tallinn, Estonia, just ahead of an extremely important NATO Summit in Cardiff, Wales.  It was a very timely message, especially for NATO Allies who share a border with Russia.

In this age of fleeting sound bites, flashes of video images, and ever-decreasing attention spans, I don’t hold out much hope that many readers will bother to click on this link (Obama’s Speech in Tallinn) and read the President’s address in its entirety.  That’s a shame, because the speech traces the inspiring story of freedom, after years of foreign oppression, in Estonia and the other Baltic states, addresses and condemns Russia’s aggressive meddling and subterfuge in the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, and reaffirms NATO’s commitment to defend its member states.

Notice, in particular, the following brief excerpts:

As free peoples, as an Alliance, we will stand firm and united to meet the test of this moment, and here’s how. 

First, we will defend our NATO Allies, and that means every Ally.  In this Alliance, there are no old members or new members, no junior partners or senior partners — there are just Allies, pure and simple.  And we will defend the territorial integrity of every single Ally. 

During the long Soviet occupation, the great Estonian poet, Marie Under, wrote a poem in which she cried to the world: “Who’ll come to help?  Right here, at present, now!”  And I say to the people of Estonia and the people of the Baltics, today we are bound by our treaty Alliance.  We have a solemn duty to each other.  Article 5 is crystal clear: An attack on one is an attack on all. 

This renewed pledge of defense for all NATO member states piqued my curiosity about the military strength of the various nations which comprise the Alliance.

It was no surprise to me that the United States overwhelmingly contributes the largest percentage of NATO’s military resources with approximately 1.5 million active military personnel and another 1.5 million reservists.  I didn’t expect, however, that Turkey would be second among NATO member states with just over 600,000 active military.  France is third on the list with 220,000.  In total, NATO has a combined active and reserve military of nearly 8 million.

Now, about Iceland…

Iceland is one of NATO’s 12 founding member states.  Yet, just as was the case when it joined the Alliance in 1949, Iceland has no standing army.  You will notice on a listing of NATO military strength that Iceland has 210 active military personnel and 170 reservists.  However, nearly all of them serve in the nation’s Coast Guard which operates three ships and four aircraft.

How can Icelanders sleep so peacefully at night with nary a worry about invasion or occupation by a foreign power?  They’ve got a treaty!  They are in a covenant.  They are part of an Alliance!  If the need arose, Iceland could call upon the resources of 8 million military personnel to protect its population of 325,000.  That’s 25 soldiers per citizen.  I think I would sleep well and feel adequately protected too!

I am Iceland.  I’m an island surrounded by oceans of uncertainty, self-doubt, discouragement, temptation, spiritual push back, regrets, and failures, both past and present.  To say that I feel insecure and inadequate at times is the mother of all understatements.  Storms constantly lash at the shoreline.  There is always the potential threat of invasion by sickness, financial hardship, broken relationships, grief, and loss.

So, how does a person like me sleep at night?  I’ve got a treaty.  I’m in a covenant.  I’m part of an Alliance.

God is faithful.  He keeps covenant.  He has never broken a promise.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.  The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”  (Psalm 46:1-2, 11)

“He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we may confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.  What will man do to me?'”  (Hebrews 13:5-6)

“Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’  And the Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  (II Kings 6:17)

“Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”  (I John 4:4)

“Not that we are adequate in ourselves to think of anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”  (II Corinthians 3:5)

“And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”  (II Corinthians 12:9-10)

“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”  (I Corinthians 12:27)

Yes, indeed!  It’s good to be Iceland!

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