"Visiting Reykjavik’s Hofdi House 27 years later"

Gorbachev and Reagan at Hofdi House in 1986

See The Simons Foundation's Disarming Arctic Security page for briefing papers on military policies and practices in the Arctic region by Ernie Regehr, Senior Fellow in Arctic Security at The Simons Foundation.

Visiting Reykjavik’s Hofdi House 27 years later
November 7, 2013

Twenty-seven years to the day after the historic Reagan/Gorbachev Summit in Reykjavik, a visit to the scene, the modest Hofdi House near Reykjavik harbour, is a reminder of what almost happened on October 12, 1986.

The Hofdi House visit became a brief personal excursion during the course of the inaugural Arctic Circle forum in Reykjavik, at which more than 1,000 participants from 40 countries gathered to consider a broad range of contemporary Arctic issues – sea ice melt, polar law, shipping and transportation, the prospects and risks of oil and gas drilling, the role and rights of indigenous peoples, security, clean energy and more.

There were no security discussions that focused on arms control directly, but inasmuch as participants in the security breakout sessions obviously understood the Arctic to be a place of strategic and geopolitical significance well beyond its own geography, as it was for the decades of the Cold War, it seemed more than appropriate to recall the day that American President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to Iceland and within a hair’s breadth of agreeing on a radical plan – that is, to eliminate all their nuclear-armed missiles and to jointly set a course toward a world without nuclear weapons.

In the end they couldn’t close the deal. The chief stumbling block turned out to be ballistic missile defence. They tried to get past the missile defence problem and both agreed to a 10-year commitment not to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. Gorbachev insisted that the missile defence research and testing permitted by the Treaty should be confined to laboratories, while Reagan insisted on field and flight testing (research and development that went well beyond the labs.

Now, almost three decades later, missile defence continues to be divisive, including in the Arctic. At a meeting of the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels in October 2013, US and NATO missile defence developments were once again under discussion, but the impasse remains. Only days after the discussions, US Defense Department officials were in Romania to launch construction of a US interceptor base. “Missile defense programs develop and our concerns are ignored,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.  Continue reading....


Ernie Regehr, O.C. is Senior Fellow in Arctic Security at The Simons Foundation, and Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo.