- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

President of Iceland: Small Country, Large Impact

| Spring 2018

How can themes from Iceland’s Cod Wars with the United Kingdom help us increase collaboration in the Arctic? How can small countries, like Iceland, make a global impact?

These were key questions H.E. Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, President of Iceland, discussed during his visit to Harvard Kennedy School in January that attracted more than 1,000 students and faculty.

The President’s visit was co-hosted by the Belfer Center’s new Arctic Initiative, which aims to shape Arctic-related policymaking through promoting research, dialogues and education. Before the public address, the President engaged in a discussion with Dean Douglas Elmendorf, Belfer Center Co-Director Eric Rosenbach, and the founders of the Arctic Initiative John Holdren, Henry Lee, and Halla Hrund Logadóttir.

The President’s message was simple. Iceland has punched above its weight in many ways: creative resistance during the Cod Wars; strengthening Arctic dialogue internationally; and even making it to the World Cup in football. He demonstrated that small states that aim to have international influence must be humble, extremely knowledgable, self-critical, and willing to innovate.

Regarding the Arctic, the President insisted that, “environmental concerns should come first.” He also elaborated on Iceland’s comparative advantage when it comes to familiarity with the ocean. As a country that relied on it for centuries, he explained the need to safeguard the ocean ecosystem from increasing pollution.

Next year, Iceland will take on the chairmanship of the Arctic Council and continue to punch above its weight by facilitating sustainable policies in the constantly changing Arctic region.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

“President of Iceland: Small Country, Large Impact.” Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2018).


Eric Rosenbach