Why do Costa Rica and Iceland not have militaries?
While it is true that Costa Rica does not have a military, Iceland did in fact maintain a small one, designated the Iceland Defense Force (IDF) until 2006. A member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Iceland was required during the Cold War to maintain a basic capacity for self-defense, which mainly involved coastal defenses secured through a coast guard. Unlike Costa Rica, Iceland was at the center of both U.S./NATO defense planning and that of the former Soviet Union. One of the assumptions underlying NATO defense planning throughout much of the Cold War was that, in the event a war broke out in Europe, the United States would reinforce its allies and its own European-based units through massive sealift campaigns moving cargo and troops from the mainland United States to Norway and northern Germany. Iceland, sitting directly in the middle of that route, and a member of NATO, was consequently considered a lynchpin of the U.S. ability to defend the sea lanes from the Soviet Navy, which frequently practiced surging its submarines and surface fleet from its bases in Murmansk into the North Atlantic.
The major reasons for Iceland’s small military during those years, however, was its relatively small population, and the U.S. Air Force base at Keflavik, from which U.S. fighter jets routinely intercepted Soviet bombers patrolling the airspace around the region. With the end of the Cold War and the perceived Soviet threat, the U.S. closed its facilities in Iceland and the Iceland Defense Force, which had been subordinate to the U.S., was dissolved. Iceland was protected by the United States, as well as by Canadian military forces throughout the Cold War. It simply did not, however, possess the capacity to maintain anything more than a small coastal defense force.
Costa Rica officially dissolved its armed forces in 1948 following that country’s civil war. The president at the time, Jose Figueres Ferrer, was concerned about another outbreak of political violence and threat of a military coup – a problem endemic throughout Central and South America – and did not perceive a threat from any of its neighbors, so he had the country’s military abolished. While Costa Rica maintains a small paramilitary force for limited border patrol duties and for participation in international peacekeeping activities. Because it continues to enjoy good relations with its neighbors, and, like Iceland, has a small population, the Costa Ricans see no requirement for a standing army.