Norway has made a decision to double the number of its US Marines, from 330 to 700, beginning in 2019. The additional forces will be stationed at Setermoen, a major hub for the Norwegian forces, located in the Inner Troms region in the Arctic, 420 kilometers (260 miles) from Russia. The two countries share a 196-km. (122-mile) border. Three hundred thirty Marines, the first foreign troops to be stationed in Norway since WWII, have been in Vaernes, in the central part of the country, since January 2017. They were scheduled to leave by the end of 2018. Now their mission has been extended. Somehow Oslo's request for more Marines coincided with the June 12 legal challenge it filed with the Geneva-based World Trade Organization (WTO) to the US tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Officially, the forces have been deployed on a training and exercise rotation, which is a temporary mission that seems to never end and is evidently expanding.
This time the deployment will last for a five-year period, in contrast to the initial posting that ran for only six months. And it will become a real expeditionary force, as the US military wants to build infrastructure that could accommodate up to four F-22 stealth Raptor fighters at a base 65 km. south of Oslo. This means there will be an air base to use and the number of aircraft could easily be increased.
According to Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide, the decision does not constitute the establishment of a permanent US base in Norway and is not targeted at Russia. For whatever reason, she did not specify the exact target nor how a five-year deployment could be considered as anything other than a permanent presence. “There are no American bases on Norwegian soil,” the minister assured the press, failing to explain how Marines could be deployed without being based somewhere!
Of course, other terms could be used, such as an outpost, camp, station, depot, or center, but hosting hundreds of armed warriors is the very definition of a military presence. If foreign forces are deployed to the vicinity of someone’s borders, such a move can hardly be perceived as a sign of willingness to develop warm, neighborly relations. In April, the Norwegian foreign minister said Oslo saw no threat coming from Moscow and that tensions in the Arctic were low. Does this mean that inviting larger numbers of foreign troops should be seen as a reaction to the absence of threats and the fact that tensions are running low? This logic is hardly comprehensible for ordinary people but you never know, perhaps there is a method to this madness.
Before becoming a NATO member in 1949, Oslo pledged that it would not allow foreign military forces to be permanently stationed on its soil if there was no threat of attack. Today the government says it continues to adhere to that commitment and that the foreign forces are present on a rotational basis. Actually, any presence is rotational — servicemen come and go — but if a large contingent of aviation-backed foreign troops with weapons systems is invited to stay for five years, that deployment turns into a “substantial” military presence and one that violates the provisions of the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations. The Marines can be easily reinforced. The American pre-positioned forward storage sites, a complex of caves, has been upgraded to store weapons and equipment for roughly 15,000 Marines.
The US is in the process of supplying Norway with 52 F-35 Lightning fighter jets to be based in Ørland. These planes are intended for attacks deep inside enemy territory. Providing training to the Norwegian pilots who will be operating the Lightnings that will be carrying B61-12 nuclear munitions constitutes a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 (articles I and II), which bans giving nuclear weapons to non-nuclear states. Ørland is located near Værnes, where the US Marines are stationed. In 2020/21, Norway will become home to one of three European engine depots that will maintain the F-35's engines.
In October-November, Norway will host the Trident Juncture 2018 exercise that will involve 40,000 servicemen, 130 aircraft, and 60 vessels from more than 30 nations – this will be an enormous training event held in close proximity to Russia. Last May, a US strategic bomber (B-52H) was used for the first time in the biennial NATO military drill, the "Arctic Challenge Exercise 2017," which was held in that country. The Globus II/III radar as well as five Aegis-equipped Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates are all being integrated into the ballistic missile defense of NATO, which is led by the US. A year ago, the US, the UK, and Norway agreed to jointly operate the P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) on missions flying near Russia’s Northern Fleet bases. Last week, a P-8 surveillance plane landed at Andøya. Previously the MPA operated from Iceland.
Americans say they need extreme weather conditions for training. This claim rings hollow. Is Alaska too small for that? Wasn’t it US Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller who just a few months ago told the Marines in Norway to prepare for a “bigass fight” on the horizon? Wasn’t it he who said that it’s not numbers but presence that is important because reinforcements could come rapidly? As the general put it, “We've got 300 Marines up here; we could go from 300 to 3,000 overnight. We could raise the bar." Wasn’t it the Marine Times that informed readers in late February that it was Russia and North Korea that US Marines were preparing to fight?
Norway, which is not an EU member, has never shown enthusiasm toward the idea of an independent European deterrent force and is turning toward Poland and the Baltic states to form a kind of US-led alliance in Europe. Non-NATO Sweden and Finland may join. The move to increase the Marines’ presence has been made amid preparations for the July NATO summit where Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia will ask for an increased foreign military presence on their soil and for forward deployed NATO forces to be supplemented with aerial and naval components.
Norway has built a border barrier to separate it from Russia. The Norwegian Occupied (Okkupert) political thriller TV series shows how anti-Russian sentiments are being instilled into ordinary Norwegians. The country is evidently executing a drastic shift toward a far more aggressive posture.
Norway as well as other Scandinavian countries enjoyed a tranquil life during the troubled years of the Cold War. That calm was possible due to the policy of “no permanent foreign deployments on national territory” to which Oslo adhered. Recently things have begun to change as a result of the country’s military posture, which is blurring the image of Norway as a benign and peace-loving nation. Today it is positioning itself as a springboard for a potential NATO attack against Russia and is moving to the front line in an intensifying confrontation between the Washington and Moscow. Oslo is discarding its traditions of being a good neighbor and is becoming an unreliable and unpredictable partner.
Provoking neighbors is not the way to enhance security. The Norwegian opposition has asked questions about the wisdom of such a pro-American and anti-Russian policy. The Russian government also has a good reason to ask questions, hoping to hear something more reasonable in response than meaningless words about “rotations” and frequent, large-scale exercises that no one should pay any attention to because the weapons being deployed are strictly for defensive, not offensive purposes. But after all, F-35s and F-22s are first-strike weapons systems and Marines are destined and trained for offensive operations. There will be consequences. Moscow will have to respond. Oslo will have no one to blame but itself. It has been warned.