- US-Norwegian military cooperation has increased amid growing concern about Russian activity around Europe.
- An agreement signed in mid-April will expand that cooperation by allowing the US to build new facilities on Norwegian bases.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
A recent deal between the US and Norway will expand the two countries’ defense cooperation, allowing the US to build facilities on Norwegian bases to support operations in a region where Russia’s military is increasingly active.
The Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement, signed Friday by US and Norwegian officials, allows “unimpeded access to and use of” agreed-upon facilities by US forces for training, refueling, and maintenance, among other activities, according to an English-language version of the agreement released by Norway.
It would also allow “construction activities on” and “alterations and improvements to” those facilities, which are Rygge and Sola air stations, both near Norway’s southern coast, and Evenes air station and Ramsund naval station, both of which are above the Arctic Circle in northern Norway.
“These locations have been selected with the aim of strengthening cooperation with the US in the air defence and maritime domains in years to come,” the Norwegian government said.
The agreement will “facilitate further development of opportunities for US forces to train and exercise in Norway, promoting improved interoperability with Norwegian and other allied forces,” the US State Department said.
The agreement still has to be ratified by Norway’s parliament, which will take it up later this year, and it stipulates that new facilities must be built in consultation with Norway and funded by the US.
The expansion of the two countries’ longstanding defense cooperation comes amid broader tensions with Russia in Europe, particularly in the European Arctic.
Russia and Norway share land and sea borders, and while Norwegian officials stress that there is cooperation on issues such as fisheries management and that tensions remain low, concerns about Russian military activity are rising.
“The Russian activities, now more complex, take place in our areas farther west and south than before, demonstrating Russia’s ability to project force far into the Atlantic,” Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said at a think-tank event in March.
Russia’s powerful Northern Fleet is based on the Arctic coast near the border with Norway. Nearby waters are part of the “bastion” where Russia emphasizes the defense of its ballistic-missile submarines.
The “animating security threat” for the US in the European Arctic “is subsurface, because of Russia’s bastion naval strategy and the US’s desire to operate maritime forces in the region,” said Joshua Tallis, a research scientist and expert on naval operations at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis group.
“The US has moved to expand infrastructure and access with European Arctic allies because all parties see the need for increased maritime surveillance in the face of increased Northern Fleet … submarine activity,” Tallis told Insider on Wednesday.
The US and other NATO member navies have also increased their activity in the Arctic. In May 2020, US Navy surface ships conducted their first exercise in the Barents Sea, north of Russia, in more than 30 years.
Such operations often make use of Norwegian bases, and Bakke-Jensen told The Barents Observer that fuel-supply systems will be built at Ramsund, which would be the second northern Norwegian base to support US ships.
The US Navy already visits Tromso, which is farther north, including an unusually public appearance by an advanced US submarine in late 2020.
Other projects at Norwegian bases could include hangars for US aircraft, such US Navy P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, Bakke-Jensen said. Norway plans to buy five of its own P-8s, which are widely regarded as the best sub-hunting aircraft in operation.
Norway’s air force regularly trains with US Air Force fighters and bombers, and US bombers recently deployed to Norway for the first time. Future facilities could support more of those operations.
“Expanded facilities in Norway will help keep US fixed-wing aviation, surface vessels, and attack submarines on station higher north for longer,” Tallis said Wednesday.
US personnel would rotate through the new facilities to support operations by the US and NATO militaries, as the new deal doesn’t change Norway’s policy barring the permanent stationing of foreign forces. The agreement also doesn’t change Norway’s prohibition on storing or deploying nuclear weapons to its territory.
The deal does underscore Norway’s close relationship with the US and its “key position on the northern flank of NATO,” Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide said in the release.
“To ensure that Norway and our Allies can operate together in a crisis situation under difficult conditions, we must be able to hold exercises and train regularly here in Norway,” Søreide added.