- US Marines have been deployed to Norway since early 2017 on a rotational basis.
- Oslo says it wants the US to extend that deployment, adding more Marines and moving them closer to Norway’s border with Russia.
- Moscow, which was never happy with the deployment, has vowed to respond.
Moscow has vowed there would be consequences for the move.
Marines have been posted in Norway on a rotational basis since the beginning of 2017, carrying out cold-weather training and exercises with Norwegian and partner forces. The roughly 330 Marines there now are scheduled to leave at the end of the year.
Norway will ask the US to send 700 Marines in 2019 and to base them close to the Russian border in Norway’s Inner Troms region in the Arctic, rather than the location in central Norway where Marines have been stationed. Oslo also wants the next rotation of forces to last five years rather than the six-month period that started in 2017 and was extended in the middle of that year.
To assuage Soviet concerns before becoming a founding of member of NATO in 1949, Norway agreed not to allow foreign troops to be posted there. The Marines who arrived in early 2017 were the first foreign force stationed on Norwegian soil since World War II.
Norway’s foreign minister, Ine Eriksen Soereide, said the latest request had broad parliamentary support, that it would not be a permanent US presence, and that it was not targeted at Russia.
“There are no American bases on Norwegian soil,” she told reporters on Tuesday.
“There will still be a respectful distance with the Russian border,” she said. “We can’t see any serious reason why Russia should react, even if we expect it will again this time since it always does about the allied exercises and training.”
Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said the expanded military force would improve NATO forces’ training and winter-fighting abilities.
“The defence of Norway depends on the support of our NATO allies, as is the case in most other NATO countries,” Bakke-Jensen told reporters. “For this support to work in times of crises and war, we are totally dependent on joint training and exercises in times of peace.”
When US Marines arrived in January 2017, Russia questioned the move, saying the relationship between the two countries was “put to a test now.” Norway’s latest request prompted a more strident response.
“This makes Norway less predictable and could cause growing tensions, triggering an arms race and destabilizing the situation in northern Europe,” the Russian Embassy in Norway said on Thursday. “We see it as clearly unfriendly, and it will not remain free of consequence.”
‘We are not looking for a fight’
Norway has said it doesn’t consider its larger neighbour a direct threat, but it is one of several European countries that have expressed concern about what they perceive as more assertive Russian actions in and around Europe in recent years, particularly in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine in early 2014.
Since 2016, NATO has deployed four battalion-size multinational battle groups to the Baltic countries and Poland to bolster security and deterrence. Those units remain in place, but nine NATO members on the bloc’s eastern flank recently called for an increased NATO presence to “deliver a comprehensive response to the current security challenges.”
The nine-country grouping wants the alliance to provide defences against Russian hybrid warfare, which incorporates military, financial, and political actions. In a declaration, the nine countries said Russian moves “threaten our longstanding vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
NATO militaries are now taking part in Saber Strike 18, this year’s iteration of a massive military exercise along the alliance’s eastern frontier, focusing on coordination and the ability to deploy around Europe.
Russia, for its part, recently started what its Northern Fleet called the largest exercise in 10 years, sending 36 warships and support vessels into the Barents Sea and deploying rocket- and artillery systems along the coast of the Kola Peninsula in what the fleet said was to be a full-range defence drill to practice countering an attack.
Those exercises come a few months before Norway will host Trident Juncture 18, its biggest NATO exercise in decades. Some 40,000 troops from every member country as well as Finland and Sweden practice responding to a simulated violation of Norway’s sovereignty.
“We are not looking for a fight but are committed to defence and deterrence,” US Adm. James Foggo, the commander of NATO’s Joint Force Command, said on Monday. “That’s what this exercise is all about: training to defend, and providing a deterrent effect, ready to respond to any threat from any direction at any time.”
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