US wants more military in Norway

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US officials want to boost their military presence in Northern Norway, at a time of rising tensions with bordering Russia. Their Norwegian counterparts appear to be rolling out the welcome mat but opposition politicians want to roll it back up, calling more US military presence in the Norwegian Arctic “an unnecessary provocation.”

Norwegian forces have been training in Northern Norway during the past week. US military officials have been along and want to train jointly and more often with their Norwegian allies. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Winnefride Steen

Norwegian forces have been training in Northern Norway during the past week. US military officials have been along on some of the military exercises in Norway and want to train jointly and more often with their Norwegian allies in Norway’s Arctic areas. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Winnefride Steen

“Opening up for more American military presence or more joint military exercises won’t contribute to more security in the long run,” Kirsti Bergstø, a Member of Parliament for the opposition Socialist Left party (SV), told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). SV has long opposed Norway’s membership in NATO as well.

“I think it’s an unnecessary provocation, especially with the situation we’re in now,” Bergstø told NRK. She was referring to the rising tensions between Norway and Russia after years of being “good neighbours” in the far north, and to remarks made by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last weekend that the world had entered into a new Cold War. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg quickly rejected Medvedev’s “Russian rhetoric,” refused to agree that a new Cold War had broken out and blamed the tensions on Russia itself, for violating international law by annexing Crimea and intervening in eastern Ukraine. Now there’s also major international disagreement over Russia’s ongoing bombings of targets in Syria.

In advance of the winter exercises Cold Response 2016, the US Marine Corps took part in winter traiing with instructors from the Telemark Battalion at Camp Rena in southeastern Norway. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Anette Ask

In advance of the winter exercises “Cold Response 2016,” the US Marine Corps took part in winter training with instructors from the Telemark Battalion at Camp Rena in southeastern Norway. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Anette Ask

Bergstø agreed with Solberg that she “wouldn’t call it a ‘Cold War,’ but we should see what we did to get through the (earlier) Cold War,” she said. “Then we acted as a predictable neighbour and had restrictions on how far north we had military exercises.” Even though Russia has been building up its own defense in the far north, Bergstø doesn’t want Norway to get involved in any form of new military build-up.

“Russia is a close and good neighbour,” she claimed. “It’s important that the authorities in the south understand that there’s a big difference between a close relationship to Russia and its people as opposed to a close relationship with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Russian authorities.”

Caution urged
Kåre Simensen, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party from Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark, said he thinks it’s fine that US military troops, through Norway’s membership in NATO, be allowed to train in Northern Norway. He also urged caution, though, and added that “we shouldn’t train farther north than necessary” and prompt tensions to rise further.

“We who live in Finnmark traditionally have very good relations with our neighbour,” Simensen told NRK. “I encourage dialogue. Speaking with one another yields security itself.”

NRK topped its national nightly newscast Dagsrevyen on Monday with a story about Norwegian special forces training at Bardufoss in Troms, and that US forces were along to watch. American military officers voiced a desire to train jointly and more frequently with their Norwegian allies in Norway’s three most northern counties of Nordland, Troms and Finnmark.

‘Learning from the experts’
“For us this is about being more operational under these (Arctic) conditions,” Major David Damron of the US special forces told NRK, adding a flattering remark: “We need to learn from the experts.”

Norwegian military officers welcomed the Americans’ interest, with the chief of Norway’s special forces, Nils Johan Holte, telling NRK that “the more we train together, the better we become together.” Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, concerned about NATO’s involvement in the refugee crisis, has also asked NATO for more attention to and operations in Norway’s northern areas.

Damron added that “no single nation” can handle the security concerns “we all meet,” and said that joint military exercises boost ability to “handle situations” as a team. “To make Europe safer?” asked NRK’s reporter Erik Veum. “To make us all safer,” answered Damron.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund