Russia is not at all happy that the Norwegian government is studying how it can contribute to NATO’s controversial missile defense system. Newspaper Klassekampen reported Thursday that the Russian Embassy in Oslo has reacted “sharply” and says it will be forced to mount a military response.
Klassekampen reported last weekend that Norway was on its way to becoming part of NATO’s missile defense system. An “expert group” of researchers from both the Norwegian and US defense departments was appointed to evaluate various means of participation, and is expected to deliver its conclusions by the end of the year, confirmed Norway’s foreign ministry to Klassekampen.
It’s an ironic situation because various Norwegian political parties have actively opposed the NATO missile system over the years, not least because of how it provokes Russia. Norway has long prided itself on a “special relationship” with its neighbouring Russia and prefers to avoid provocation. The Norwegian Labour Party, when its former leader Jens Stoltenberg was Norway’s new prime minister, even committed itself in 2005 to work towards scrapping plans for the missile defense system that NATO wanted to set up in Europe. Labour’s government coalition partner SV (the Socialist Left party) was also firmly opposed, fearing it would threaten disarmament or even start a new arms race.
Norway then came under strong pressure from the US, however, not to damage NATO solidarity, and by 2008 the Norwegians themselves reportedly suggested that a NATO agreement securing missile protection for all member countries could clear the way for Norway’s support. That happened in 2010, Stoltenberg is now head of NATO himself, and other Norwegian resistance to the missile defense plan declined after Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Ukraine.
Norway’s current Conservatives-led government, concerned about Norway’s defense and keen to be a good US ally and NATO member, is now far more likely to make a “contribution” to the missile defense, hence the formation of the expert group that’s due to make recommendations. Klassekampen reported that recommended contributions are expected to come in the form of radar on Norwegian frigates and at the also-controversial major radar station at Vardø in Northern Norway.
“The analysis that’s being carried out in cooperation with the US will be part of clarifying what Norway can be capable of contributing to NATO’s ballistic missile defense in the future,” Marita Hundershagen, senior adviser at the defense ministry, wrote in an email to Klassekampen. She confirmed the analysis is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.
By that time, the Labour Party may even be back in government power after the upcoming parliamentary election in September. Its prime minister candidate, Jonas Gahr Støre, served as foreign minister under Stoltenberg and would be unlikely to object to a contribution from Norway for missile defense. Norway’s defense ministry describes the missile defense system as purely part of defense capability.
The Russians disagree, viewing it as a hostile move towards a new arms build-up that comes not long after Norway also has contributed troops to NATO’s new presence in the Baltic countries, expertise and allegiance to Poland and allowed US troops to be based on Norwegian soil on a so-called “rotation” basis. Norway is especially concerned about defense of the north, however, and actively seeks NATO’s support in return for its contributions.
Undermines ‘strategic stability’
On Thursday the Russian Embassy in Oslo responded sharply to Norway’s prospective participation in NATO’s missile defense. If any missile defense system is placed within Norwegian territory, the Russians would be “forced to respond to defend our security,” wrote Maxim Gurov, press attaché at the embassy, in a statement sent to Klassekampen. Gurov did not clarify what kind of “response” that might be.
The Russians claim NATO’s missile defense threatens their ability to scare off others from attack. Gurov wrote that implementing the missile defense plan, strengthening anti-missile systems, increasing the numbers of systems and stationing troops closer to Russia’s borders all lead towards undermining “strategic stability” and “forcing us” to “strengthen the capacity of our nuclear weapons, to guarantee superiority against existing and future missile defense systems.”
The “specific parameters” of Russia’s response will be decided, according to the embassy statement, based on how Norway participates in the missile defense.
Norway’s defense ministry noted that Norway tied itself to NATO’s missile defense during the Stoltenberg administration in 2010, and stressed that the missiles are not pointed at any country and merely are part of NATO’s “collective defense.” Another spokesperson at the ministry, Ann Kristin Salbuvik, said the Norwegian government has “ongoing dialogue with the Russia Embassy” and that this was something “we eventually will discuss with them and not in the press.”