The Norwegian government is clearing the way for many more US troops and pilots to be stationed on Norwegian soil and flying in and out of airfields at Rygge in the south and Andøya in the north. Critics were quick to blast plans that can double the number of American soldiers training with Norwegians in Trøndelag and Troms counties for another five years, while more US surveillance aircraft and fighter jets base in Norway as well.
“Unwise,” complained the leader of the Socialist Left party (SV) Audun Lysbakken to state broadcaster NRK on Tuesday. SV has also traditionally opposed Norway’s membership in NATO, and Lysbakken has just recently complained about military reorganization cuts in the Norwegian army that may even prompt a need for more US troops instead.
Other politicians are raising questions as well, not least after the sightings of a Poseidon P-8 surveillance plane belonging to the US Navy landing at Andøya in Nordland County last Friday. The day before, a C40-A Clipper transport plane also landed at Andøya, reportedly with the equipment to receive and operate the P-8 aircraft for patrol of Arctic areas. Torbjørn Bongo, leader of Norway’s officers’ federation NOF, told newspaper Aftenposten that he “understands a relatively large number of Poseidons” were expected at Andøya, to operate surveillance flights in June as part of NATO efforts to chart Russian submarine activity in the Barents and Norwegian seas.
“We need to get some clear answers about this,” Liv Signe Navarsete, a member of the Parliament’s foreign policy and defense committee for the Center Party, told Aftenposten on Tuesday. Her party has fought the government’s plans to move Norway’s surveillance base from Andøya to Evenes. The US surveillance aircraft normally fly from Iceland, not Norway.
Norway ‘depends on allies’ for defense
SV and Center Party politicians fear the government is all but turning over Norwegian bases to the Americans. Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen responded that it was “not unusual” that allied forces are in place in Norway. He and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide also confirmed on Tuesday that the government is now asking the US to double the number of Marines who’ve already been sent to Norway on a rotation basis for training with Norwegian soldiers.
In a press release on Tuesday, Norway’s defense ministry stated that if ongoing “dialogue” with American military results in an agreement, as many as 700 US troops will be sent to the Værnes base in Trøndelag, central Norway, and to the Setermoen base in Indre Troms in Northern Norway. “The defense of Norway depends on support from our allies in NATO, just like for most of the other NATO countries,” Bakke-Jensen stated in the press release released on the very day that US President Donald Trump was meeting in Singapore with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.
“In order for such support to function in crisis and war, we are absolutely dependent on being able to train and have exercises together in peacetime,” Bakke-Jensen said. “We must make sure that NATO soldiers from other allied countries have experience with Norwegian conditions and that Norwegian and allied soldiers’ training is coordinated.”
May provoke Russians
Lysbakken worries that an increase in NATO troops in Norway, especially those from the US, will further provoke Norway’s neighbour in the north, Russia. He also contends that the Norwegian government is acting in accordance with US needs and desires, as well as its own.
“It’s sad that the government thinks it’s in Norway’s interests to say ‘yes’ to what the US asks,” Lysbakken said. “The goal for Norwegian security policy must be the lowest possible tensions in the north. A clear presence of a strong national defense can contribute to lowering tensions, while more American soldiers can, on the contrary, contribute towards tensions rising.”
Lysbakken also claimed that SV wanted the issue to be openly debated in Parliament, but that didn’t happen. “The lack of openness and debate over critical choices in Norwegian security policy is in danger of becoming a considerable weakness in our democratic system,” Lysbakken said.
Rygge ‘reopens’ to US fighter jets
Bakke-Jensen replied that an increase in troops is in line with a long-term plan already approved in Parliament. US officials also have proposed spending more than USD 10 million (NOK 80 million) to improve infrastructure at the Rygge Airport south of Moss that no longer serves civilian aircraft. The US wants it to be able to serve US fighter jets to be placed as part of a military build-up after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Bakke-Jensen said such an investment is now also wanted by the Norwegian government.
“It’s positive that the US will invest in military infrastructure at Rygge,” he said. “This investment will strengthen preparedness and quick transfers of NATO allied forces in the event of crisis or war.”
The first groups of US soldiers arrived at Værnes in Trøndelag in January 2017, totalling around 300. Today around 330 US soldiers are in place at Værnes.