NATO exercise draws protests

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The huge NATO exercise that officially begins on Thursday will include a “demonstration of strength” next week that’s drawing protests. Instead of hailing Norway’s and other NATO countries’ ability to defend themselves, opponents claim Norway is merely providing a stage for war games aimed at impressing Western political leaders.

Lots of military equipment have been arriving in Norway lately, like this load of battletanks passing through the train station at Elverum. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Frederik Ringnes

The so-called styrkedemonstrasjon (demonstration of strength) during NATO’s “Trident Juncture” military exercise is scheduled to take place at Byneset in Trondheim on October 30. Norwegian defense officials say it will highlight “various scenarios” in which military forces from NATO countries will demonstrate their capacity.

A total of 12 scenarios calling for a military response will play out in the air, at sea and on land. The demonstration will last around 60 minutes and be observed by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Norway’s defense minister, ambassadors from NATO countries and top military leaders from Norway and NATO. The Norwegian and international press have also been invited to watch the demonstration unfold.

The goal, according to Norway’s defense department, is to show how NATO forces train together, along with exhibiting NATO’s defense material and personnel from the 29 NATO countries. Sweden and Finland are also taking part to demonstrate their own cooperation with NATO.

Around 50,000 soldiers from NATO countries have been arriving in Norway to take part in Trident Juncture as well. Here’s a group of US Marines landing at Værnes outside Trondheim. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Kristian Kapelrud

Russia has long been expressing its objections to NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise. Its embassy in Oslo sent out an official response in September in which it stated its “serious concern” for the “increased scope of exercises” by the military alliance’s member countries in areas close to Russia. The Russian Embassy also noted how the exercises were meant to “scare” the Russians by displaying NATO’s power. NATO’s and Norway’s willingness and efforts to share information about the exercise and offer briefings “do not remove our concerns,” the embassy statement read, noting that there was “no doubt” that Trident Juncture is of an “anti-Russian character.”

In addition to concerns over Russian provocation, some Norwegian civilians are also protesting the scope and character of the NATO exercises. “This reminds us of an occupation,” claimed Geir Hem, a 68-year-old Norwegian who’s fronting a group called “Oslo for Action against NATO.” It comprises other anti-NATO players including two Norwegian political parties (the Reds and the Socialist Left, SV) and organizations including Grandmothers for Peace, Blitz and the Oslo chapter of Norway’s largest trade union confederation LO.

Residents of Trondheim could look across the water last week to the unusual sight of submarines docked and ready to take part in NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise. One of these Norwegian subs is called HNoMS Uredd, which means “unafraid.” PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

Hem told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend, when some anti-NATO demonstrators marched in Trondheim, that he and his fellow protesters are reacting to how the exercise is affecting Norway, with its 50,000 soldiers, 10,000 military vehicles, NATO aircraft and a large fleet of NATO vessels including the US aircraft carrier Harry S Truman. He complained that Norway is providing a stage for displaying military strength that contributes to a spiraling build-up instead of arms reduction.

Protest marches were planned this Saturday in Oslo, Bergen and Kristiansand. Hem claims he’s not objecting to Norway’s need for defense, telling Aftenposten he’s “not a pacifist,” but he thinks the country should build up its own forces in cooperation with “neutral allies” like Sweden and Finland instead on NATO. He thinks Norway’s participation in NATO is “unwise and dangerously provocative” for a country that shares a border with Russia, and that it makes Norway subservient to NATO’s biggest member, the US.

“Trident Juncture doesn’t contribute to safety, security, independence and defense, as we’ve been told, but rather to military build-up, instability, uncertainty and a higher risk of war,” Hem told Aftenposten.

A majority in Norway has long disagreed, which also explains why Norway was a founding member of NATO after World War II, when the country’s own defense forces had proven woefully inadequate against the invasion of Norway and five-year occupation by Nazi German forces. Norwegian government leaders committed to hosting the NATO exercise in 2014, with a goal of boosting understanding among other NATO countries about the challenges posed in northern and Arctic areas. Norwegian leaders also want to strengthen a NATO-coordinated defense of Norway.

NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise will run through November 7, with most action taking place in central Norway plus an additional exercise in the far northern county of Troms.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund