Less than two weeks after the US Secretary of the Navy, Richard V Spencer, was in Norway to visit top Norwegian officials, he finds himself being replaced by the US ambassador to Norway who’d been his local host. Spencer is among the latest to effectively be fired by US President Donald Trump, who then tapped his envoy in Oslo to take over Spencer’s job.
The Washington Post reported on Monday (external link to the Post) that Spencer got caught up in the drama around a former US Naval officer accused of war crimes in Iraq. Trump accused the Navy of mishandling the officer’s case and complained about cost overruns. His Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, thus asked for Spencer’s resignation on Sunday, stating that he too had lost confidence in him.
The Post reported that Esper “suggested to Trump that Kenneth Braithwaite (whom Trump had tapped in 2017 to be his ambassador to Norway) be considered as the next Navy secretary. Braithwaite is a retired rear admiral whom Trump called “a man of great achievement and success. I know Ken will do an outstanding job!”
Braithwaite will thus be leaving Norway less than two years after presenting his credentials to King Harald in February 2018. The retired rear admiral of the US Navy will be taking over as Secretary of the Navy in the middle of the drama around the accused Naval officer and controversy over Spencer’s dismissal. The officer himself, who’s been part of the Navy’s elite special forces known as SEALs, claimed on US TV over the weekend that “this is all about ego and retaliation.”
There was no immediate reaction from Braithwaite, who also had worked as regional chief executive of a hospital group purchasing organization before becoming one of Trump’s politially appointed ambassadors. He’s a graduate of the US Naval Academy and a former naval aviator who once flew what the embassy called “anti-submarine warfare missions tracking Soviet submarines” in the northern and western Pacific.
Spencer visited when Norway’s spy was released
Braithwaite has engaged himself in defense issues while in Norway, and actively pressured Norwegian officials to keep boosting defense spending. The US Embassy in Norway had reported earlier this month, meanwhile, that the man he’ll replace was in Norway on November 13 and 14, visiting Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen and “other high-level Government officials.” The embassy claimed that the visit “demonstrated the importance” of the bilateral defense relationship between the US and Norway, “and the high value the United States places on Norway’s contributions to maritime security.”
The visit came just as a retired Norwegian border inspector, Frode Berg, was being released from a Moscow jail and pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin as part of a spy swap involving Russia, Norway and Lithuania, the latter both NATO allies along with the US. Berg had been sentenced to 14 years in prison after being caught in Moscow carrying cash and documents related to Russia’s nuclear submarine program.
Spencer, meanwhile, was in Oslo announcing how “grateful” the US is “for the close partnership on security and defense issues we have with Norway, both in the Arctic and North Atlantic.” The Berg case had raised questions over whether Norway’s military intelligence has recruited him for intelligence-gathering efforts in cooperation with the US and whether the US may have cringed over how Norway’s intelligence agency ended up getting caught in a Russian trap.
US ‘values Norway’s critical role’ in NATO
Spencer claimed on the US Embassy’s website, however, that “we greatly value Norway’s critical role in the NATO Alliance, especially in the High North, and I appreciate each engagement I’m able to have with my Norwegian friends and counterparts. From my level, to the US Marine rotational fores in Norway, to Norwegian P-8A military personnel at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, we have a seamless alliance.”
As Braithwaite prepared to move into Spencer’s place, there was no word on his replacement as ambassador to Norway. The post is likely to remain vacant for many months, since Trump would first need to nominate a new envoy and then all candidates are subject to Senate confirmation.
The second-in-command at the US Embassy in Oslo is listed as Deputy Chief of Mission Richard Riley, a career diplomat likely to take over on an interim basis. Riley arrived in Oslo in September 2018.