Russia has warned Norway over consequences of joining NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD) plans. According to Russian ambassador to Oslo, Moscow will retaliate. Norway’s possible accession to NATO’s missile shield «will be a new factor that will be considered in our strategic planning as the emergence of an additional problem in the Arctic region», Teimuraz Ramishvili told the Norwegian state media network NRK.
In 2017, Norway may become a part of BMD. The Norwegian government has appointed an expert group to consider a possible Norwegian contribution to the missile shield. A detailed report on the issue is currently being prepared by experts from the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment and the US Missile Defense Agency to be submitted the year.
Norway has no interceptors on its soil but there are other ways to contribute into the anti-missile plans. Denmark does not host missiles but it committed itself to the bloc’s BMD in 2014, working to equip its frigates with advanced radar systems capable of detecting and tracking ballistic missiles. The missile defense program continues to be implemented despite the fact that after the nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015, there is no rationale for it.
Oslo is a participant in the US-led Maritime Theater Missile Defense Forum. The Norwegian contribution to the missile defense system has not yet been decided on. Even without interceptors, Norway could contribute by integrating into the BMD system its Globus II/III radar in the Vardøya Island located near the Russian border just a few kilometers from the home base of strategic submarines and 5 Aegis-equipped Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates. The Vardøya radar can distinguish real warheads from dummies.
Another radar located in Svalbard (the Arctic) can also be used by US military for missile defense purposes. Senior US officials and politicians have visited the site during the last few years, including former Defense Secretary Ash Carter, former State Secretary John Kerry and Republican Senator John McCain. The radar is installed in violation of the 1925 treaty which states that Svalbard has a demilitarized status. The visitors invented different reasons, like viewing the effects of climate change (John Kerry) or highlighting the plight of polar bears (John McCain) to justify the need to inspect the site.
Installation of BMD sites might potentially undermine the efficiency of Russian strategic nuclear forces as a means of deterrence.
Norway is executing a drastic change in its military policy towards a far more aggressive posture. Even though the country is small, it has the sixth biggest military budget per capita, after the United States, Israel, Singapore and some ‘monarchies’ in the Persian Gulf. The country spends 7.3 billion dollars on the military, more than Sweden (5.7 billion), a country with twice the population. Its geographic position makes it a key element of NATO military planning. The nation’s leading political parties want an increased focus on ‘strategic assets’ like F-35, capable of striking deep into Russian territory, submarines and surveillance capabilities.
Norway hosts 330 US Marines in the central areas of the country, formally on a ‘rotating’ basis. The rotation does not change the fact that the forces are permanently present in Norway. They are deployed at the Vaernes military base, about 1,500 km (900 miles) from the Russian territory, but the training program involves traveling closer to the border. Norway and Russia share a small land border far in the north.
The Marines can be easily reinforced. The US forward storage areas have been upgraded to store cutting edge weapons and equipment for about 16,000 Marines. Building up stockpiles is a key part of US strategy to enhance its capabilities in Europe. There are plans to warehouse tanks, artillery and other fighting vehicles at other locations around the Old Continent.
The only purpose for the deployment is preparation for an attack against Russia. The Marines are first strike troops. The provocative move is taking place at the time the Russia-NATO relationship hit a new low as the bloc’s forces deploy in Eastern Europe and tensions run high in the Black Sea and elsewhere. According to Heather Conley, the director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Europe Program, Northern Europe is now being viewed as a «theatre of operations».
There are other plans to increase US military presence in Norway. According to a report of Washington-based Center for Strategic and international Studies (CSIS), «The former Royal Norwegian Navy base at Olavsvern is ideal for supporting submarine operations in the extreme North Atlantic and Arctic Seas». The think tank believes it may be possible for Norway to nationalize and reopen a portion of the facility to support the rotational presence of US, UK, French, and Norwegian submarines. Olavsvern was NATO’s closest naval base to Russia’s submarine bases along the coast of the Kola Peninsula west of Murmansk.
It was reported last year that a study group from the US Navy visited both Andøya and Evenes airports in northern Norway to see if any of the two airports could be suitable to serve as a base for American P-8 Poseidon patrol aircraft.
The deployment of NATO forces to Norway is clearly a provocative act directed at Moscow. Norway shares a 121 mile border with Russia, while the Russian Northern Fleet is based in the Murmansk region, approximately 100 miles from the border.
Norway has pledged not to host foreign forces on its territory. It had stashed stockpiles of weapons in preparation for a possible conflict, but until recently, foreign troops were allowed into the country only temporarily for training purposes. Oslo had adhered to this principle even at the height of the Cold War.
Shifting away from the «no foreign forces on national soil» policy is fraught with consequences. Turning the national territory into a spearhead for an offensive against Russia inevitably makes Norway a target for a retaliatory strike. Russia did not start it. Actually, very few NATO members take part in the BMD plans. The decision to join would be seen as an outright provocation staged by a neighboring state. By doing so, Norway will deteriorate the relations and greatly reduce its own security which can only be achieved through developing of partnership and strengthening of centuries of good neighborly relations.