After many years of adopting a relatively passive role in NATO’s military activities and being careful not to participate in activities that could be interpreted as provocative or hostile by Russia, since at least 2016 Norway has become a much more frequent participant in NATO military activities, including long-range strategic offensive exercises and operations that could have no target other than Russia.
On Friday (17 July), Russia’s Northern Fleet’s fighter jets shadowed a Norwegian Air Force P-3C Orion reconnaissance plane over the Barents Sea, Russia’s National Defence Control Centre reported.
After the Russian airspace control capabilities detected a Norwegian Air Force P-3C Orion reconnaissance plane over the Barents Sea flying towards Russia’s state border, the Northern Fleet’s fighter aircraft were scrambled to identify and intercept the target. LINK
A similar interception on July 14:
In June, Norway hosted a NATO long range bombing exercise that featured four B-52s from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota on a long-range training mission that flew through the Arctic to Europe. The Stratofortress bombers, from the 5th Bomb Wing, trained with F-16s and F-35s from the Norwegian Air Force. LINK
Norway’s strategic policy shift has been underway since at least 2016-2017 when it became increasingly apparent that the country was executing a drastic change in its military policy, towards a far more aggressive posture. A total of 330 US Marines were stationed for a trial period from January 2017 at the Vaernes military base east of Trondheim.
The deployment marked the first time since World War II that foreign troops have been allowed to station in Norway. In 2016, the Norwegian Parliament approved a one-year trial period for the US military presence, including two six-month rotations. Subsequently it was decided to double the Marine presence in the country from 330 to 650 soldiers. The plans included a ‘prepositioning program’ to stockpile caches of military equipment in caves and bunkers sufficient for up to 16,000 Marine Corps troops, and providing bases for US reconnaissance aircraft and radar stations. LINK
Around the same time, Norway stepped up its role as a support and supply base for NATO submarines despite strong opposition from the municipal council of the town most affected. A US Navy submarine’s port call to Tromsø in 2016 caused considerable controversy at the time. It was the first nuclear powered submarine to dock in northern Norway since October 2007 when the last nuclear powered vessel made port call to Olavsvern.
Jens Ingvald Olsen, a member of the City Council, argued that no deals should be made with US authorities on visiting nuclear submarines: “First of all there is a risk of nuclear accidents, and we don’t have the emergency preparedness to handle such incident. Secondly, regular visits by American submarines will make Tromsø a Russian bomb target.”
By the following year, US submarine activity in Norway’s territorial waters and port calls had become commonplace, with nuclear powered submarines surfacing for crew-exchange or other purposes; either calling in to port or inshore waters along the coast. In 2017 activity increased sharply with more than 40 voyages into Norwegian coastal waters.
“3 to 4 per month,” said Navy Captain Per-Thomas Bøe with the Ministry of Defence in Oslo when asked by Barents Observer about the 2017 numbers of allied nuclear powered submarines.
Russia has become increasingly concerned by Norway’s change in military posture. In 2019 Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters:
“Contrary to the historical traditions of neighbourly relations and cooperation in the Arctic, Oslo continues to escalate tension and increase the risk of military action. This will not be left without a response.”
Despite increasing Russian concern, Norway has continued to shift its military posture to a more aggressive approach against Russia and increased involvement in NATO activities.
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