Last month, Marine Corps Commandant General Robert Neller, told Marines in Norway that he sees a “big ass fight” looming, one that will likely reorient U.S. military focus away from the Middle East. This week, while President Trump to the same nation, he seemed surprised by the general’s statement.
“I hope I’m wrong, but there’s a war coming,” Neller said at the time. “You’re in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence.”
When prodded further regarding the future of U.S. defensive operations, Neller removed any ambiguity from his prediction.
“I think probably the focus, the intended focus is not on the Middle East,” he told Marines. “The focus is more on the Pacific and Russia.”
Given the heightening tensions with North Korea in the Pacific and the continued standoff underway between NATO and Russian forces in eastern Europe, Neller’s comments seem to be an appropriate summation of areas where diplomatic tensions could bubble over into military conflict. President Trump’s statements, however, don’t seem to reflect an agreement with the general’s assessment of the possibility of war within the region. Some have worried, as a result, that the President simply isn’t familiar with the defensive concerns that likely led to Norway welcoming Marines in the first place.
Trump seemed unaware of Neller’s remarks at a joint press conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg on Wednesday, responding to questions from reporters in an unusual way for the commander-in-chief.
“Well, maybe he knows something that I don’t know, OK?” The president told reporters.
U.S. Marines have been rotating through Norway for cold weather training that the U.S. claims has nothing to do with NATO expansion efforts set to counter Russian aggression, though the proximity of a Marine contingent to Russian territory is difficult to ignore. It’s quite possible that President Trump is simply aware that the American presence in Norway is, diplomatically anyway, for training purposes rather than deterrence.
At this time last year, U.S. and Norwegian officials were similarly reluctant to acknowledge the Russian threat to the East as having anything to do with the Marine’s presence in Norway, though Russian diplomats were eager to question the motives of both nations.
Taking into account multiple statements of Norwegian officials about the absence of threat from Russia to Norway we would like to understand for what purposes is Norway so … willing to increase its military potential, in particular through stationing of American forces in Vaernes?” a Kremlin spokesman told reporters at the time.
On Wednesday, President Trump did discuss the American military’s need for an overhaul following decades of continued combat operations and dwindling budgets, but made it clear that he doesn’t anticipate war breaking out with Russia.
I would say this … we have a very, very powerful military. We’re getting more powerful by the month, by the day,” Trump said, adding that the U.S. was buying many of the same defensive assets Norway was, though “in larger amounts, to put it mildly.”
“No, I don’t expect [war]. I think we’re going to have … because of strength, peace through strength. I think we’re going to have a long period of peace. I hope we do.”
If Trump is simply playing politics when downplaying the potential threat posed by the Russians to NATO allies in Europe, Norwegian officials have not been as successful in hiding their true beliefs. Last year, Norwegian Army Brigadier Eldar Bernil told CNN that Norway is reorienting their military posture toward national defense in the face of Russian aggression, when he was asked about the introduction of a rotational force of U.S. Marines within his nation’s borders.
In 2014, that was a clear sign that Russia has stepped in to an area where they are willing and able to use military power,” Bernil said, referring to Russia’s military annexation of Crimea in 2014. “Suddenly we have changed focus in particular from what was going on in Afghanistan to collective national defense.”
Image courtesy of the Associated Press