Under a new agreement announced Friday, April 16, Norway will allow the U.S. to build its presence on Norwegian soil. This comes amid expansionist and aggressive Russian actions along Norway’s borders.

The U.S. is to build facilities on four different existing Norwegian bases. Nevertheless, none of them will be a separate American base. The four locations include the airports of Rygge, Sola, and Evenes, as well as the Ramsund naval station. Rygge and Sola airports are in southern Norway, while Evenes and Ramsund are in the northern part of the country.

With This Agreement Norway Moves Closer to the US

These facilities are part of the larger U.S. strategy of strategic dispersal.

Strategic dispersal dictates that U.S. assets rapidly arrive in a theater of operations and be able to operate immediately. 

Oslo had had a thawing of relations with Moscow. Yet, their relationship has cooled since Russian annexed Crimea. Norway is especially concerned that Russian Northern Fleet submarines have been sailing closer to and more frequently off its northern coast. Particularly, Russia’s new, improved, and quieter Yasen-class subs deeply concern NATO and Norway. These submarines are armed with extended-range cruise missiles.

Additionally, over the last decade, Russia has been expanding and improving its Arctic naval bases and airfields.

Mortarmen conduct RSOP training in Norway
Marines discuss the best avenue of approach to maintain cover and concealment during reconnaissance selection and occupation of a mortar firing position training at Vaernes Garnison, Norway, April 6, 2018. (Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Clinton Firstbrook/U.S. Marine Corps)

The deal made by the U.S. and Norwegian governments must be ratified by Norway’s parliament.

“The agreement regulates and facilitates U.S. presence, training and exercises in Norway, thus facilitating rapid U.S. reinforcement of Norway in the event of crisis or war,” the government said in a released statement.

Norway Will Not Allow a Permanent US Presence

Norway’s Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said, “Our cooperation with our allies is under continuous development. The agreement reaffirms Norway’s close relationship with the U.S. and confirms Norway’s key position on the northern flank of NATO.”

“Our policies regarding the stationing of foreign forces on Norwegian territory, the stockpiling or deployment of nuclear weapons, and port visits remain unchanged,” Soereide added.

Norway is very wary of allowing nuclear-powered or armed vessels into its ports. U.S. submarines have made port calls there. Yet, these calls are limited to personnel transfers and food provisioning. The submarines must anchor well offshore and be serviced by small boats. In contrast, the Marines had had some 700 personnel making one-year deployments to Norway. Yet, in 2020 the U.S. announced a reduction to just 70 Marines. These remaining Marines will likely be there to maintain pre-positioned equipment used for Arctic warfare training.

Norway has been a member of NATO since 1949. It has been a frequent host to U.S. troops conducting winter warfare training and joint training exercises. Norway has sent troops to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, it has steadfastly refused to allow the building of foreign bases or the stockpiling of nuclear weapons on its soil.

As the U.S. pivots away from Europe to focus on the threat posed by Chinese expansion in the Pacific, Norway appears concerned that its remote position on NATO’s northern flank will be neglected. Therefore, this new agreement may be part of reassuring Norway that America is still engaged in the region.

Cold Weather Training
U.S. Marines participate in cold weather familiarization training in Setermoen, Norway, November 2020. (Photo by Cpl. Andrew Smith/U.S. Marine Corps)

The Kremlin Denies Any Belligerent Intent

The Kremlin has accused Washington of provocative actions. Further, it insists that Russian activities in the Arctic do not pose a threat to any country.

On April 9, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said to the press that “Russia does not do anything in the Arctic that would contradict international law or pose a threat to other countries.”

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“If we talk about possible sources of the escalating regional tensions, it would be logical to say that this is the military activity of the U.S. and its allies in the Arctic, which is accompanied by belligerent rhetoric,” she added.

“NATO and its member states, including non-Arctic nations, stage provocations there, and it happens on an increasingly regular basis,” Zakharova said.

Norwegian Minister of Defense Frank Bakke-Jensen speaking with the Barents Observer said that the agreement isn’t escalating already-rising tensions. But rather, that it will strengthen Norway’s defenses.

Finally, Bakke-Jensen said that “Norway’s defense rests on three main elements: the national defense capability, collective defense through NATO, and bilateral reinforcement plans with close allies. The ongoing development of defense cooperation with the U.S. complements our own efforts to strengthen the capacity of the Norwegian Armed Forces.”