October 15, 2017
With a population of barely 5 million people and positioned in peaceful Scandinavia, Norway does not appear to be an obvious instigator of great power conflicts. The calm in Scandinavia throughout the Cold War was the result of the non-militarised buffer status of Sweden and Finland as they did not join NATO, while the military activity of Norway was limited compared to the rest of the military bloc. Northern Europe’s status as a harbour of stability has recently begun to unravel partly due to Norway’s new military posture, while NATO’s flirtation with Sweden and Finland threatens to dramatically expand the northern flank against Russia. These issues are interlinked as Russia’s efforts to convince its Scandinavian neighbours to remain outside the military bloc are undermined by simultaneously appeasing Norway.
An increasingly assertive Norway
In contrast to its image as a benign and peace-loving state, Norway has been moving in the opposite direction after the Cold War by increasing military spending and activity. In per capita spending, Norway's military budget is among the highest in the world, and within NATO it is second only to the US. In the early 2000s, Norwegian General Sverre Diesen, commander of Norwegian land forces, stated that the army was undergoing changes as many officers were either being removed from command or resigning as they said 'they joined the military to defend Norway' and not to engage in military adventurism. Norwegian Special Forces were purportedly the first to enter Pristina in June 1999 in preparation
of the invasion of Yugoslavia, in collaboration with the KLA, a group that had only a few months earlier been recognised as a terrorist organisation by several major Western governments. During the attack on Libya in 2011, Norway was responsible for 10 percent of all the military strikes in what became its largest military endeavour since the Second World War. In what could be interpreted as a pernicious influence in the region, Norwegian Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, advertised to his Swedish counterparts that the attack on Libya was an ‘excellent exercise for the Norwegian air force’. Stoltenberg’s contribution to militarise Scandinavia was later rewarded by making him the Secretary General of NATO.
Postol, a leading American scholar on missile defence, argued that by hosting the Globus 3 radar in Vardø, Norway is positioning itself on the frontline in an intensifying confrontation between the US and Russia. Norway's role in improving the prospect of a successful US nuclear first strike received a fierce response from the Russian Ambassador to Norway, Ramishvili, who predicted there ‘will be no peaceful Arctic anymore’ and Norway would ‘have to face head-on Russia and Russian military might’. A similar warning was issued in November 2011, when President Medvedev announced that to prevent nuclear war, Russia may have to launch a limited military strike to decapitate NATO’s missile defence components when the system reaches the maturity to neutralise Russian second-strike capabilities. Further tensions in the Arctic is also evident as Norway is accused of attempting to establish ‘absolute national jurisdiction’ over Svalbard and its shelf. In a breach of the Svalbard Treaty, Russian officials were banned access, while members of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly were invited to the island. In 2017, the forward-deployment of US military vehicles in Norway
were accompanied by the deployment of 330 US Marines, the first time foreign troops have been stationed on its soil since the Second World War. The recent delivery of Norway’s first batch of 56 new F-35 stealth fighters also indicates further militarisation of the region.
Making sense of Norway's new military posture
Consistent with realist theory, Norway’s assertiveness can be explained by the absent balance of power in Europe after the demise of the Soviet Union, rather than an elevated threat from Russia. The Norwegian posture was more benevolent when the Soviet counterpart enjoyed superiority in conventional military power. In contrast, NATO’s combined military budget today is approximately ten times greater than the Russian expenditures. The nefarious deceit of NATO and Norway since the early 1990s has been to pursue relentless eastward expansion and
militarisation under the claim of not targeting Russia, while simultaneously functioning as an 'insurance guarantee' against a future conflict with Russia by ‘returning’ to its original function of containing Russia once tensions inevitably erupt. After supporting the coup in Ukraine in 2014, Norway doubled down by sending troops to Lithuania to purportedly deter a Russian invasion.
It can be concluded that Russia may increasingly view appeasement of Norway as hazardous. The Norwegian Foreign Minister stated in early 2017 that ‘in the
north the relationship with Russia functions well’. While intended as a benign statement, Moscow may begin to interpret it as an indictment of Russian foreign policy due to the evident absence of a tit-for-tat mechanism that encourages the Norwegians to embrace the notion that less is more to advance security. Ambassador Ramishvili has criticised what he refers to as Norway’s format for ‘selective’ cooperation in the areas that benefit Norway. Russia could aspire for greater ownership over the agenda of the partnership by revoking cooperation that benefits Norway more than Russia. Moscow may also see the value of discriminating between Scandinavian states by deploying military forces in the northwest to punish Norway's new military posture, while minimising the adverse impact on the security of Sweden and Finland to reward their neutrality.
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