Much has been said about NATO reinforcements in the Baltic States and Poland’s actions – perceived in Moscow as provocative – undermining security in Europe, while very little has been said about the gradual but steady militarization of Scandinavia. The theme does not hit the headlines and it is not in the focus of public discourse. But one step after another is being taken to turn the region into a springboard for staging offensive action against Russia.
Ørland in southern Norway is being expanded to become Norway’s main air force base hosting US-made F-35 Lightnings (pictured) – the stealth aircraft that will become the backbone of Norwegian air power. Norway has purchased 56 such aircraft. The F-35 is an offensive, not defensive, weapon. These nuclear-capable platforms can thus strike deep into Russia’s territory.
Providing training to Norwegian pilots operating the planes carrying nuclear weapons, such as the B61-12 glider warheads, constitutes a violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968. Article I of the NPT prohibits the transfer of nuclear weapons from NWS (nuclear weapons states) to other states: «Each nuclear weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to transfer to any recipient whatsoever nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or control over such weapons or explosive devices». Article II requires NNWS (non-nuclear weapons states) not to receive nuclear weapons: «Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transfer or whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices». How can Russia be sure that these aircraft don’t carry nuclear weapons when there is no agreement of any kind in place to verify compliance with the NPT?
Ørland is located near Værnes, the base that hosts 330 US Marines. In May, the base hosted the biennial NATO military exercise «Arctic Challenge Exercise 2017» to involve over 100 planes from 12 nations. It was the first time a US strategic bomber (B-52H) took part in the training event.
The choice of the base was carefully calculated to keep the planes away from the reach of Russian Iskander missiles (500 kilometres) but no location in Norway is beyond the operational range of Kalibr ship-based sea-to-shore missiles (pictured) and aircraft armed with long-range air-to-surface missiles.
In June, Norway’s government announced that the decision was taken to extend the rotational US Marine Corps force stationed at Værnes through 2018. The move contradicts the tried-and-true Norwegian policy of not deploying foreign military bases in the country in times of peace.
Also in June, the United States, United Kingdom and Norway agreed in principle to create a trilateral coalition built around the P-8 maritime aircraft to include joint operations in the North Atlantic near the Russian Northern Fleet bases.
Norway is to contribute to the NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD) system by integrating 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 radar construction is underway. 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.
The country’s ground forces are stationed in Lithuania as part of a NATO multinational force under German command.
Sweden, a close NATO ally, has been upgrading its military with a sharp hike in spending. Last December, the Swedish government told municipal authorities to prepare civil defense infrastructure and procedures for a possible war. The move was prompted by the country’s return to the Cold War-era ‘Total Defense Strategy’. In September, 2016, 150 troops were put on permanent service on the island of Gotland to «defend it from Russia». Sweden maintained a permanent military garrison on Gotland for hundreds of years until 2005. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) has ordered a review of 350 civilian bunkers on the island. The shelters are designed to protect people against the shock wave and radiation from a nuclear detonation, as well as chemical and biological weapons.
In March, Stockholm announced plans to reintroduce compulsory military service abandoned in 2010. The conscription will come into force on January 1, 2018.
Sweden said in June it wishes to join a British-led «Joint Expeditionary Force», making Swedish participation in a general European war all but inevitable.
This month, the Swedish military announced plans to conduct its largest joint military exercise with NATO in 20 years. Called Aurora 17 (see image), the training event is scheduled for September. The drills will take place across the entire country but focusing on the Mälardalen Valley, the areas around the cities of Stockholm and Gothenberg, and on the strategic island of Gotland. More than 19,000 Swedish troops will take part along with 1,435 soldiers from the US, 270 from Finland, 120 from France and between 40-60 each from Denmark, Norway, Lithuania and Estonia.
In June, Russian President Putin warned, «If Sweden joins NATO, this will affect our relations in a negative way because we will consider that the infrastructure of the military bloc is now approaching us from the Swedish side».
In June 2016, Finland took part in NATO BALTOPS naval exercise. It was the first time NATO forces trained on Finnish territory (the coastal area at Syndale). Back then, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told his Finnish counterpart, Timo Soini, that the Kremlin would take unspecified measures to respond to increased NATO activity in the Baltic region. According to Lavrov, «We do not hide our negative attitude to the movement of NATO’s military infrastructure towards our borders, to dragging new states into the military activity of the bloc».
All these facts and events taken together demonstrate that militarization of Scandinavia is progressing by leaps and bounds to undermine the security in Europe. No hue and cry is being raised in the Russian media, but the developments are being closely watched by Moscow. Visiting Finland on July 27, President Putin said Russia was «keeping an eye on certain intensification in the movement of military aircraft, ships and troops. In order for us to avoid negative consequences, situations that no one wants, we need to maintain dialogue». He also stressed readiness for dialogue with neutral countries that border the Baltic Sea like Finland, which is not part of the NATO military alliance.
The facts listed above show the situation is grave enough to top the agenda of the NATO-Russia Council. But it’s not the case as yet. Last year, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current President of Germany who was Foreign Minister at the time, slammed NATO for «saber-rattling and war cries» and provocative military activities in the proximity of Russia’s borders. He called for an arms control deal between the West and Russia. Fifteen other members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) joined Steinmeier’s initiative: France, Italy, Austria, Belgium, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Spain, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Portugal.
Actually, the initiative to relaunch the negotiation process cannot be credited to Germany. Russia’s proposal to discuss a new European security treaty was rejected by the West. The draft document was published in 2009. In March 2015, Russia expressed its readiness for negotiations concerning a new agreement regarding the control of conventional weapons in Europe.
Moscow has never rejected the idea of launching talks to address the problem, and it does not reject it now. The NATO-Russia Council could make a contribution to launching discussions on the matter. It has not done so as yet. Actually, nothing is being done to ease the tensions in Europe and the Scandinavian Peninsula in particular. Meanwhile, the situation is aggravating misunderstandings and whipping up tensions.
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About the author
Alex Gorka is a defense and diplomatic analyst