Arne O. Holm says American Forces Enter the North With Free Access to 36 Military Bases

Rovaniemi Lavrov Pence

Back then: The Russian MFA Sergey Lavrov, together with the then US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in Rovaniemi, Finland in May 2019. On the left, former Norwegian MFA Ine Eriksen Søreide. (Photo: Arne O. Holm).

Commentary: American forces are entering the High North at a nearly explosive pace. On Monday, Finland is following Norway and Sweden in opening up their military bases to the US.

"Because it is serious now," as the Research Leader at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, Niklas Granholm, puts it in an interview with High North News.

The seriousness is about the neighboring country of Russia. NATO's joint analysis of the situation is crystal clear:

Everything is about winning the war

For Russia, everything is about winning the war against Ukraine. All other concerns are set aside in the pursuit of a military victory. Every Russian decision has this in mind.

As the only original NATO country in the North, Norway had already negotiated a so-called additional agreement on defense cooperation between the US and Norway in 2022. A large majority in the Norwegian parliament later adopted the agreement. The agreement gives the US the right to unimpeded access to four military bases on Norwegian soil. Two of which, Ramsund and Evenes, are in the North. 

The agreement also includes American police authority on Norwegian soil and American weapons depots to which Norway will not have access.

Nuclear weapons are not regulated in the agreements.

In less than a year, Sweden, which is still being kept out of NATO by Turkey, has negotiated a similar agreement. American forces will gain access to 17 Swedish military bases, according to the agreement signed last week. Four of these bases are in Norrbotten in Northern Sweden, in Kiruna, Boden, Vidsel, and Luleå-Kallax.

The Swedish parliament will adopt the agreement with a large majority.

Several bases in the North

Yesterday, Thursday, Finland also announced a fully negotiated agreement with the US. It will be formally signed on Monday and will give the US access to fifteen Finnish military bases. Several of these are in Northern Finland, including Ivalo, Rovajärvi, Rovaniemi, Tervola and Veitsiluoto.

In total, Norway, Sweden, and Finland have opened 36 military bases for US forces and weapons. The agreements are bilateral, i.e., between the US and the individual country, and not a NATO agreement.

The question of the placement of American nuclear weapons in Sweden and Finland has not been regulated through the agreement. In contrast to the Norwegian base and nuclear policy, the agreements do not explicitly ban the placement of such weapons. The probability of it happening is nonetheless small. Modern nuclear weapons are quickly moved if deemed necessary.

The conclusion is that Russia's war against Ukraine has fundamentally changed the military use of the High North, and it has done so in a very short amount of time.

The aim of this US-Nordic strength-building in the North is to deter Russia from an attack, as we have seen Russia willing to do in Ukraine.

Great uncertainty

Defense experts and a political majority in the respective countries' parliaments deem it unlikely that such an attack will come against NATO in the North. The conventional Russian forces are considerably weakened in the North in the wake of the war against Ukraine.

These are the ice-cold military facts – and now over to the more uncertain.

Military experts are soothsayers.

Like the fact that Russia's nuclear forces and maritime military power are essentially unchanged and not weakened in the North. The same applies to the airborne forces.

Increased military capacity and military exercises of increasing frequency and size in the High North increase the risk of an unintentional military confrontation in the North.

Lacking dialogue and communication between the East and the West increases the risk of accidents or misunderstandings.

In the US, Donald Trump is climbing the polls and has a real chance of being elected president. This increases the risk of many things, including that the bases in Norway, Sweden, and Finland will never be used by the US.

The agreements between the US and the three Nordic countries also contain a built-in contradiction. While Norway, Sweden, and Finland base their security policy on stability and predictability, the American doctrine is based on military unpredictability as an essential part of the military strategy.

Few run as fast

Like in any war or preparations for war, the questions exceed the answers. As soothsayers, military experts, and defense politicians have consistently proven to be just that when it comes to war and peace.

Few saw the war against Ukraine coming, just as they were unprepared for the fall of the Berlin Wall or an American president threatening to take the US out of NATO.

Today, the same people are also racing to escape the responsibility of the Armed Forces being so heavily downsized after the Cold War. 

Few, if any, run as fast as generals from responsibility.

But it is serious now.

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