Increased US interest towards Norway and Norway’s immediate neighborhood is first and foremost a wanted development from a Norwegian point of view, Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen stresses in this interview with High North News.
“The USA is not forcing itself on us. We want this change and are interested in their being present here.”
The Defense Minister talks about what Norway has worked for for years; namely moving the eyes of the allies back towards the neighborhood and NATO’s original mission, which lies in defending communication and supply lines across the Atlantic.
“We have requested concrete steps within NATO, and there is currently a new maritime command in Norfolk, Virginia that is in charge of the North Atlantic, including Norway. We have also developed closer cooperation with the US Marines, who practice more with us”, he says.
The drivers behind this development are not least down to increased great power rivalry; about Russia building up its military and exercising more and further south along the Norwegian neighborhood than before. China, which refers to itself as a “near-Arctic” state also demonstrates an interest in the region, both economically as well as in science.
On the other hand, in recent years, American warships have sailed further north in the Barents Sea and American bomber planes have operated closer to Russia. The US Department of Defense’s 2019 Arctic Strategy refers to the Arctic as a potential corridor for strategic competition.
Increased number of visits
Bakke-Jensen says Norway notices the increased US interest in a number of ways.
“We see an increasing number of visits from Congress; politicians interested in what goes on here. NATO’s parliamentary assembly is also regularly in Norway to see what is going on.”
Both Chief of Staff of the US Army General James C. McConville and Commandant of the US Marines General David H. Berger also recently visited Norway for meetings with Norwegian authorities and officers.
What was the outcome of these meetings?
“As for the US Marines, we have many years of defense cooperation, amongst others with the Prepositioning Program in Norway. They are currently changing their concept and are transitioning into operating with lighter capacities that are to be able to move faster [Force Design 2030, journ. note]. This new strategy forces us to practice more and different from before. Where we used to exercise to use their plans for how to do things, we now work with our plans in order to be able to defend Norway in a potential conflict. These are amongst the things made clear during the meeting with myself and the Commandant of the US Marines", he says.
“We explained what we believe to be the right thing to do, in order to reach a unified understanding of what we are thinking.”
Interest in the Indo-Pacific region
In an op-ed published at Prosjekt Utsyn, Lieutenant Colonel Jørn Qviller from the USMC School of Advanced Warfighting and Lieutenant Colonel Terje Bruøygard from the USMS Command and Staff College write that General Berger of US Marines wants to make clear that the force is an expeditionary, maritime, and lean organization with a clear focus on China and operations in the Pacific region. “The USMC shall move away from lasting land battle and leave decisive land operations, conducted by larger mechanized divisions, to the US Army," they write.
What do you think about the USA’s increasing focus on China and the Indo-Pacific region, and what will that mean to American presence in Norway?
“I notice that some argue it will weaken their focus here. We have not noticed that. We are nevertheless dependent on continuing developing our own defense in order to exercise with our allies and be a credible member of the defense alliance. We are also involved with several multilateral and bilateral cooperation projects within the alliance”, Bakke-Jensen points out.
“In general, we want defense cooperation with the USA and have therefore also negotiated a new cooperation agreement that is to regulate exercise activity and also provide opportunities for American investments in Norwegian bases. This agreement is now negotiated, and we are preparing the legislative amendments required for it to come into effect, and it will shortly be subject to a public hearing”, he says in closing.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.