Negotiations with the US are underway over the possibility of expanding the American military presence in Norway, Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said, according to the daily newspaper Verdens Gang.
"We received a number of requests from the US. There are talks at the political level, but I cannot provide concrete details," Frank Bakke-Jensen was quoted as saying.
One of the options, as reported by Verdens Gang, is an increase in the number of US marines; they have been stationed at Værnes, on the Western coast of Norway, since January 2017. Last week, Colonel Doug Bruun told the Norwegian newspaper Adresseavisen about plans to double the US marines' presence from 330 to 650. Reports about potentially transferring them over the Arctic Circle to the northern province of Troms also emerged. Previously, though, the US Marine Corps also announced plans to make Værnes its main base in Europe.
Another possibility is upgrading the Rygge and Andøya airbases to receive US aircraft for shorter or longer periods, Verdens Gang reported. According to the Air Force Times, a total of $12 million has been earmarked for rebuilding Rygge Airport in Østfold to make it compatible with an array of US combat aircraft.
The situation surrounding Andøya is more murky. Previously, the Norwegian parliament confirmed that the base would be shut down, with the Norwegian Navy surveillance aircraft subsequently relocated to Evenes. This week, however, the website Aldri Mer reported that up to five P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft are expected to arrive at Andøya already in June.
While Bakke-Jensen declined to comment on the different bases, he confirms that the government and the parliamentary majority would like more Allied forces to train in Norway.
"We have stated it in the Armed Forces' long-term plan that we will have increased allied training, but it's a little bit unclear due to various processes. In the US, ideas are raised and budgeting proceedings are initiated before we're contacted," Bakke-Jensen said.
Frank Bakke-Jensen pledged to notify the expanded parliamentary committee on defense and foreign policy about the outcome of the talks.
The US marines' presence in Norway is rotational. It was made possible through a bilateral agreement on military cooperation and joint training for operations at high latitudes. Many have argued that this constitutes a violation of a 1949 declaration abjuring foreign bases. Most recently, Bjørgulv Braanen, the editor-in-chief of the Klassekampen daily, slammed the Norwegian defense policy as a "sad sight." Braanen pointed out that its goal is not defending Norwegian territory, but quickly escalating a conflict so that the US is drawn in.
Russian diplomats have on numerous occasions expressed concern over the situation, noting that the US military presence had a "destabilizing" effect on the North and violated the traditions of Norwegian-Russian neighborliness.