A total of 350 American soldiers have arrived at Setermoen, Norway, increasing the number of US soldiers on rotation-based practice in Norway to 700, national broadcaster NRK reported.
While the initial Norwegian-US agreement allowed 350 US Navy soldiers to train in the coming years, the Norwegian government entered this past summer entered into a new agreement allowing the US to double the number. Thus, the US soldiers will be stationed for the next five years in Værnes, Trøndelag County and Setermoen in Troms County.
While the stated purpose of the extension is to increase interconnection between Norwegian soldiers and theirits US counterpartsallies, this step has been met with resistance. Norwegian Maritime Academy researcher Ståle Ulriksen has argued that the increased US presence will be perceived negatively by Russia. Ulriksen also stressed that Norway's defense has been made entirely dependent on allies.
"Once the American presence is further increased, and the US forces are getting more advanced weapons, [the Russians] will probably respond," he warned. "Clearly, that there is a limit to how much military activity one can allow in northern Norway before the Russians feel seriously threatened. It may not be so wise of Norway to do things that challenge the strategic capacity of Russia," Ulriksen said.
The increased US presence was also met with criticism by among Norwegian politicians. The Socialist Left party (SV) has argued that Norway would benefit from having a strong Norwegian military presence in the north, not from moving US soldiers northward.
"This is a watershed in Norwegian security and defense policy, and we have always warned against this development," SV parliamentary spokesman Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes said.
According to the 1949 Base Declaration, no foreign forces will be admitted on Norwegian soil in peacetime. At present, the Socialist Left party, the Center party and the Reds all fear that the decades-old foundations of the Norwegian defense policy isare being shattered.
"This is a direct breach of the base policy. This makes Norway vulnerable, and northern Norway, the closest neighbor to Russia, is facing a very difficult situation. It's a wrong and misjudged way of thinking about the security policy," Fylkesnes argued. "This goes far beyond practice. This is a permanent presence of US soldiers farther north than ever before," he added.
By contrast, the Norwegian Armed Forces don't see any problem with the extended US presence.
"It gives us an opportunity to become better as Norwegian forces, but also as NATO forces. It is a clear confirmation that Norwegian security is based on our NATO membership," Brigadier Lars Sivert Lervik ventured.
The Russian Embassy has slammed Oslo's decision, arguing it makesde Norway unpredictable, increasesd tensions, provokesd an arms race and could lead led to a general destabilization of the situation in Europe.
UK Defense Secretary Minister Gavin Williamson recently added fuel to the fire by proposing a rotary force of 800 British troops in northern Norway in a bid to "counter Russia's militarization."