The naval forces in Værnes send a clear signal to Russia, believe US defence experts. But it’s not a military base, they claim.
‘There is no military base, certainly not. And I can say that I was involved in this from the beginning,’ said Jim Townsend, in the think tank, ‘Center for a New American Security (CNAS)’, which has a name peculiarly similar to ‘Project for a New American Century’ (PANAC).
NTB news interviewed the US ‘defence expert’ in Washington, where Prime Minister, Erna Solberg of Høyre (H) will meet President Donald Trump on Wednesday for talks on security policy, and cooperation in NATO, among other topics.
Townsend has worked in the US Department of Defence for many years, and for eight years was a leading advisor in the Pentagon, with particular responsibility for the Nordic countries and NATO.
‘It was the naval forces that came to us. They said they wanted to train more in Norway,and wanted to know how they would approach the Norwegian authorities,’ he said.
Russia has reacted strongly to the American presence in Værnes, and believe it increases tension in the North. Next week it will be exactly a year since the first soldiers arrived.
‘A typical Russian response’, said Townsend.
‘But the Russians know well that we are friends, and that the United States follows what is happening in Norway. If the Russians are bothering Norway, they are bothering the US and NATO’, he said.
Magnus Nordenman of the Atlantic Council also shed light on the importance of the Russian reaction.
‘The Russians aren’t stupid. They can count, and they realise that 330 soldiers are not an invasion force’, he told NTB news agency.
According to Heather Conley at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the purpose of the Russian statements is to spread fear, and also create the impression that NATO are looking for conflict.
‘But there would have been no need for increased presence of NATO forces in Northern Europe unless Russia had intervened in Ukraine,’ she told NTB.
‘Besides the military exercises, it is clearly a signal to Russia of the American presence’, said Magnus Nordenman.
‘The Russian aggression in the Crimean Peninsula, and the sharp tone against NATO, is one of the reasons why the United States are present at Værnes. Norway borders Russia, and makes up NATO’s northern flank’, he said.
The American presence is also controversial in Norway. In parliament, the question has arisen over whether the cooperation violates the 1949 base declaration, which states that foreign powers will not have military bases in Norway in peacetime.
‘To establish a permanent military base in Norway, with facilities for the soldiers’ families and their belongings just does not happen’, said Townsend.
‘Basic policy is an important foundation in Norwegian defence, so I understand the concerns, and the reactions. But this is something else’, added Nordenman.
He doesn’t think it would cause reactions, or injure the relationship between the two countries if Norway chose to terminate cooperation on Værnes.
‘I think the reaction would be real surprise, not anger. From this point of view, the cooperation is considered to be very useful, he said.
But it is not only the Russians who have used strong words. When the US Navy Inspector was on a pre-Christmas visit to the soldiers at Værnes, he spoke of the danger of a possible large conflict.
‘I hope I’m wrong, but a war is fermenting. Their presence here places you in a fight, an information campaign and a political struggle,’ said General Robert Neller.
The statement should not be taken too literally, said Heather Conley. Nordenman agrees. He called it ‘military tough talk’.
‘It’s juicy word usage. Yet at the same time, in the United States there is an increasing sense of superpower competition, where a major war is no longer an impossibility. Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable, but the risk can no longer be said to be zero’, he said.
© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today