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Trump Pushes the Envelope: NATO Military Exercises Near Russian Border in Northern Norway – August – November, 2018: Part One

November 2, 2018

 

Area of military exercises

There is a long post WW2 history of US plans to militarize the Arctic; these plans go back to 1946 with plans to encircle the Soviet Union to limit their influence in Europe after the war. Norway figured large in these plans and its postwar leadership, purged of the left elements who had been among the most active elements in the Norwegian resistance against the Nazis, Norway essentially gave itself over to US plans. Early on radar and sophisticated listening devices were installed transforming Norway into a base for intelligence and sabotage. The militarization of the North also included the building of a major U.S. military base on the Danish controlled mega-Island of Greenland and a complex radar and anti-missile system established in northern Canada. Virtually almost immediately after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, through NATO – using Eastern European and Russian instability as the pretext – the United States began an intensified U.S. military build up in Europe’s most northern sectors, drawing in both Sweden and Finland, both of which, while not formal members of the alliance, have been drawn in to a great degree, this despite the denials, increasingly hollow, of their governments. (1) (for Part 2, click here) (for Part 3)

1.

On the phone with an old friend in Helsinki. He was a little boy when I knew him there, now a full-grown man in his early forties who spent a good part of his life struggling  with drug demons. He overcome them, no small feat. At the end of a conversation about possible trips to India and Thailand to escape the dark Finnish winter, he casually mentions, with some displeasure, that Finland, along with Sweden and 29 NATO countries, is participating in the NATO military exercises, Trident Juncture 18 (TRJE18), in the north of Norway. It is the largest of its kind in Norway since the 1980s, ie, before the end of the Cold War.

Part of the exercise includes air activity in the airspace not only of Norway but of Sweden and Finland. Although Sweden and Finland are not formally members of NATO, their militaries have been increasingly integrated into NATO military plans. As for NATO member Norway, it has hosted a permanent deployment of 700 U.S. marines from Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. The United Kingdom has announced that it will soon send some 800 commandos to re-enforce the U.S. military presence.

Statements, like those of NATO Secretary General Jens Stolenberg that “the exercises are not directed against any specific country” cannot be taken seriously. They are little more than public relations drivel. Of course the exercises are a major provocation against Russia, nothing less. Driven by Washington, if NATO is preparing for war, what kind of war could it be other than nuclear war.

Trident Junction 18 is the last in a series of intentionally provocative NATO exercises in northern Norway. The fact that the exercises culminate in the days just prior to the U.S. mid-term elections cannot be accidental. The Russian response was terse and predictable: “Despite the pretty awkward attempts by representatives of the Alliance and its member states to present this military activity as defensive, it is obvious that this show of force is clearly of an anti-Russian nature,” the Russian foreign ministry said. The Russian embassy in Oslo said it considered Trident Juncture 18 an “anti-Russian” exercise. In a related statement, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova specifically “condemned Swedish and Finnish involvement in NATO’s Trident Juncture 2018 as part of a deliberate policy by the bloc which endangers security in Europe.” Earlier in the summer, Russia warned Sweden and Finland against joining NATO, and threatened counter measures.

Some background

In December 2004, Karl Leifland, a Swedish social democrat presented a report to the Swedish government entitled “Snow Dark and Cold.” It recommended that Norbotten County, in the north of the country be used for military purposes that included “development for international, military tests and training activities.” (1) That same year the Swedish parliament voted to grant NATO access to the area for military exercises. From then on military war games in northern Sweden have taken place continuously. Here are a few examples.

  • In 2006 it organized, “Cold Response” that brought together nations under the misnamed “Partners For Peace” umbrella. Some 10,000 soldiers from 11 nations participated.
  • The very next year, in September 2007, an equally large military exercise “the Nordic Air Meet” took place in the skies above Norbotten with thirty warplanes from the US, France, Switzerland, Finland, Norway and Sweden in the air at the same time. 300 foreign guests were in attendance. General John Kelly (now of the Trump Administration) was present and commented how central Europe was too crowded for such exercises with the military having difficulty because of too many civilian planes in the area. But northern Sweden was different. (1) Nordic Air Meet has met frequently since.
  • Loyal Arrow followed in 2009 despite objections from a Swedish peace organization, Ofog, which referred to the exercise as “Royal Error.” Ten NATO and non-NATO countries will participate in the live fire exercises, which is aimed to train selected parts of the NATO Response Force Joint Force Air Component Headquarters in the conduct and coordination of air operations. It was the biggest military air exercise ever held in Sweden up to that date. Loyal Arrow exercises were supervised from Bodő in Norway, Luleă in Sweden and Oulu in Finland. US nuclear war capable F-15 Eagle and F-16s participated. A British aircraft carrier, MS Illustrious, carrying 1,000 soldiers made its way up the Swedish coast from the south of Sweden to Luleă. Such a massive show of NATO military force in the Gulf of Bothnia had never taken place. 
  • 2015 saw the unveiling of BaltopsNATO naval maneuvers in the Baltic Sea. These naval exercises began in 1971 and have continued since. The 2015 version brought together  49 ships, 61 aircraft, one submarine, and a combined amphibious landing force of 700 U.S. Finnish and Swedish troops participating in the drills. Fourteen NATO Allies joined their “NATO partners” Finland, Georgia and Sweden. Overall, 5,600 troops were involved.  Participants include Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
  • 2017 witnessed “Dynamic Mongoose” between June 26 and July 8 of that year. According to the NATO website that announced the event, “The aim of this exercise is to provide all participants with complex and challenging warfare training to enhance their interoperability and proficiency in anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare skills.” It entailed eleven vessels from ten allied countries engaged in naval exercises otherwise known as military masturbation.

But Trident Juncture 18 tops them all in terms of overkill and bloated military expenditure. It’s quite a show being put on in large measure with U.S. taxpayer money.

The production includes some 50,000 troops, 65 ships, 250 aircraft, 10,000 tanks. To add a little “umph” to it all, the Trump Administration is sending the aptly named USS Harry Truman air craft carrier, with its 6000 member crew and a long history of Middle East combat missions spanning back to the year 2000. This is the first time since the end of the Cold War that a U.S. air craft carrier travels to the Arctic since the collapse of the USSR.

The message is clear: the world is at the onset of Cold War II.

At the same time, NATO has been increasing its troop strength elsewhere close to the Russian border in Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Maneuvers in the Baltic there have already resulted in a number of close encounters between aircraft flyovers of military ships. All of this adds up to increased tensions as the region inches towards unthinkable conflict. For the United States it’s all a part of the global military encirclement of Russia and China, in an attempt to keep the former from retooling its economy in the aftermath of the collapse of Communism; for the latter a futile attempt on Washington’s part to maintain its hegemony as China’s economic and political influence continue to surge.

2.

A friend, passing through Denver not long ago made an offhand comment about “the Russian submarines threatening the coast of Sweden in the Gulf of Bothnia, the long finger of the Baltic Sea extending north between Sweden and Finland.” Hmmm, me thinks, haven’t heard that particular piece of Cold War garbage (most times it was) for some thirty years. As I haven’t followed such claims over these three lost decades, I didn’t say anything. Maybe there are Russian subs off the coast? Although the view extends for miles at the top of Pikes Peak, it’s hard to evaluate such claims from my perch in the Rockies.

That said, the accusation of the (then) Soviet, (now) Russian submarines off the Swedish coast is an old story. For the most part it was little more than a special Swedish brand of Cold War hysteria. I would have thought that Swedish political rhetoric spinners would come up with something original like Russian drone attacks, cyber warfare, etc.  rather than “old reliable” (but phony). This most recent “sighting” also appears to have been bogus, yet another fear tactic as Sweden, experiencing anti-immigrant hysteria – inches – or should one say – lunges – to the right politically and strengthens its ties with NATO.

Anyway… the NATO build up in the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden) has been increasing in intensity since the collapse of the Cold War. Iceland, Norway and Denmark  were among NATO’s founders and have all been active in it since 1949. Sweden and Finland however were formally outside the alliance, Finland more so than Sweden as a result of geography and history. Yet since the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the USSR in 1991, both countries have drawn more closely into tighter military cooperation despite their still formal neutral status. After 9-11 (September 11, 2001) those relations became far more intertwined, especially for Sweden.

NATO’s presence it Europe, its many bases there – hundreds actually (2) –  with nuclear weapons stored in Germany, Italy, Turkey. and who knows where else. Recent turmoil in Turkey brought to light the nuclear weapons arsenal at the Incirlik NATO base. It included an angry Turkish demonstration at the base’s perimeter that resulted in the transfer of those nuclear weapons to bases in Rumania, or so it was reported. The base at Ramstein, a huge U.S. military base was used among other things, as a platform for US drone attacks against Pakistan. By now the NATO militarization of Europe has extended full force to the Baltic region and the Nordic countries. Their strategic importance was underlined in a 2009 report on Nordic Cooperation on Foreign and Security Policy by Thorvald Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian Minster of Foreign Affairs. It opens with the following quote:

The Nordic countries are in geographic proximity and have many foreign and security policy interests, despite their different forms of association with NATO and the EU. The Nordic region has become increasingly important geo-politically and strategically. The Nordic areas are responsible for the management of large sea areas. climate change and melting of the sea ice will open the way for considerable activity in these areas, including new shipping routes through the Arctic waters to the Pacific Ocean.

In the aftermath of Stoltenberg’s report, in early 2011, the Nordic countries met in London at a meeting called by then British Prime Minister David Cameron to “consolidate an alliance of common interests.” The Russians commented that the meeting resulted in the creation of “a Nordic mini-NATO,” which in fact it was. It became a way for both Sweden and Finland – formally “neutral” countries to participate on a very high level in NATO activities, essentially integrating their military and intelligence operations with the alliance, while claiming to their populations to be outside of the body. At the time, a Finnish friend  could with some justification claim that “Finnish public opinion is opposed to Finland joining NATO” – and she was correct – but that claim underplays the fact that by then, some eight years ago, both the Finnish and Swedish militaries had joined the alliance on a de facto basis, if formally separated from it de jure. 

To be continued…

_________________________

  1. Agneta Norberg. “The North: A Platform For Warfare Against Russia.” European Center for Excellence for Counteracting Hybrid Threats. Publication Series No. 2. Helsinki 2018
  2. ibid

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