Over the last few weeks, Oslo and Copenhagen have come under pressure from NATO and the US to assume more responsibility in the East to ‘protect’ the Baltic states against Russia. The Baltic build-up is bound to be one of the main topics on the NATO Summit in Warsaw on July 8-9.
The Baltic region has recently turned into a theater of operation, hosting no less than three major US-led maneuvers. In fact, muscles have been flexing all over the place: Germany is increasing its military for the first time since 1990, while Poland is set to create a national guard of 35,000 men with an open goal of halting a Russian invasion.
NATO’s plans on the alliance’s eastern border include setting up four battalions of 600 to 1,000 soldiers each. The US sends its battalion to Poland, Germany takes care of the one in Lithuania, the UK is to cover Estonia. This just leaves Latvia, which is where Norway and Denmark are expected to step in. The units are to be equipped for battle and tasked with preventing a “hybrid war” on Russia’s part.
For Oslo, it will be next to impossible to reject the alliance’s requests, as Norway jointly with France, Britain and Iceland urges NATO to more often display its naval forces in Northern waters, Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten‘s columnist Nils Morten Udgaard noted.
The common fear that Russia may seek to dominate waters northeast of the so-called GIUK gap (between Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom) is a clear reminder of the Cold War-era. Therefore, NATO’s maritime strength and presence in the North Atlantic and the North should be a key element in NATO’s strategy, state secretary Øystein Bø of the Defense Ministry said in a lecture in Oslo in May.
Curiously, this is an echo from the 1990s, when Norway’s then Foreign Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg labeled Norway as a “Baltic state” for the Nordic country to take part in the new cooperation pattern after the re-emergence of independent Baltic states following the break-up of the Soviet Union. Today, his son Jens Stoltenberg is NATO Secretary General. This coincidence is probably another signal that it is high time for Norway to give something back as regards the Baltic states, which today are Norway’s allies.
Remarkably, Norway has recently suspended its self-imposed restriction of the Cold War-era, according to which the allied forces in northern Norway would keep at least 500 kilometers away from Norway’s border with Russia. Also, the US is considering re-opening its fleet base in Island’s Keflavik, which is yet another painful reminder of the Cold War.
Unsurprisingly, the debate on the NATO build-up cuts deep into the US presidential election campaign, with candidate Donald Trump stamping the alliance as “obsolete.” Remarkably, he also said Europe did “too little” to protect itself and “skinned” US taxpayers instead.