Russia has warned Norway not to get pulled into a possible area of conflict by bowing to U.S. pressure to equip its naval vessels with Aegis ballistic missile defense system missiles. The warning came from Nikolai Makarov, commander of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces.
Russia hopes to eliminate this threat through talks and greater transparency and military cooperation with Norway, said Makarov, adding that Russia will not accept U.S. vessels equipped with the Aegis system operating near its Arctic territories or in the Black Sea.
“We are aware that the U.S. has been prompting Norway to install the missile defense system on its naval ships. Fortunately, Norway has taken a balanced position,” Makarov said on Feb. 16.
Russia’s position is that it will take any necessary countermeasures against the U.S. should it decide to deploy vessels equipped with the Aegis system to areas in or near the High North or to the Black Sea. But although countermeasures are ready, Russia is reluctant to introduce them at this time given the “additional financial spending” involved, Makarov said.
Norway’s twin-track approach to security in the High North was reinforced in 2010 as part of a bridge-building policy with Russia. This relationship-building strategy also involves the establishment of new areas of joint defense cooperation between Russia, NATO and the U.S. in the region.
The Norwegian government’s desire to develop stronger military and political relations with Russia and refrain from taking actions that threaten this improving relationship was outlined by Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, when he spoke to the Leangkollen Security Conference in Oslo on Feb. 6.
Eide said it was necessary for Norway to re-evaluate its political and military relationships in the face of an emerging “new world order” that will bestow economic superpower status on countries such as China, India, Brazil and Indonesia.
“We are seeing a revitalized Russia. We are witnessing a world in which the traditional political and economic dominance of the West is in decline. The United States will continue for many years to be the world’s only true military superpower. But its lead is diminishing. This is something the United States’ political leaders today clearly recognize and have begun to adapt to,” said Eide.
Norway’s wish to use its membership in NATO as a bridge-building tool between Russia and the U.S. has intensified since the rapid strengthening of Russia’s economy since 2006. As the defense budgets of most European nations contracted, Norway watched as Russia increased its spending on defense by 10 percent year-on-year in the period from 2008 to 2010.
The improvement in political and military relations between Norway and Russia since 2010 was underscored by the ratification of a border delimitation agreement covering certain Arctic territories, and which culminated after 40 years of negotiations. This removed a potential source of conflict between the two countries.
Moreover, the number and magnitude of joint multi-branch collaboration and training exercises between the two countries continues to expand under bilateral military agreements. Such trust-building initiatives are geared to improving cooperation and transparency, and reducing tensions in the High North, a situation that renders the possibility of Norway deploying Aegis on its naval vessels as unlikely.
Norway has made no secret of its twin-track strategy, which positions NATO as the cornerstone of its defense and security policy in the High North. Norway views NATO’s presence in the High North as an essential part of this policy and a precondition for its continued close cooperation with Russia.