Is NATO Pushing Russia Towards Retaliation?

    Ted Galen Carpenter

    Security, Eurasia

    NATO leaders continue to insist that the Alliance has no offensive intent against Russia or that the Alliance seeks to undermine Moscow’s interests. But NATO’s behavior belies such assurances.

    The United States and its NATO allies continue to find ways to antagonize Russia. The latest provocation is a request from Norway to more than double the number of U.S. troops stationed on its territory and deploy them even closer to the border with Russia. Granted, the numbers involved are not large. There are currently 330 American military personnel in the country on a “rotational” basis. Oslo’s new request would increase the number to seven hundred. If the Norwegian government gets its way, the new troops would be stationed in the far north, barely 260 miles from Russia, in contrast to the existing unit in central Norway, several hundred miles from Russian territory.

    The rotational aspect theoretically complies with Norway’s pledge to Moscow in 1949 when it joined NATO that Oslo would not allow U.S. bases on its territory. Indeed, Foreign Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Soriede reiterated that assurance in connection with the new troop request, contending that there would be “no American bases on Norwegian soil.” Making their official status rotational supposedly means that the troops are there only on a temporary basis. It is a cynical dodge that fools no one—least of all Vladimir Putin and his colleagues in the Kremlin.

    Norwegian officials also insisted that the new deployment was not directed against Russia. That assurance has even less credibility than the rotational rationale. Oslo’s request came just days after nine nations along NATO’s eastern flank, including Poland, the Baltic republics, and Romania called for a larger Alliance (meaning largely U.S.) military presence in their region.

    In addition to the move to increase the number of U.S. troops in Norway, major NATO military exercises (war games), code-named Trident Juncture 18, are scheduled for October. The focus of those exercises will be central and northern Norway, and they will involve thirty-five thousand troops, seventy ships, and 130 aircraft. Nevertheless, Soriede insisted that she couldn’t see “any serious reason why Russia should react” to Oslo’s proposal for an enhanced U.S. military presence.

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