Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO

Photo by Richard Mortel | Public Domain

Norway has announced that it has invited the U.S. to expand the contingent of Marines it sent to the country last year to 700, and to post troops closer to the Russian border. Russia protests that this undermines trust between Oslo and Moscow. Why is this important?

In 1949 Norway joined NATO pledging to the USSR that it would not accept the stationing of foreign troops in the country unless threatened with attack. However, last year 330 U.S. troops were stationed there and there are now plans to more than double the number. Moscow wonders why. Why the relentless expansion of NATO, to include even little Montenegro last year? Why the provocative exercises in Poland? Why the enduring mutually damaging sanctions on Russia?

Norway is losing billions on lost seafood exports to Russia, and oil and gas deals in the Arctic are held up by the sanctions. Norwegians indeed don’t necessarily agree that events in Ukraine in 2014 warranted the ongoing sanctions.

So why now, does Norway—a progressive, peaceful, affluent nation of well-educated rational people—break with the long time understanding with Moscow and send such an unfriendly signal to its powerful neighbor, with which it shares a 120-mile border?

I shouldn’t feel this personally. But nevertheless. I feel embarrassed.

My mother was half-Norwegian, half-Swedish. My paternal grandmother half-Norwegian. (That makes me 3/8 Norwegian.) I know how to make lefse. I am proud of my Viking heritage, and the mainly Norwegian-led campaigns that led to the settlement of Iceland and Greenland, and the “discovery of America” by 1000; produced the Viking-ruled province of Normandy in France in the 910s; led to the Norman invasion of England in 1066 establishing the House of Normandy dynasty, and to the Norman conquest of Sicily from the 1060s. (It was those amazing dragon-headed longships that didn’t just ply the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean but the rivers of Central Asia, trading peacefully with many peoples.)

I am proud of the global sweep of my ancestors, brutal that I assume they were (if I am indeed descended from Vikings, as opposed to mere thralls or full-time peasants). I am proud of the very progressive playwright Henrik Ibsen (The Doll’s House), the tenderly psychological painter Edvard Munch (The Scream, The Sick Child, Madonna), and the romantic nationalist composer Edvard Grieg (Peer Gynt, based on Ibsen’s play).

My wife and I named our son Erik, with a deliberate K since a C would be Anglo-Saxon and wimpy.

I am proud of that fact that while no coffee is grown in Norway and it was only introduced in the late seventeenth century, and was intensively opposed by the Lutheran clergy, its consumption became prevalent in the 19th century and now Norwegians drink more coffee daily than any people on earth. I remember the strong smell of perk coffee every morning at my Grandma Nelson’s apartment in Minnesota in my childhood. Park of ethnic identity, like lutefisk. All of this good and positive.

In my youth Scandinavia meant some sort of “socialism” or at least welfare state; distance from the U.S. on foreign policy, especially the Vietnam War; rational secularism in the face of a declining Lutheran establishment; and ideals of sexual liberation. The Sami liberation movement made progress, led by people like the amazing joik singer Mari Boine. The Nordic countries had a reputation for charitableness and disproportionate donations to aid organizations. They had an independent often joint foreign policy; for example, all Nordic countries including Norway recognized the DPRK in 1974 and established embassies in Pyongyang. Norway has played a role in negotiations between the DPRK and Washington. And between Israel and its backers and the Palestinians; remember the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995?

By tradition the NATO Secretary-General (as opposed to its military chief) is not a U.S. officer. Since the establishment of the position in 1952 it had been held by four Italians, three Netherlanders, three Britons, two Belgians, one German, and one Spaniard up to August 2009. Then the former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen became the first Scandinavian to hold the post. He was followed in October 2014 by the former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. Meanwhile, the Norwegian/Finnish aerospace and “defense” group Nordic Ammunition Company (Nammo) has become one of the world’s top 10 weapons exporters, mostly supplying NATO.

Suddenly the Nordic peoples are embracing the beast with new fervor. The Nordic countries have grown closer to the U.S. in terms of common response to Russian behavior (which is to say, Russia’s response to NATO expansion). Rather than note that U.S. policy in the Balkans and the Middle East for the last three decades have produced horrible suffering for the world, readily apparent on the faces of the 300,000 refugees currently in Norway, they cozy up further to the source of the problem. Oslo says; send us more troops to defend us against Russia!

Uff da! as my mom and her mom would said. (This means WTF in Norwegian.)

Sweden and Finland are of course not members of NATO. But as a NATO website notes: “Sweden is one of NATO’s most active partners and a valued contributor to NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS/Daesh – it is one of five countries that has enhanced opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with NATO.” And: “Finland is one of NATO’s most active partners and a valued contributor to NATO-led operations and missions in the Balkans and Afghanistan – it is one of five countries that has enhanced opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with NATO.”

This is not good. What has NATO ever done for Norway? Or maybe one should ask, what has Norway ever done for NATO?

In 1999, in the first-ever deployment of NATO forces in war (something that had never occurred during the Cold War), the Royal Norwegian Air Force dropped bombs on Belgrade from F-16s. Norwegian troops were the first of the NATO forces to arrive at Pristina (following the Russians). Norway has had about 500 troops in Afghanistan since 2001. Norway contributed 150 soldiers to the criminal attack on Iraq in 2003 withdrawing them three years later, but 50 Norwegian military but officers are again in Iraq, working as trainers. In March 2014 after NATO had decided to destroy Libya, the Royal Norwegian Air Force deployed six F-16AM fighters in conjunction with Danish fighters, carrying out about 10% of the bombing missions during the campaign, dropping about 600 bombs and attacking Gaddafi’s residence in Tripoli.

That is, Norway has committed war crimes for NATO. Norway has paid deference to Washington, despite the fact that its trade is overwhelmingly with the EU. It has a strong economy and reasons to strengthen ties with neighboring Russia rather than provoking Moscow with a dumb gesture.

At a certain point the Viking leader Rollo broke with his brother Ragnar Lothbrok, to free himself and assert his own identity. I am not suggesting that Norway invade France as Rollo did, or anywhere else, but that it do the opposite, and tell the U.S. that Oslo won’t bomb for you anymore. And why host U.S. troops?

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu