In early September, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter traveled to Norway to discuss with Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide the deployment of some 330 U.S. Marines to that country. A few weeks later, on October 24, Soreide announced that Oslo and Washington had agreed to post the troops to Vaernes Air Station in central Norway. Under the agreement, the Marines will arrive in January 2017 as part of the Black Sea Rotational Force, a program that temporarily bases U.S. troops with NATO partners in order to improve joint interoperability and boost the alliance’s ability to respond quickly to crises. Over a one-year trial period, the Marines will train on their own, with Norwegian troops, and with the forces of other NATO allies, making use of the area’s arctic climate to carry out cold-weather exercises.
The United States has kept tanks, armored vehicles, and other defense equipment in Norway since the 1970s, and the plan to base the Marines at Vaernes builds on the renewal of a 2005 agreement between Oslo and Washington called the Marine Corps Prepositioning Program–Norway. But Norwegian critics on the far left and on the populist right have decried the impending U.S. military presence at Vaernes as especially provocative. The deployment of U.S. troops, they argue, could endanger Norway’s precarious but stable relationship with Russia, with which it shares a 122-mile border.
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As a founding member of NATO, Norway considers the United States its principal ally. Since 1949, Oslo has carried out annual military exercises with NATO; in 2018, it will host NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise, in which some 25,000 soldiers will participate. Norway has several dozen soldiers in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s mission in that country and is a member of the U.S.-led coalition to defeat the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Soreide is one of only a handful NATO defense ministers