Most US Marines based in Norway will leave this fall

About 700 Marines have been based permanently in the country on a rotating basis — many in Norway's Arctic.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - August 6, 2020
U.S. Marines in Norway. (Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret)

Since 2017 a force of about 700 U.S. Marines has been permanently stationed in Norway on a rotational basis, many of them in the northern parts of the country, but that arrangement is now ending, according to the Norwegian Armed Forces.

In late fall this year, those American troops will pull out and in the future visit Norway only in connection with exercises.

[On Norway’s Arctic border with Russia, unease over military buildup grows]

It is a major shift in U.S. security relations with Norway, that inevitably will affect the military situation in the region.

Starting later this year, only about 20 U.S. Marines will be left in Norway.

‘Cooperation continues’

The Norwegian side downplays the significance of the force reduction. Cooperation and joint training will continue, the country’s military underlines.

“For the Army, good joint training will continue and at times with bigger American forces than today,” Major General Lars Lervik says in a comment.

About 400 marines are expected to take part in an exercise this fall, and up to 1,000 troops will engage in winter training early 2021, the Norwegian Army informs.

The U.S. military hardware stored in Norway will remain in the country.

Force reorganization

The pull-out of Norway is reported to come in connection with a long-term reform process in U.S. forces. That process is headed by Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite, a former U.S. ambassador to Norway.

According to the Norwegian government, the U.S forces will not abandon Norway. In a comment to newspaper Aftenposten, Deputy Defense Minister Tone Skogen underlines that there is no talk about a cut from the side of the U.S. Marines, only a “changed organization of training in Norway.”

It is believed that the U.S. Marine Corps now increasingly will put its main focus on the situation in the Pacific region and relations with China.

The situation in the Pacific region was also the reported reason why the American participation in Norwegian exercise Cold Response was reduced by 3,000 men in early 2020.

Continued Arctic engagement

The cut in presence in Norway comes as the U.S. increases its military engagement in the North Atlantic and the Arctic.

In the summer of 2020, U.S. guided-missile destroyer USS Roosevelt sailed for more than 28 days above the Arctic Circle.

American flags in the Barents Sea is now “the new normal,” a defense analyst told the Barents Observer.

The U.S. Air Force has also seen an increase in its activities in the north. Over the last year, U.S. long-range bombers B-1B, as well as stealth bomber B-2 and strategic bombers B-52, have paid visits to the region.

Rejoicing in Moscow

The reduced permanent presence of U.S. forces in Norway will be warmly welcomed in Moscow, where the authorities repeatedly have criticized Norway for its close cooperation with the U.S. Marines.

On a number of occasions, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his deputies have lashed out against Oslo with accusations that the presence of U.S. troops in Norway breaks with its traditional base policy, according to which foreign troops are not to be permanently stationed in the country.

As recently as early June this year, Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov in an interview underlined that Norway’s military buildup in the north “undermines peace, stability  and the atmosphere of trust in the region.”