Having partially dismantled its northern defences in the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Norway now seeks to re-establish its presence in the strategic area amid rising tensions between NATO and Russia.
The Norwegian Defence Ministry plans to invest nearly NOK 2.5 billion ($290 million) rebuilding and expanding its Cold War-era military facilities in the far north.
“Our assignment is to establish a presence”, Colonel Jørn Erik Berntsen, the leader of the newly established unit Finnmark Ground Defence, said, as quoted by the daily newspaper Klassekampen. “We’ll be there to discourage (any prospective invaders) and to defend ourselves against any threats”.
The investment will focus on Norway’s most northern and eastern region of Finnmark, which shares borders with Finland and Russia. More than 500 soldiers will be stationed at Porsangermoen, once a bustling camp, later used only for drills and now slated for revival. The defence department plans to pump around NOK 1.5 billion ($176 million) into Porsanger alone, including NOK 500 million ($58 mln) on housing for military employees. The first 150 soldiers will be in place at Porsanger by the end of the month.
Porsanger once had a force of 1,500 military personnel. Following the end of the Cold War, the Norwegian state gradually reduced both activity and its presence, since the perceived threat from the Soviet Union no longer existed. Oslo’s new plans call for some facilities to be rebuilt and others demolished and replaced with a recruitment facility and a school for weapons training, complete with more modern and better-suited accommodations.
Military activity will be also boosted in the bordering county of Sør-Varanger, where millions of kronor have already been spent on two new border stations and the electronic surveillance of the Russian border.
In recent years, Norwegian-Russian relations have been marred by the increasing US military presence in Norway, which now includes 330 US Marines; Oslo hopes to see this number doubled. NATO has also increased its activity via major drills, such as the recent Trident Juncture, the largest on Norwegian soil in decades; Norway also plans to become part of the US missile shield.
A number of spying cases have also rattled the traditionally peaceful relations. A former Norwegian border inspector is being held in Moscow on suspicion of being a courier of cash and secret documents on a mission from Norway’s intelligence. Last autumn, a member of the Russian delegation was arrested in Oslo on suspicions of espionage in the Norwegian parliament, but later released.