NATO’s Destabilizing Exercises in Europe

March 11th, 2021 - by Paul McLeary / Breaking Defense & Manlio Dinucci / Il Manifesto

No ‘New Cold War’ As US Bombers Move Into Norwegian Base

“I guess if someone were to take a message . . . it’s that we’re not restricted to one particular location.” — Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of Air Forces in Europe/Africa.

Paul McLeary / Breaking Defense & Manlio Dinucci / Il Manifesto

WASHINGTON (March 2021) — A top Norwegian general insists that basing two US B-1B bombers in Norway isn’t meant as a threat to Russia. Instead, he argued, the new basing agreement at the country’s main F-35 base is simply a new opportunity to train in the Arctic.

 “We are not going into a new Cold War,” Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo, Chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters told reporters this morning, adding that Oslo has long operated in the High North close to the Russian border, and both sides have well-understood rules of the road for staying clear of one another. 

The deployment of the two bombers to Orland Main Air Station about 350 miles north of Oslo comes as the US military looks for more ways to operate in the Arctic, particularly relearning how to fly and sail in extreme cold, something it has done very little of since the fall of the Soviet Union.

B-1 bomber on “training mission.”

In a major move, in September Oslo acknowledged it had made improvements to port facilities at Tromso, about 190 miles above the Arctic Circle, to clear the way for increased visits by US nuclear submarines, providing a major new jumping off point for watching Russia’s active Northern Fleet as it transits into the North Atlantic.

Twice over the past year, the US Navy has made public displays of its submarines docking in Norway, sending a clear signal to Russia about the American presence in the region and providing a rare glimpse into the secretive world or undersea deployments. The visits were brief, and mostly for effect, but the upgraded facilities will allow American and NATO submarines to pull into the port and replenish, allowing for longer deployments to the critical Arctic region.

While the submarines will come, the bombers have already been busy.

Late last month, the B-1s flew their first Bomber Task Force mission over the Norwegian Sea alongside several Norwegian F-35s. But US military officials say the training is the point,  and isn’t meant as a warning to Moscow.

“There should be no message of a threat,” Gen. Steven Basham, deputy commander of Air Forces in Europe/Africa, added on the call. “This is how professional militaries increase their level of expertise, their level of capability, and ultimately for the United States, this is one more opportunity for us to be able to operate… in an environment that maybe we’ve not been before.” 

Norway has been quick to integrate their growing fleet of F-35s into NATO exercises and bilateral operations with the US. Eventually, the country will operate 52 F-35As based out of Orland and Evenes air bases, which will one day be joined by five of P-8 surveillance aircraft ordered in 2017, giving the country a much-needed boost in its ability to hunt and track Russian submarines. The planes will also be capable of assisting in search and rescue missions in the Arctic, as melting sea ice opens new shipping routes.

In 2019, Norway became just the third European country to declare the plane operational, after the UK and Italy.

The US has been flying the Lancers over Europe for some time, most recently on March 3 when they joined with fighters from Germany and Italy to fly over the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In May 2020, Lancers operated with English, Swedish, Dutch and Norwegian aircraft for a series of exercises that included the bomber’s first flight over Sweden. Then in September, two Lancers flew over the North Pole to Greenland.

The Norwegians have long been clear-eyed about their position as Russia’s neighbor, particularly being hard up against the Kola Peninsula, home to Russia’s powerful Northern Fleet, which operates Moscow’s most advanced submarines and surface vessels. 

The High North could soon see even more advanced fighter aircraft. In October, Finland took a step toward making a decision on its highly-anticipated fighter plane buy, officially adding the F-35 and F/A-18 to its list of European-made options.

The State Department sent Congress a notification that the country is considering acquiring 64 F-35s with a price tag of $12.5 billion, or 72 single and double seated F/A-18s, including Growlers, for $14.7 billion. The American aircraft are not alone in the competition. They also face France’s Dassault Rafale, the UK’s Eurofighter Typhoon and the Swedish Saab Gripen.

While Basham insisted that the bombers’ deployment isn’t meant to threaten Moscow, he also underscored the increasing American range in the region. “I guess if someone were to take a message [from the basing agreement], it’s that we’re not restricted to one particular location. That would be a good message for them to perceive.”

The Dangerous US / NATO Strategy in Europe

Manlio Dinucci / Il Manifesto

 (March 6, 2021) — The NATO Dynamic Manta anti-submarine warfare exercise took place in the Ionian Sea from February 22 to March 5.  Ships, submarines, and planes from the United States, Italy, France, Germany, Greece, Spain, Belgium, and Turkey participated in it.

The two main units involved in this exercise were a US Los Angeles class nuclear attack submarine and the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle together with its battle group, and a nuclear attack submarine was also included. Soon after the exercise, the Charles de Gaulle carrier went to the Persian Gulf.

Italy, which participated in the Dynamic Manta with ships and submarines, was the entire exercise “host nation”: Italy made the port of Catania (Sicily) and the Navy helicopter station (also in Catania) available to the participating forces, the Sigonella air station (the largest US / NATO base in the Mediterranean) and Augusta (both in Sicily) the logistics base for supplies. The purpose of the exercise was the hunt for Russian submarines in the Mediterranean that, according to NATO, would threaten Europe.

At the same time, the Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its battle group are carrying out operations in the Atlantic to “demonstrate continued US military support for allies and a commitment to keep the seas free and open.”

These operations — conducted by the Sixth Fleet, whose command is in Naples and base is in Gaeta — fall within the strategy set out in particular by Admiral Foggo, formerly head of the NATO Command in Naples: Accusing Russia of wanting to sink with its submarines the ships connecting the two sides of the Atlantic, so as to isolate Europe from the USA. 

He argued that NATO must prepare for the “Fourth Battle of the Atlantic,” after those of the two World Wars and the Cold War.  While naval exercises are underway, strategic B-1 bombers, transferred from Texas to Norway, are carrying out “missions” close to Russian territory, together with Norwegian F-35 fighters, to “demonstrate the readiness and capability of the United States in supporting the allies.”

Military operations in Europe and adjacent seas take place under the command of US Air Force General Tod Wolters, who heads the US European Command and at the same time NATO, with the position of Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, this position is always covered by a US General.

All these military operations are officially motivated as “Europe defense from Russian aggression,” overturning the reality — NATO  expanded into Europe with its forces and even nuclear bases close to Russia.

At the European Council on February 26, NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg declared that “the threats we faced before the pandemic are still there,” placing first “Russia’s aggressive actions” and, in the background, a threatening “rise of China.” He then stressed the need to strengthen the transatlantic link between the United States and Europe, as the new Biden administration strongly wants, taking cooperation between the EU and NATO to a higher level.

Over 90% of the European Union’s inhabitants, he recalled, now live in NATO countries (including 21 of the 27 EU countries). The European Council reaffirmed “the commitment to cooperate closely with NATO and the new Biden administration for security and defense, “making the EU militarily stronger.”

As Prime Minister Mario Draghi pointed out in his speech, this strengthening must take place within a complementarity framework with NATO and in coordination with the USA. Therefore, the military strengthening of the EU must be complementary to that of NATO, in turn, complementary to the US strategy.

This strategy actually consists in provoking growing tensions with Russia in Europe, so as to increase US influence in the European Union itself. An increasingly dangerous and expensive game, because it pushes Russia to militarily strengthen itself. This is confirmed by the fact that in 2020, in full crisis, Italian military spending stepped from 13th to the 12th place worldwide, overtaking the place of Australia.

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