Norway: NATO Rehearses For War In The Arctic
The largest military exercise in the High North, inside and immediately outside the Arctic Circle, since the end of the Cold War (and perhaps even before) was completed on March 21 in northern Norway.
Except for the crash of a Norwegian military transport plane in Sweden during its course the world would have been unaware of it.
Cold Response 2012 was conducted from March 12-21 primarily in Norway but also in Sweden with the participation of 16,300 troops from fifteen nations as part of full spectrum - air, sea, infantry and special forces - maneuvers against the backdrop of the past three years' new scramble for the Arctic.
The term High North is a translation of the Norwegian designation nordområdene which was adopted by NATO in January of 2009 for its two-day Seminar on Security Prospects in the High North in Reykjavík, Iceland attended by the bloc's secretary general, chairman of its Military Committee and two top military commanders, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe and the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation.
Four of the five Arctic claimants - the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark - are members of NATO. The other, Russia, is not. In 2010 Norway became the first Arctic nation to move its military command center within the Arctic Circle, transferring the Norwegian Operational Command Headquarters from Stavanger to Bodø, a five-story complex built during the Cold War to withstand a nuclear attack. The preceding year Norway purchased 48 Lockheed Martin F-35 fifth generation multirole fighters.
Last month's Cold Response was the largest of five such exercises held since 2006. The first was the largest military exercise ever conducted in Norway, with 10,000 troops from eleven nations. All NATO member states, at the time 26, were invited to participate.
The next, in 2007, included 8,500 military personnel. The third, in 2009, consisted of 7,000 troops from eleven nations and the fourth, in 2010, included 8,500 soldiers from fourteen nations.
This year's Arctic drills were almost twice as large in terms of troop numbers as any preceding one.
Information on the exercise was scarce before, during and after the event; even the full roster of participating nations was not disclosed by the Norwegian military.
According to the website of the Norwegian Armed Forces, military forces from fifteen nations were involved - NATO members Norway, the U.S., Britain, France, Canada and the Netherlands - as well as Partnership for Peace affiliate Sweden, part of whose territory was employed for the exercise.
The other eight nations were not identified but the exercise was described as a joint Norwegian-NATO-Partnership for Peace undertaking. One of only a handful of English-language reports on the subject, from Finland, confirmed that nation's participation. Finland and Sweden are for all intents the 29th and 30th members of the Alliance.
The other Partnership for Peace states involved are likely to have been, among others, former Soviet republics like Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine.
According to the Norwegian Armed Forces, "The main purpose of this year's winter exercise is to rehearse high intensity operations in winter conditions within NATO with a UN mandate."
The source added: "Participants will rehearse deploying and using military reaction forces in an area of crisis where they have to handle everything from high intensity warfare to terror threats and mass demonstrations. The soldiers have to balance the use of diplomatic and military force."
High-intensity warfare, terror threats and mass demonstrations in the Arctic...
It also described live-fire infantry, naval and air - with the participation of fighter jets and helicopters operating from several Norwegian and Swedish bases and from aircraft carriers - components of the exercise.
The ground forces included U.S. Marines. According to the Marine Corps Times, "After years of fighting in a desert environment, most Marines may not think of the North Pole often, but the area abounds with oil, gas and other minerals, making it one of the most contentious regions of the world."