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NATO forms new multinational force

For the first time since World War II, Oslo has agreed to allow West German combat troops into Norway by establishing a new multinational NATO force to defend its northern flank. Norway has hailed the decision as a strengthening of the alliance's commitment to the country.

A statement Friday from NATO headquarters in Brussels said the United States, Canada, and West Germany had offered to participate in the replacement for a Canadian brigade that Ottawa has said it wants to withdraw.

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Norway, a founding member of the 16-nation North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949, does not base allied combat troops on its soil in peacetime and would rely almost totally on reinforcements in times of crisis.

``This ... will extend our defense capabilities in important areas,'' Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland told a news conference. ``It represents a strengthening of allied commitment to the defense of Norway.''

Government sources and diplomats from NATO countries said the new force would comprise a Canadian infantry battalion and two field artillery battalions, one from the US and one from West Germany.

The NATO statement said negotiations were still continuing on the exact composition of the force, but the sources said there were unlikely to be any changes.

``It's all pretty much sewn up,'' said one Oslo-based diplomat from a major NATO country.

The three battalions will be based in their home countries and will regularly practise rapid deployment in Norway's harsh winter conditions. No date has yet been set for the first exercise, Norwegian defense officials said.

The country's 325,000-strong armed forces face one of the world's biggest concentrations of naval might on the Soviet Kola Peninsula, just across their common Arctic border. Norway covers the approaches to vital Atlantic shipping lanes.

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