Geneva — The latest Western effort to redress the balance of forces at NATO's northernmost tip has increased tensions between the Nordic states and the Soviet Union.
The Western aim has been to offset the huge military capacity that the Soviets have amassed in recent years on the Kola Peninsula not far from the Norwegian border.
Hence an agreement signed by the United States and Norway earlier this year enabling US military equipment to be stored in central Norway, ready to be used in an emergency by troops flown in from outside the country.
But the Soviets have seen the move as a threat to their massive Kola installations. Even though not a single US marine will be stationed permanently in Norway, they say the agreement has provoked a major increase in military tension in the hitherto low-key Nordic region.
The move was preceded by unusually severe Soviet protests throughout 1980, insisting -- despite repeated Norwegian assurances to the contrary -- that the agreement undermined Norway's traditional postwar policy of not allowing any foreign bases on her territory.
The situation is grave enough, however, to have prompted Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Frydenlund to visit his Soviet counterpart, Andrei Gromyko, in Moscow Dec. 21, 1980, for discussions of the issue. It was is the first Norwegian-Soviet contact of this sort in 15 years.
The incident also illustrates a fundamental change in the regional strategic equation. Recognizing the power of the Soviet Union, postwar Nordic policy has always been based upon balancing military and political deterrence of the USSR with reasurances that no Nordic state threatened vital regional Soviet security interests.
The essential prerequisite for this policy was that the region be of negligible strategic interest to both superpowers. This allowed the Nordic states to keep how levels of military forces and alliance links, keeping regional tensions low. The present incident indicates that this policy is becoming increasingly difficult to pursue today.
The roots of the change lie in the Soviet decision in the early 1960s to establish an oceangoing navy, and the growth of her strategic nuclear submarine fleet. Both of these prompted a Soviet search for a viable naval base, which the Soviets found in the Kola Peninsula. Unlike the six other Soviet coastal areas, this is not blocked by "choke points." The Kola Peninsula is also ice-free and within logistical reach of Soviet industrial and demographic centers.
Today the Kola is the world's largest naval base. Of the five Soviet naval base areas, the Kola houses 75 percent of the strategic submarine fleet and 40 percent of her surface fleet, composed of her most modern units. As a consequence Soviet strategic interest in the Nordic area is acute, and her naval power in the adjacent seas is growing to a point where the rough military balance of the past no longer exists.
It is in this context that the Norwegian-Us agreement must be seen. Norwegian defense depends upon allied reinforcements, which so far had to arrive by sea. With growing Soviet naval control of the sea lanes in the Norwegian Sea the reinforcements could no longer be guaranteed. Hence the decision to prestock the heavy equipment, allowing the soldiers to be flown in, bypassing Soviet barriers.
The dilemma that will face the Nordic states in the 1980s is whether to continue trying to balance Soviet military growth, increasing tensions and risking conflict, or whether to try to maintain low tensions at the cost of leaving them vulnerable to Soviet military intervention or pressure. Whereas in the past the two could be reconciled, this is growing increasingly difficult now.