The Norwegian border with the Soviet Union is 196 kilometers of arctic desolation. it runs from the Soviet settlement of Nautsi along the Pasvikelv River and reaches the Barents Sea at the entrace of Varanger fiord. It is just snow, ice, and sub-zeo temperatures, and at this time of the year it is in perpetual darkness.
East meets West in a frozen wilderness. The ice is a fitting backdrop to the present state of relations between the Soviet Union and its Scandinavian neighbor.
The decision to allow the United States to store weapons on Norwegian territory, in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan a year ago, has provoked an angry reaction from the Soviets.
On a recent visit to Moscow, Norwegian Foreign Minister Knut Frydenlund was blasted by a strong verbal attack from Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Mr. Gromyko's December outburst was only the culmination of a long campaign by the Soviet press against the Norwegian-US agreement.
Mr. Frydenlund played down his confrontation in Moscow. He said he was satisfied with the results of his conversation with Mr. Gromyko. He said he had outlined Norway's policies concerning defense and had explained that "certain measures" had been necessary in view of developments in the north.
Mr. Gromyko, too, was careful to point out that his government wants to maintain the "traditionally good relations" that exists between Norway and the Soviet Union. But there was no disguising the fact that Frydenlund had been told in no uncertain terms about Soviet misgivings at the new agreement with the US.
The agreement has also been subject of a heated debate in Norway itself.
The ruling Labor Party is by no means united on defense issues, and Prime Minister Odvar Nordli is forced to walk a precarious tightrope between left and right.
It was internal pressure, coupled with the Soviet press onslaught, that led Mr. Nordli to instruct his defense minister, Thorvald Stoltenberg, to "clear the air" by making public just what will be stored by the Us Marines at Trondelag in northern Norway.
The equipment, Mr. Stoltenberg revealed at a press conference, will include air, artillery, infantry, and tank weaponry. There will be 24 howitzers with a range of 40 kilometers, bridge building equipment, 250 trucks, ammunition, fuel, 24 Phantom jets, 40 Harriers, and 68 Skyhawks along with 75 helicopters.
In addition, Norway will supply 150 Caterpillar trucks able to tackle icy conditions, 90 ordinary trucks, 35 ambulances, and 6 armored cars.
The Norwegians say the agreement is necessary because of recent Soviet strengthening of its seaborne forces in northern Europe. What particularly worries NATO officials in Norway is the new type of Soviet submarine they have code-named "Oscar."
This new, fast missile-bearing sub, along with the highly developed Soviet nuclear submarine force, puts increasing emphasis on Murmansk, the Soviets' main submarine base, the first major port along the coast from the Norwegian-Soviet border.
Now looking east from Varanger fiord, the sky is dark with something more than the arctic night.