Friday, June 30, 2017

Cold War In A Cold Place

"This place is very, very important for America and for the Western world so that they can keep an eye on what the Russians are doing."
"Russia wants to look into our secrets, and the United States and Norway want to look into their business."
"That is the way the game is played."
Lasse Haughom, former mayor, Vardo, Norway

"Russia views Vardo as a high-value target. In a crisis it will be one of the first places to be blown up."
"There is a new Cold War but it is more threatening than the old one because Russia is so much weaker, and because of that much more dangerous and unpredictable."
Lieutenant Colonel Tormod Heier, faculty adviser, Norwegian Defense University College, Oslo
The Globus radar system in Vardo, northern Norway
The Globus radar system in Vardo, northern Norway: Photo Norwegian Armed Forces

Vardo, a tiny island in the Arctic on Norwegian territory, was once an outpost involved in the fishing industry. That was up until the collapse of the fishing stock. But until then generations of Norwegians depended on fish for their livelihood. Now there is a different industry in Vardo, one not spoken of openly, but it is one which necessitated the laying of a heavy cable in a tunnel under the Arctic separating the island from the Norwegian mainland.

The local power company, citing an unexplained surge in demand for electricity began laying in increased energy supplies in May. That new electricity cable fuels an important new business in the region, initiated as a result of Russia's enlarged fleet of nuclear submarines in the Barents Sea. That those nuclear submarines are armed with ballistic missiles gives a sense of urgency to the enterprise. And that enterprise is one that has been going on since time immemorial when one country spied on another.

Now, a new radar system is under construction in proximate sight of a Russian territory which is the site of high-security naval bases, the Kola Peninsula. The game that President Vladimir Putin initialed of primacy in the high Arctic with a view to exploiting a future of climate change openings of shipping routes and vast stores of gas and minerals located on and under the ocean floor, prompted the planting of a titanium Russian flag on that sea floor.
Image result for arctic floor, russian plutonium flag

The Russian naval bases where submarines armed with multiple ballistic missiles are located is 65 kilometers across the Arctic from Vardo. Making the placement of a sophisticated radar system called Globus III of huge interest to both Norway and the United States, which is funding the project. Moscow is none too pleased with this joint U.S.-Norwegian radar project. It identifies the situation as an American Defense Department plan to isolate and surround Russian resurgence.

The Russian nuclear arsenal and its capability of launching a retaliatory strike from its Arctic submarine fleet is uppermost in the minds of the Norwegians. The American missile defence program infuriates Mr. Putin no end, challenging as it does Moscow's claim to superpower status. That American program, according to President Putin "destroys the strategic balance in the world." Vardo now represents a locale of great strategic interest to the United States.

The radar system, funded by America, is operated by Norwegians, but the main hotel in Vardo hosts American technicians along with spies who disguise their interest in being there as dedicated bird watchers. Yet, a former local fisherman Aksel Robertsen, is grateful for the presence of the Americans and the radar system, employing locals to ensure that the 2,100 population has meaningful work and no reason to leave the island to find employment elsewhere.

The presence of radar radiation troubles some residents, however. On a street located close by the radar system, women had suffered miscarriages, leaving them uncertain whether radiation from the radar system had a role. They are also concerned with what seems like a potential: "If war breaks out we will be the first place the Russians bomb", said May-Sissel Dorme of Vardo.

Globus-II radar in Vardø, Norway
Globus II radar in Vardo, Norway: Norwegian Armed Forces

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