According to the protesters, the port calls by US nuclear submarines endanger the inhabitants and the local environment, draw Norway into a superpower conflict and make the city of Tromsø, Western Europe’s largest above the Arctic circle, a military target.
On Tuesday, 11 December, the nuclear submarine USS Washington arrived in Tromsø in northern Norway, sparking strong reactions and protests.
The US submarine is armed with cruise missiles and tasked with patrolling the northern waters, where Russian submarines sail out of the Northern fleet’s bases at the Kola Bay and the Barents Sea.
According to protesters who gathered outside the guarded gates of the Tønsnes harbour outside of Tromsø, the port calls make Norway a piece in a dangerous game between superpowers.
Håkon Elvenes of the organisation “No to nuclear-powered warships” believes that US nuclear submarines should not be allowed to dock in Norway, and is concerned about the symbolic effect of them being invited into Norwegian waters.
“This represents a dangerous mix of military and civilian purposes. It is a mixture that may be in conflict with international law, and which hasn’t been assessed well enough by the Norwegian authorities,” Elvenes argued to national broadcaster NRK. “There is always a risk that something can happen to any nuclear reactor, we have plenty of examples of that. And if something happens first, the consequences will be great,” he added.
Elvenes’s organisation received support from the Young Reds, the youth wing of the Reds Party. Its leader Alberta Tennøe Bekkhus argued that that NATO has pursued aggressive rhetoric and a provocative policy against Russia, and that Norway is to blame for welcoming large military forces from the US. By facilitating port calls by nuclear US submarines, Norway is stirring the superpower conflict further, she argued.
“It is absolutely right to criticise Russia for a lot of what it does, but we think it is beside the point to only talk about Russia, when the West and Norway also have been involved in creating this conflict,” Bekkhus told NRK.
Therefore, the Young Reds argue that a new agreement between the US and Norway on the military use of Norwegian soil is completely wrong.
“Now you will actually introduce permanent areas that can be used for this. It will only make Norway more insecure,” Bekkhus argued.
Bekkhus referred to the Supplementary Defence Cooperation Agreement (SDCA), which facilitates further defence ties with the US. The agreement complements existing bilateral agreements with the US and NATO and allows for the creation of so-called “agreed areas” at Norwegian military bases to be used jointly by Norwegian, US and allied forces. It is furthermore possible for the US to set up its own infrastructure on the bases, which are paid for by the US, with American usage rights, but will be owned by Norway.
“The fact that we invite American forces in the way we do makes us more insecure. It contributes to unnecessary provocations and further conflict,” Bekkrus mused. “The way NATO is doing now, I believe it makes the world more insecure. This puts Norway in a more dangerous situation,” she concluded.
Last year, a visit by a fellow US sub sparked similar reactions and protests as it transpired that the Tromsø municipality lacked the expertise or equipment to handle a possible accident with radioactive leakage, which could lead to a deadly public health crisis as well as environmental pollution.
Reds Party leader Bjørnar Moxnes argued that the Defence Ministry had underestimated and downplayed the consequences of an accident and stressed that Tromsø will become a major military target.
With a population of above 71,000, the city of Tromsø is Western Europe’s largest above the Arctic Circle.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry condemned the last port call that happened in May 2021 and suggested that the civil port in the immediate vicinity of the Russian border was becoming “the next NATO outpost”.