Even in the midst of a notably frigid Norwegian winter, the added chill of cold war can be felt here in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the internal exile of Nobel Prize winner Andrei Sakharov.
Norwegian citizens were unusually alarmed and angered, according to officials and opinion leaders interviewed here. They marched in torchlight parades along the icy streets to protest at the Soviet Embassy here, and canceled ticket and tour reservations for next summer's Olympics in Mocow. The Norwegian Olympic Committee was the first in a NATO nation to vote to boycott the games unless Soviet troops are withdrawn from Afghanistan.
Norway's left-of-center leadership, which delivered some of the strongest Western denunciations of the Soviet actions, "is feeling the colder climate building up within the country," according to one knowledgeable official here. He and others said Norwegians were particularly offended by the arrest of a Nobel Prize recipent and worried about the implications here of what they saw as an inexplicable use of force by the Soviets against a small neighbor.
At the strategic northern tip of Scandinavia, not far from the Soviets' powerful northern fleet based at Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, Norway is the neighbor of both the Soviet Union and Finland. Norwegian and Soviet territorial waters and offshore economic zones overlap in the Barents Sea, where the two countries are locked in a demarcation dispute over valuable fishing and offshore oil drilling rights.
The neighboring Finns, in turn, share with the Soviets a much longer border, as well as extensive trade and other contacts and a mutual friendship and assistance treaty. Norwegian defense preparations have long been predicated on the possibility of a Soviet invasion over its short Arctic border with Norway on across the frozen north of Finland.
Officials and analysts here stress, however, that there are many more differences than similarities between Finland and pre-invasion Afghanistan, and that there have been no signs since the Afghan crisis began of any new threat to Scandinavia's sensitive "Nordic balance" of Finland facing the Soviet Union on the east, neutral but heavily armed Sweden in the middle, and NATO allies Norway and Denmark on the west.
"The tone and atmosphere of East-West relations everywhere has clearly changed and that will eventually have an impact on the Norwegian-Russian relationship," said Johan Jorgen Holst, Norwegian foreign affairs under secretary. But militaryly, he emphasized, "The status quo very much prevails."
As East-West tensions increase elsewhere during the Afghan crisis, attention is inevitably being focused on both Norway and Denmark on the exposed northern flank of NATO defense. In the event of war, the Soviets' northern fleet of nuclear missile submarines would have to go through Norwegian waters to reach the North Atlantic and the Soviet Baltic fleet would have to pass through the islands of Denmark. This makes both Scandinavian countries much more important militarily than their small populations and standing armies would otherwise warrant.
In recent years, Norwegian and Danish officials had become concerned about the steady buildup of the Soviet fleets in the Barents and Baltic seas, the proximity to Danish and Norwegian territory of Eastern bloc aircraft and ships on patrol and manuevers, and occasional Soviet pressures on Finland to cooperate more closely with its neighbors.
Officials here read closely last week's U.S. defense posture statement by Defense Secretary Harold Brown, who told Congress he remained "concerned about the situation on the NATO flanks." Brown said the United States was considering plans, welcomed by Norway, to position more military equipment on the northern flanks for use by NATO troops.
Brown also revealed that the had strongly urged the Danish government to honor the commitment made by all 15 NATO countries to increase their defense spending by 3 percent above inflation each year. Norway, its budget fattened by growing North Sea oil revenues, is already doing so, as officials pointed out here.
But Denmark, with much less income from its relatively small slice of the North Sea oil and gas fields, is suffering from a crippling economic crisis. Seeking political support for some way to reduce inflation, government debt and welfare state spending, the minority government of Prime Minister Anker Jorgensen has given in to left-wing pressure inside his own Social Democratic Party to level off or even reduce defense spending.
In Norway, Prime Minister Odvar Nordli also had to override strong opposition from the left wing of his Labor Party and the strong Norwegian dislike of nuclear weapons to support last December's NATO decision to wodernize its tactical nuclear arsenal in Europe. But everyone interviewed said controversy had been obilterated by what one television journalist called the "almost unanimous" national reaction against the invasion of Afghanistan and the exile of Sakharov.
Norwegian officials said they understood the financial and political problems Jorgensen faces in Denmark and realizes he may not be able to meet the NATO spending target. But they also said that Norway's security rests more on its own well-armed military and rugged mountainous terrain, on extensive reinforcements pledged by NATO in time of war, and on the sophisticated independent defenses of neighboring Sweden.
Sweden also has been force by budget constraints to reduce the quantity of its warplanes and troops in recent years but officials here note that the Swedes have continuted to improve the quality of their highly sophisticated planes and weaponry. Swenden is still a weighty factor here in the north," observed one Norwegian diplomat.
Officials and analysts here also emphasized that it was impossible for them to envision Finland, despite its ties with the Soviet Union, as a future Afghanistan. Although Norwegian citizens worried that the invasion of Afghanistan represented a "crossing of the threshold" by the Soviets that might be repeated elsewhere, Arne Bruntland of the Norwegian Institue of International Affairs said, "Parallelism between Finland and Afghanistan is simply false."
He and others pointed out that Finland is a solidly stable democracy with a highly developed economy and able military increasingly well-equipped with modern weapons largely bought from the Soviets, with whom Finnish leaders have established a subtle, mutually reassuring diplomatic relationship.
Nevertheless, Norwegian officials continue to work to make the NATO deterrent to an attack here "credible," by "prestocking" ammunition, fuel and, if negotiations with the United States are successful, "heavy equipment, including tracked and untracked vehicles and artillery" that could not be easily airlifted here in an emergency. The Norwegians also welcome cold-weather training exercises here by small but representative numbers of U.S. British and Canadian troops who would be sent in the event of an attack on Norway.
"An aggressor needs to know the identity of the forces that would be encountered in a conflict here," said one Norwegian official. "He needs to know it would not just be a conflict with Norway."