Norwegian Defense Minister Johan Holst said yesterday that Canada's decision to reassign its 5,000-person brigade from Norway to central Europe "is sending the wrong signal" to NATO and undercutting the deterrence created by having several nations with forces in that northern outpost of the alliance.
Holst said Canada's redeployment decision "puts us in a difficult position" by narrowing the base of visible support for Norway in peacetime and reducing military options during periods of tension or war. "There might be contingencies where it would be more appropriate, less escalatory" for Norway to be reinforced by battalions of Canadian troops, rather than by American forces, Holst added.
The Canadian government cited economic pressures in announcing the redeployment plan, which includes transferring to West Germany the brigade previously committed to Norway. Canadian troops had been rotating in and out of Norway for military exercises but had not been stationed there permanently.
"Our biggest worry," Holst said, "is that if there is a war, Norway will be an early target" of the Soviet Union. He said the Soviets are likely to try to destroy or take over Norwegian airfields in the first days of a war. The more nations that commit forces to Norway's defense, he said, the less likely that Norway will be attacked.
Holst has been meeting this week with Reagan administration and congressional officials in an attempt to assure them that Norway has taken steps to prevent further transfers of sensitive technology to the Soviets. The Norwegian armaments firm Kongsberg Vaapenfabrikk supplied the Soviet Union with computerized controls it needed to make submarine propellers that were quieter, and thus harder for forces of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to detect.
Holst said he will ask the Norwegian Parliament this fall to pass legislation allowing stiffer penalties for anyone who tries to avoid export controls on sensitive technology. He predicted the measure would pass with little difficulty, citing widespread agreement in Norway that current laws dating back to World War II do not address today's needs.