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In aboriginal March, an estimated 7,500 American action troops will biking to Norway to accompany bags of soldiers from added NATO countries in a massive apish action with absurd advancing armament from Russia.

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In this affected apish assurance — it goes by the name of Exercise Cold Response 2020 — affiliated armament will “conduct bunch collective contest with a high-intensity action book in ambitious winter conditions,” or so claims the Norwegian advancing anyway.

At aboriginal glance, this may attending like any added NATO training exercise, but anticipate again. There’s abolishment accustomed about Cold Response 2020. As a start, it’s actuality staged aloft the Arctic Circle, far from any antecedent acceptable NATO battlefield, and it raises to a new akin the achievability of a great-power action that adeptness end in a nuclear barter and alternate annihilation.

Welcome, in added words, to Apple War III’s newest battlefield.

For the soldiers accommodating in the exercise, the potentially thermonuclear ambit of Cold Response 2020 may not be obvious. At its start, Marines from the United States and the United Kingdom will convenance massive amphibian landings forth Norway’s coastline, abundant as they do in agnate contest abroad in the world.

Exercise Cold Response 2020 takes abode in Norway, March 2-28, 2020. The exercise will booty abode primarily in the north, abreast Tromso. Norwegian Ministry of Aegis

Once ashore, however, the book becomes anytime added distinctive. Afterwards accession tanks and added abundant ammunition “prepositioned” in caves in Norway’s interior, the Marines will advance adjoin the country’s far-northern Finnmark amphitheatre to advice Norwegian armament avoid off Russian armament allegedly cloudburst above the border. From afresh on, the two abandon will appoint in — to use accepted Pentagon analogue — high-intensity action operations beneath Arctic altitude (a blazon of warfare not apparent on such a calibration aback Apple War II).

And that’s aloof the beginning. Unbeknownst to best Americans, the Finnmark amphitheatre of Norway and adjoining Russian breadth accept become one of the best acceptable battlegrounds for the aboriginal use of nuclear weapons in any approaching NATO-Russian conflict.

Because Moscow has concentrated a cogent allotment of its nuclear castigating adequacy on the Kola Peninsula, a alien amplitude of acreage abutting arctic Norway — any US-NATO success in absolute action with Russian armament abreast that breadth would endanger a cogent allotment of Russia’s nuclear armory and so adeptness accelerate the aboriginal use of such munitions. Alike a apish achievement — the anticipated aftereffect of Cold Response 2020 — will assuredly set Russia’s nuclear controllers on edge.

To acknowledge aloof how chancy any NATO-Russian affray in Norway’s far arctic would be, accede the region’s cartography and the cardinal factors that accept led Russia to apply so abundant advancing adeptness there.

And all of this, by the way, will be amphitheatre out in the ambience of accession existential danger: altitude change. The melting of the Arctic ice cap and the accelerated corruption of Arctic assets are lending this breadth anytime greater cardinal significance.

The Christophe de Margerie, right, an ice-class tanker adapted to carriage abounding accustomed gas, docked at the Arctic anchorage of Sabetta in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets district, March 30, 2017. Thomson Reuters

Look at any map of Europe and you’ll agenda that Scandinavia widens as it active southward into the best heavily busy genitalia of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. As you arch north, however, it anchorage and becomes anytime beneath populated.

At its acute arctic reaches, alone a attenuate bandage of Norway juts east to blow Russia’s Kola Peninsula. To the north, the Barents Sea, an adjunct of the Arctic Ocean, bound them both. This alien amphitheatre — about 800 afar from Oslo and 900 afar from Moscow — has, in contempo years, become a amphitheater of bread-and-butter and advancing activity.

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Once admired as a antecedent of basic minerals, abnormally nickel, adamant ore, and phosphates, this alien breadth is now the centermost of all-encompassing oil and accustomed gas extraction. With temperatures ascent in the Arctic active as fast as anywhere abroad on the planet and sea ice beat anytime added arctic every year, adopted fossil-fuel analysis has become added viable.

As a result, ample affluence of oil and accustomed gas — the actual fuels whose agitation is amenable for those ascent temperatures — accept been apparent beneath the Barents Sea and both countries are gluttonous to accomplishment those deposits. Norway has taken the lead, establishing at Hammerfest in Finnmark the world’s aboriginal bulb aloft the Arctic Circle to consign liquified accustomed gas. In a agnate fashion, Russia has accomplished efforts to accomplishment the behemothic Shtokman gas acreage in its breadth of the Barents Sea, admitting it has yet to accompany such affairs to fruition.

The Arctic oil rig Prirazlomnaya, endemic by action behemothic Gazprom, in the Barents Sea abreast Naryan Mar, Russia, September 14, 2014. (Photo by Dmitry Korotayev/Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)

For Russia, alike added cogent oil and gas affairs lie added east in the Kara and Pechora Seas and on the Yamal Peninsula, a attenuate addendum of Siberia. Its action companies have, in fact, already amorphous bearing oil at the Prirazlomnoye acreage in the Pechora Sea and the Novoportovskoye acreage on that peninsula (and accustomed gas there as well).

Such fields authority abundant affiance for Russia, which exhibits all the characteristics of a petro-state, but there’s one huge problem: The alone applied way to get that achievement to bazaar is via distinctively advised icebreaker-tankers beatific through the Barents Sea accomplished arctic Norway.

The corruption of Arctic oil and gas assets and their carriage to markets in Europe and Asia has become a aloft bread-and-butter antecedence for Moscow as its hydrocarbon affluence beneath the Arctic Circle activate to dry up. Despite calls at home for greater bread-and-butter diversity, President Vladimir Putin’s administration continues to assert on the axis of hydrocarbon assembly to the country’s bread-and-butter future.

In that context, assembly in the Arctic has become an capital civic objective, which, in turn, requires assured admission to the Atlantic Ocean via the Barents Sea and Norway’s adopted waters. Anticipate of that canal as basic to Russia’s action abridgement in the way the Strait of Hormuz, abutting the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean, is to the Saudis and added bounded fossil-fuel producers.

US Marines and Norwegian Forsvaret soldiers amount US Marine Corps MCCP-N accessories aboard the Britannia Seaways burden abode in Orkanger Port, Norway, in alertness for Exercise Cold Response, February 17, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Joseph Atiyeh

No beneath than Russia’s behemothic action firms, its agile allegation be able to admission the Atlantic via the Barents Sea and arctic Norway. Abreast from its Baltic and Black Sea ports, attainable to the Atlantic alone via passageways calmly blocked by NATO, the sole Russian anchorage with able admission to the Atlantic Ocean is at Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula.

Not decidedly then, that anchorage is additionally the abode for Russia’s Arctic Agile — its best able — and the armpit of abundant air, infantry, missile, and alarm bases forth with argosy shipyards and nuclear reactors. In added words, it’s amid the best acute advancing regions in Russia today.

Given all this, President Putin has essentially rebuilt that actual fleet, which fell into busted afterwards the collapse of the Soviet Union, accouterment it with some of the country’s best avant-garde warships. In 2018, according to “The Advancing Balance,” a advertisement of the International Institute for Cardinal Studies, it already bedevilled the bigger cardinal of avant-garde cruisers and destroyers (10) of any Russian fleet, forth with 22 advance submarines and abundant abutment vessels. Additionally in the Murmansk breadth are dozens of avant-garde MiG fighter planes and a advanced array of anti-aircraft aegis systems.

Finally, as 2019 ended, Russian advancing admiral adumbrated for the aboriginal time that they had deployed to the Arctic the Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile, a weapon able of hypersonic velocities (more than bristles times the acceleration of sound), afresh apparently to a abject in the Murmansk amphitheatre aloof 125 afar from Norway’s Finnmark, the armpit of the accessible NATO exercise.

A Russian Air Force MiG-31K jet with a Kh-47M2 Kinzhal high-precision hypersonic aero-ballistic missile over Moscow, May 9, 2018. AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

More cogent yet is the way Moscow has been deepening its nuclear armament in the region. Like the United States, Russia maintains a “triad” of nuclear commitment systems, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), all-embracing “heavy” bombers, and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

Under the agreement of the New Cardinal Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), active by the two countries in 2010, the Russians can arrange no added than 700 commitment systems able of accustomed no added than 1,550 warheads. (That alliance will, however, expire in February 2021 unless the two abandon accede to an extension, which appears added absurd in the age of Trump.)

According to the Arms Control Association, the Russians are currently believed to be deploying the warheads they are accustomed beneath New START on 66 abundant bombers, 286 ICBMs, and 12 submarines with 160 SLBMs. Eight of those nuclear-armed subs are, in fact, assigned to the Arctic Fleet, which agency about 110 missiles with as abounding as 500 warheads — the exact numbers abide buried in clandestineness — are deployed in the Murmansk area.

For Russian nuclear strategists, such nuclear-armed submarines are advised the best “survivable” of the country’s castigating systems. In the accident of a nuclear barter with the United States, the country’s abundant bombers and ICBMs could prove almost accessible to pre-emptive strikes as their locations are accepted and can be targeted by American bombs and missiles with near-pinpoint accuracy.

Those subs, however, can leave Murmansk and abandon into the advanced Atlantic Ocean at the access of any crisis and so apparently abide hidden from US spying eyes. To do so, however, requires that they canyon through the Barents Sea, alienated the NATO armament ambuscade nearby.

For Moscow, in added words, the actual achievability of black a US nuclear bang hinges on its adeptness to avert its argosy bastion in Murmansk, while action its submarines accomplished Norway’s Finnmark region. No wonder, then, that this breadth has affected astronomic cardinal accent for Russian advancing planners — and the accessible Cold Response 2020 is abiding to prove arduous to them.

Lt.j.g. Peter Schmillen, administrator in allegation of Underwater Architecture Aggregation One (UCT-1), allotment of Agile Expeditionary Action Force Europe-Africa/Task Force (CTF) 68, cuts an emergency avenue aperture in the ice of a arctic basin in Skjold, Norway as allotment of Exercise Cold Response 2020, February 21, 2020. US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Mark Andrew Hays

During the Cold War era, Washington beheld the Arctic as a cogent cardinal amphitheatre and complete a cord of advancing bases above the region. Their capital aim: To ambush Soviet bombers and missiles bridge the Arctic Pole on their way to targets in Arctic America. Afterwards the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, Washington alone abounding of those bases.

Now, however, with the Pentagon already afresh anecdotic “great adeptness competition” with Russia and China as the defining appropriate of the present cardinal environment, abounding of those bases are actuality reoccupied and new ones established. Already again, the Arctic is actuality beheld as a abeyant armpit of action with Russia and, as a result, US armament are actuality readied for accessible action there.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the aboriginal official to explain this new cardinal angle at the Arctic Forum in Finland aftermost May. In his address, a affectionate of “Pompeo Doctrine,” he adumbrated that the United States was alive from amiable carelessness of the amphitheatre to advancing captivation and militarization.

“We’re entering a new age of cardinal assurance in the Arctic,” he insisted, “complete with new threats to the Arctic and its absolute estate, and to all of our interests in that region.” To bigger assure those interests adjoin Russia’s advancing accretion there, “we are animating America’s aegis and adept attendance in the area… hosting advancing exercises, deepening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, accretion Bank Bouncer funding, and creating a new chief advancing column for Arctic Affairs central of our own military.”

A Logistic Agent System Replacement campaign aural in a accompany of US Marine Corps cartage from the MCCP-N caves to Vӕrnes, February 11, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Joseph Atiyeh

The Pentagon has been afraid to accommodate abounding details, but a abutting account of the advancing columnist suggests that this action has been decidedly focused on arctic Norway and adjoining waters. To activate with, the Marine Corps has accustomed a abiding attendance in that country, the aboriginal time adopted armament accept been stationed there aback German troops active it during Apple War II.

A disengagement of about 330 Marines were initially deployed abreast the anchorage of Trondheim in 2017, apparently to advice bouncer adjoining caves that accommodate hundreds of US tanks and action vehicles. Two years later, a analogously sized accumulation was afresh accomplished to the Troms amphitheatre aloft the Arctic Circle and far afterpiece to the Russian border.

From the Russian perspective, alike added aggressive is the architecture of a US alarm base on the Norwegian island of Vardø about 40 afar from the Kola Peninsula. To be operated in affiliation with the Norwegian intelligence service, the focus of the ability will clearly be to busybody on those Russian missile-carrying submarines, assumedly in adjustment to ambition them and booty them out in the ancient stages of any conflict.

That Moscow fears aloof such an aftereffect is axiomatic from the apish advance it staged on the Vardø ability in 2018, sending 11 Su-24 supersonic bombers on a absolute aisle adjoin the island. (They angry abreast at the aftermost moment.) It has additionally confused a surface-to-surface missile array to a atom aloof 40 afar from Vardø.

In addition, in August 2018, the US Agile absitively to clean the ahead decommissioned Second Agile in the Arctic Atlantic. “A new Second Agile increases our cardinal adaptability to acknowledge — from the Eastern Seaboard to the Barents Sea,” said Chief of Argosy Operations John Richardson at the time. As aftermost year ended, that agile was declared absolutely operational.

A US Marine waits to lath a agent above-mentioned to a accompany abandonment from Vӕrnes to Orkanger Port, February 14, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Joseph Atiyeh

Exercise Cold Response 2020 allegation be beheld in the ambience of all these developments. Few capacity about the cerebration abaft the accessible war amateur accept been fabricated public, but it’s not adamantine to brainstorm what at atomic allotment of the book adeptness be like: A US-Russian affray of some array arch to Russian attacks aimed at abduction that alarm base at Vardø and Norway’s aegis abode at Bodø on the country’s northwestern coast.

The advancing troops will be slowed but not chock-full by Norwegian armament (and those US Marines stationed in the area), while bags of reinforcements from NATO bases abroad in Europe activate to cascade in. Eventually, of course, the advance will about-face and the Russians will be affected back.

No amount what the official book is like, however, for Pentagon planners the bearings will go far above this. Any Russian advance on analytical Norwegian advancing accessories would apparently be preceded by acute air and missile battery and the advanced deployment of aloft argosy vessels. This, in turn, would active commensurable moves by the US and NATO, apparently consistent in agitated encounters and the accident of aloft assets on all sides.

In the process, Russia’s key nuclear castigating armament would be at accident and bound placed on aerial active with chief admiral operating in analytical mode. Any misstep adeptness afresh advance to what altruism has feared aback August 1945: a nuclear apocalypse on Planet Earth.

US Marine Corps MCCP-N Aerial Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Cartage accompany from Vӕrnes to Orkanger Port, Norway, February 14, 2020. US Marine Corps/Cpl. Joseph Atiyeh

There is no way to apperceive to what amount such considerations are congenital into the classified versions of the Cold Response 2020 scenario, but it’s absurd that they’re missing. Indeed, a 2016 adaptation of the exercise complex the accord of three B-52 nuclear bombers from the US Cardinal Air Command, advertence that the American advancing is actively acquainted of the escalatory risks of any all-embracing US-Russian appointment in the Arctic.

In short, what adeptness contrarily assume like a accepted training exercise in a abroad allotment of the apple is absolutely allotment of an arising US action to overpower Russia in a analytical arresting zone, an access that could calmly aftereffect in nuclear war. The Russians are, of course, able-bodied acquainted of this and so will assuredly be watching Cold Response 2020 with 18-carat trepidation. Their fears are barefaced — but we should all be anxious about a action that acutely embodies such a aerial accident of approaching escalation.

Ever aback the Soviets acquired nuclear weapons of their own in 1949, strategists accept wondered how and breadth an absolute nuclear war — Apple War III — would breach out. At one time, that damaging book was believed best acceptable to absorb a affray over the disconnected burghal of Berlin or forth the East-West bound in Germany.

After the Cold War, however, fears of such a baleful appointment evaporated and few gave abundant anticipation to such possibilities. Looking advanced today, however, the anticipation of a adverse Apple War III is afresh acceptable all too apprehensible and this time, it appears, an adventure in the Arctic could prove the atom for Armageddon.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is the five-college assistant emeritus of accord and apple aegis studies at Hampshire College and a chief visiting adolescent at the Arms Control Association. He is the columnist of 15 books, including the just-published “All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Angle on Altitude Change” (Metropolitan Books), on which this commodity is based.

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