This article was updated June 13, 2021, to include comments from NATO headquarters.
WASHINGTON ― NATO allies are poised to formally oppose the alliance deploying ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe, following U.S. President Joe Biden’s meeting with fellow heads of state set for June 14 in Brussels, Defense News has learned.
The position, which echoes past remarks from Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, is set out in a draft communiqué for release after the NATO summit, according to one U.S. Senate aide and one European official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the closely held document.
A NATO spokesperson on Sunday declined to comment on the communiqué's contents, saying the discussions were ongoing.
The potential move is seen as possible way to ease tensions with Moscow and to tee up an arms control dialogue ahead of the U.S.-Russia summit in Geneva on June 16.
The NATO discussions come amid news Moscow will again propose a moratorium on the deployment of land-based intermediate- and shorter-range missiles, reported by Russian state media this week.
The issue has faced scrutiny since Russia deployed land-based SSC-8 missiles, which the U.S. said violated the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That prompted then-President Donald Trump’s 2019 withdrawal from the INF Treaty. (Russia has claimed the U.S. violated the treaty, which U.S. officials denied.)
In a statement, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said the following:
“Russia’s proposal for a moratorium for a freeze in the deployment of nuclear missiles in Europe is not a credible offer because it disregards the reality on the ground. The reality is that Russia has already deployed the SSC-8, which led to the demise of the INF arms control treaty.
“Unless and until Russia verifiably destroys the SSC-8 system, this moratorium is not a real offer. There are no new US missiles in Europe, but there are new Russian missiles. NATO remains fully committed to disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation.”
Lungescu said that its been NATO’s longstanding position, and Stoltenberg has repeatedly made clear over the years, that “Allies will not mirror Russia’s missile build-up and that Allies have no intention of deploying new land-based nuclear missiles to Europe.”
After the Trump administration and NATO dismissed Russia’s proposed moratorium in 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron urged reconsideration of the moratorium.
Biden, whose approval is needed for the communiqué, would likely receive praise from arms control advocates but blowback from hawkish nuclear weapons advocates in Congress, should the ban on ground-based nuclear missiles in Europe become official.
Tim Morrison, who oversaw the nuclear portfolio on Trump’s National Security Council and is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said the last administration rejected Russia’s moratorium offer because it considered the country a dishonest partner on arms control. Morrison believes that sacrificing the option to field the weapons in Europe would deny the U.S. bargaining power at the upcoming Geneva summit.
“If this is a unilateral concession to Russia, that’s a terrible idea; and if it’s a bilateral concession, that’s not much better because you can’t trust Russia,” he said. “Why would we take an option off the table we may need in the future to respond to belligerent actions by Russia?”
Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.