The U.S. military has held preliminary discussions about moving a powerful missile defense system to Germany to boost European defenses, according to two sources familiar with the issue, a move that experts said could trigger fresh tensions with Moscow.
The tentative proposal to send the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to Europe predates U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, and comes amid a broader push to strengthen Europe’s air and missile defenses.
While Europe and the United States are at odds over the fate of the nuclear agreement, they share concerns about Iran’s continued development of ballistic missiles.
Iran’s Shahab 3 missiles can already travel 2,000 km, enough to reach southern Europe, and its Revolutionary Guards have said they will increase the range if threatened since the range is capped by strategic doctrine, not technology constraints.
U.S. European Command has been pushing for a THAAD system in Europe for years, but the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord has added urgency to the issue, said Riki Ellison, head of the non-profit Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance.
A senior German military official cited the need to add more radars across Europe to better track and monitor potential threats, and cue interceptors if needed.
“There are currently no plans to station THAAD systems in Germany. We do not discuss potential future military planning, as we would not want to signal our intent to potential adversaries. Germany remains among our closest partners and strongest allies,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon.
Deploying another U.S. defensive system to Europe could reassure NATO allies in southern Europe already within striking range of Iran’s missiles, said one military official from that region.
Talk of deploying a THAAD system in Europe also comes against the backdrop of rising tensions between the West and Russia.
NATO has long insisted that its missile defense program is not directed at Russia, but the alliance has adopted a tougher tone toward Moscow in the wake of the poisoning of a Russian former spy in England.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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