The United States military has made a move to help boost European defences, one that could potentially trigger fresh tensions with Russia. According to two sources familiar with the issue, the US military has held preliminary discussions to move a powerful missile defence system to Germany.
The tentative proposal to send the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to Europe predates Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. It comes amid a broader push to strengthen Europe's air and missile defences.
While Europe and the United States are at odds over the fate of the nuclear agreement, they do 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. They can also reportedly increase the range if threatened since the range is capped by strategic doctrine, not technology constraints.
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.
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.
US European Command has been pushing for a THAAD system in Europe for years, but the country'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.
One US military official said there had been preliminary talks with German military officials on moving a THAAD system to Ramstein Air Base in Germany, headquarters for the US Air Force in Europe and NATO Allied Air Command.
It would be a further political message to the Europeans that we're serious about protecting our allies," said the official.
"The initial assessment is that Germany would very likely not have a problem with a THAAD deployment," U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, head of U.S. European Command, last week said he was seeking more troops and equipment to deter Russia, but declined further comment.
A second source said German officials were open to the move as a way to better protect civilian populations.
Though according to the US Defense Department, no such action had been decided. Here's what the spokesperson of Pentagon, Eric Pahon said on the issue.
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.
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 defence programme 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.