NATO will stage a nuclear exercise next week amid what has been called the most sensitive moment since the Cuban missile crisis.
Fourteen of 30 allied countries will participate in NATO’s annual “deterrence exercise,” Steadfast Noon, Voice of America reported.
VOA cites a NATO official saying the exercise will mainly occur more than 625 miles from Russia. No live bombs will be used, but fighter jets capable of carrying nuclear warheads will be involved.
NATO keeps a tight lid on the details of Steadfast Noon, but the Wall Street Journal reported it is the alliance’s main nuclear drill, involving fictional scenarios. It has been held annually since at least 2014, and was held over southern Europe last year.
Nuclear rhetoric has been heated in recent weeks, with the U.S. and Russian leaders trading ominous warnings the weapons could be used in Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to use “all available means” defending four annexed regions of Ukraine, and President Joe Biden said Putin’s credible threats invite “the prospect of Armageddon.”
If you think now doesn’t seem like the right time for high-flying nuclear role-play, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg disagrees.
“It would send a very wrong signal if we suddenly now canceled a routine, long-time planned exercise because of the war in Ukraine,” he said.
Instead, “the best way to prevent escalation” is for NATO to project military strength and “firm, predictable behavior,” Stoltenberg added. “If we now created the grounds for any misunderstandings, miscalculations in Moscow about our willingness to protect and defend all allies, we would increase the risk of escalation.”
NATO itself does not own any nuclear weapons. Instead, weapons from the U.S. and United Kingdom are stored at air bases in several member countries, according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.