The U.S. is “committed to defending every inch of NATO’s territory – if and when it comes to that,” a top Biden administration official said on Thursday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the alliance just before going into a meeting with NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group in Brussels, Reuters reported.
Austin also said Thursday that “we will not be dragged into Russia’s war of choice.”
“NATO poses no threat to Russia and seeks no confrontation with Russia,” he said. “But our defensive alliance will, as it always has, protect every inch of NATO territory.”
Austin’s comments were made amid what has been called the most sensitive moment since the Cuban missile crisis. Recent weeks have seen the U.S. and Russian leaders trade increasingly ominous statements about the use of nuclear weapons.
The 30 countries in NATO are bound to defend one another against armed attacks by Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, according to NATO’s website. Article 5 has only been invoked following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently announced a bid for fast-tracked NATO membership, according to Reuters. A top Russian official warned on Thursday that Ukraine joining NATO “would mean a guaranteed escalation to World War III” while labeling the effort “a propaganda move,” Russian news agency TASS reported.
NATO has not said what the Nuclear Planning Group, which Austin met with after his remarks, is discussing today.
The group is the defensive alliance’s “senior body on nuclear matters,” providing “a consultative process on nuclear doctrine,” according to NATO’s website.
NATO’s main nuclear drill, Steadfast Noon, is set to proceed next week, mainly taking place more than 625 miles from Russia.