NATO defense ministers began two days of talks on Thursday expected to center on ways of winning allied support for moves to modernize short-range nuclear forces.
The 14 ministers, meeting under tight security in a hotel-and-casino complex in this Dutch seaside resort, were reviewing the state of Western Europe's nuclear defenses following the 1987 U.S.-Soviet treaty scrapping medium-range missiles.Officials said ministers would hear senior military views on how to reshuffle remaining air- and sea-borne missiles to take account of the loss of U.S. land-based missiles under the superpowers' Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty.
They said the ministers, holding a regular autumn session of the Nuclear Planning Group, would not be required to make any concrete decisions however.
But officials forecast differing exchanges among the allies over preparatory moves to modernize short-range weapons - artillery and land-based Lance missiles with ranges below the 300-mile limit prohibited by the INF treaty.
Fresh controversy over the issue has been stirred by Belgium, which has indicated it has strong misgivings over a top-level report to be approved by the meeting which sets out the role of such weapons in alliance strategy.
Up to now, NATO front-line member West Germany has posed most problems for the alliance over the issue of the missiles, most of which are deployed on its territory.
But on the eve of the highly restricted session, the major threat to allied harmony came from Belgium.
Under pressure from the anti-nuclear Flemish socialist party, the
center-left Belgian government has indicated it may refuse to approve a top-level NATO report at the Scheveningen meeting that sets out the role of short-range nuclear arms in the alliance's strategy of deterrence.
As a political row raged in Brussels, Belgian Defense Minister Guy Coeme said on Wednesday night: "The missiles have not yet left Florennes and already we are envisaging modernization of other nuclear arms."
Coeme was referring to U.S. cruise missiles that will be removed from the Florennes air base in southern Belgium early next year.