How NATO-Russia talks on missile defense could halt – or launch – a new arms race
Some security experts say the most urgent quest of our time is convincing Moscow to allow the US to defend the West with a missile defense shield.
Today's dialogue about missile defense can be traced to a simple idea expressed by Ronald Reagan in his famous "star wars" speech 27 years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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"What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant US retaliation to deter a Soviet attack; that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?" he asked.
President Reagan's vision of a shield against nuclear missiles seems little closer to reality than it was on the day he enunciated it. The USSR ceased to exist almost two decades ago, and rogue states such as Iran and North Korea, as well as international terrorists, have emerged as the new threat. Yet the United States continues to sink $10 billion annually into missile-defense technology, and recently won NATO support for building in Europe the first stage of what could become a global antimissile network.
The central problem, as in Reagan's time, remains Russia. No longer the enemy, but still very much a potential spoiler, Moscow fears that the emergence of a workable missile defense could subvert its aging Soviet-era nuclear deterrent and end what its military thinkers call their country's "strategic independence."
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Putin: expect a Russian 'response'
Despite agreeing to talk about a cooperative approach at the NATO-Russia summit in Lisbon last month, Kremlin leaders warn that if the West fails to meet their terms for a "joint" missile-defense program they would be forced to radically upgrade Russia's offensive nuclear forces, thus initiating a new arms race. That could finish off Reagan's other great dream: a nuclear-weapons-free world.
"I would like to openly say that the choice for us in the coming decade is as follows: We will either come to terms on missile defense and form a full-fledged joint mechanism of cooperation or we will plunge into a new arms race and have to think of deploying new strike means. It's obvious that this scenario will be very hard," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in his early December State of the Nation address.