There is no Iranian missile or nuclear threat to Europe. There is no possibility of such a threat for a decade. The problems of missile development, nuclear warhead development, miniaturization of warheads, engineering those warheads to "fit" a given missile, testing, and industrialization of this whole process all ensure that any Iranian nuclear missile threat to Europe will be nothing more than material for plots for cheap novels for a long time.
The CIA and other parts of the government have been trying to tell the world that. Why hasn't the Bush administration been listening? President Putin knows there is no such threat. Russia lost the cold war but still possesses a vast army of scientists and engineers who have told him that.
That being the case, the Russians asked themselves what the true purpose of the proposed antimissile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic might be. They have decided that the missile defenses are intended to consolidate American "control" of Eastern Europe and to demonstrate the supremacy of American power.
Mr. Putin as much as said so recently. In a number of forums, he complained that although Russia understands that it is no longer a superpower, it is not willing to be reduced to a subordinate that must bow to whatever is dictated by Washington. He said that Russia accepts American primacy in the world, but that this primacy requires prudent restraint and caution. He said that we Americans are in danger of becoming "bad actors" in the same way that leaders in his country have been in the past. He made reference to the internal system of constitutional checks and balances in the United States. He said there must be some balancing force in the world, and that Russia would play that role.
Such a statement should be taken seriously. Russia remains a formidable nuclear power, and now it is also a country swimming in oil money. The nation's capacity for mischief in the world is growing, not diminishing.
Poland and the Czech Republic were client states of the former USSR for many years. Now they are members of NATO, the alliance that the Russians believe threatened them for 50 years. Putin "grew up" as a KGB officer whose life was devoted to protecting the Soviet Union against that same NATO alliance. What are he and the Russian people to think of the placement on their doorstep of an antimissile-defense system against a threat from Iran that does not exist?
Putin stated earlier this month that the creation of what he thinks would be an antimissile defense aimed at Russia would require a response in the form of target selection in Western Europe. The anger that causes decisions of this kind is dangerous to humanity. How many thousands of warheads does Russia still have?
Russia and Putin, as the head of Russia, clearly believe themselves to be held in little regard by the US. In Prague, Czech Republic, President Bush referred to Putin as "Vladimir." It is not likely that Putin wished to be referred to by his Christian name at a press conference in a country that is now an ally of the United States. Some consideration for the dignity of the head of state of a great country should have prevented that.
At Rostock, Germany, where the Group of 8 meeting was held, Putin proposed that the site of the antimissile defense should be in Azerbaijan and that Russia would want the program to be "transparent" to the world. On that basis, he said Russia would cooperate in this matter. Mr. Bush responded that this idea had merit and that America would carefully consider it.
These statements indicate a resumption of statesmanship on both sides. We must not forget that history did not, in fact, end with the fall of the USSR. Mankind is still at risk from far more dangerous weapons and vanities than those likely to be possessed by Islamic fanatics. The nuclear powers must treat one another with a prudent regard born both of self-interest and common courtesy.
There is no reason for the US to humiliate our former enemies and present friends. Let us be more careful!
• Patrick Lang is a retired senior officer of US Defense Intelligence.