From the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
A Nuclear Nightmare in the Making: NATO, Missile Defense and Russian Insecurity, by David Krieger and Steven Starr, January 03, 2012
For the past several years, the US and NATO have been pursuing the deployment of an integrated missile defense system in Western, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, as well as in surrounding waters. The Russians have protested vigorously that the planned system will undermine its nuclear retaliatory potential and thereby its security. The United States, the driving force behind NATO missile defense plans, has repeatedly told the Russian leaders that there is no need to be worried about these deployments since they are designed to counter Iranian missiles rather than Russian ICBMs.
Continued US indifference to Russian security concerns could have dire consequences: a breakdown in US-Russian relations; regression to a new nuclear-armed standoff in Europe; Russian withdrawal from New START; a new nuclear arms race between the two countries; a breakdown of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty leading to new nuclear weapon states; and a higher probability of nuclear weapons use by accident or design. This is a scenario for nuclear disaster, and it is being provoked by US hubris in pursuing missile defenses, a technology that is unlikely ever to be effective, but which Russian leaders must view in terms of a worst-case scenario.
In the event of increased US-Russian tensions, the worst-case scenario from the Russian perspective would be a US first-strike nuclear attack on Russia, taking out most of the Russian nuclear retaliatory capability. The Russians believe the US would be emboldened to make a first-strike attack by having the US-NATO missile defense installations located near the Russian border, which the US could believe capable of shooting down any Russian missiles that survived its first-strike attack.
The path to a US-Russian nuclear war could also begin with a conventional military confrontation via NATO. The expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia has created the potential for a local military conflict with Russia to quickly escalate into a nuclear war. It is now Russian policy to respond with tactical nuclear weapons if faced with overwhelmingly superior conventional forces, such as those of NATO. In the event of war, the “nuclear umbrella” of NATO guarantees that NATO members will be protected by US nuclear weapons that are already forward-based in Europe.
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