Stutter START: NATO Missile Shield Spooks Russians

European missile defense shield threatens START agreement.
Feb 8, 2011· 1 MIN READ
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In April of 2010, presidents Medvedev and Obama celebrated the signing of their landmark START agreement with a champagne toast at Prague Castle.

Short of one year later, with disputes over Iranian sanctions and a proposed missile defense shield, the ceremonial salute to new beginnings looks more like an adieu to smooth sailing.

Fearing that a proposed missile defense shield would weaken his nation's nuclear hand, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov threatened to pull Russia's signature from the START agreement if the U.S. and NATO proceed with a joint European defense system without Moscow's approval.

"If the U.S. increases the qualitative and quantitative potential of its missile defense ... a question will arise whether Russia should further abide by the treaty or would have to take other measures to respond to the situation, including military-technical measures," Ryabkov said, according to Russian news agencies.

NATO revised its blueprints for the defense shield—purportedly designed to protect the European continent from intercontinental missiles lobbed from the Middle East—after pointed concern from the Kremlin nearly scuttled the START deal.

Russia's saber rattling over the missile shield came just days after its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov refused to support a new round of U.N. sanctions aimed at crippling Iran's nuclear ambitions, and a week after the Daily Telegraph reported that the U.S. gave up secrets of the U.K.'s nuclear arsenal in exchange for Russia's Sergei Hancock on the START agreement.

Despite START's hoped-for strides toward non-proliferation, the cost of doing diplomatic business with Russia is adding up on Washington's ledger. If frayed relations dash hopes for a nuclear weapon-free world, we may all pay the price.