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Russia threatens arms race over missile shield

From the west, the planned U.S. and European missile defense shield looks like a way to protect against a nuclear attack from Iran, even if none of the governments involved like to say that explicitly. But from Moscow, the missile defense system evidently looks like a way to try to neutralize Russia's strategic weapons, and so every few months, like clockwork, Russian military and government officials throw a fit about it.

We're due, it appears -- according to reports today, Russia is threatening a return to the bad old days unless it gets exactly what it wants from the U.S. and Europe as they try to develop the missile defense system:

Russia’s top military officer is warning that the world could face a “mad arms race” if the United States goes ahead with its missile defense plans without moving to assuage Moscow’s concerns.

Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the military’s General Staff, on Friday urged Washington to provide legal guarantees that the U.S.-led NATO plans to put missile-defense elements in Europe wouldn’t threaten Russia’s nuclear forces.

Makarov said at a meeting with foreign military attaches that failure to do that would force Russia to respond with countermeasures that could trigger a new arms race. Makarov’s statement echoed a similar warning issued repeatedly by President Dmitry Medvedev, who said that the world could slide back to Cold War times if NATO fails to cooperate with Russia on missile defense.

The U.S. and the west are always convenient boogeymen for Russian leaders, who have never quite let go of their Soviet-era fondness for railing against evil, external enemies. The question is, can the Americans and Europeans ever actually placate Russia and develop a working missile shield, or will Moscow continue agitating in order to keep this fight alive?

And as always, there's reason to view Russia's threats with a measure of skepticism.

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