At Wednesday's meeting of NATO defense ministers with their Russian counterpart, the Western alliance will seek to win Russian support for and cooperation in a European missile-defense system.
Moscow's assent would constitute a major step toward rapprochement between NATO and its former enemy, advancing the cause of anchoring Russia firmly in the Euro-Atlantic community.
Moscow is no longer vehemently denouncing any and all U.S. talk of missile defense and instead appears ready to explore ways to merge its own evolving system with NATO's. Nonetheless, the issue is far from settled and, if not managed carefully, has the potential to scuttle the progress already made in resetting Russia relations with the West.
The nub of the problem is that Moscow fears that NATO's missile-defense system could eventually threaten the efficacy of Russia's nuclear deterrent.
Although Washington has made amply clear that the system is targeted against Iranian missiles and that it would in no way degrade Russia's deterrent, Moscow remains unconvinced. It has therefore asked for binding assurances that would limit the scope of NATO's system. Washington justifiably rejects the notion that Russia should dictate the parameters of NATO missile defense — the mere suggestion of which is enough to prompt a riot on Capitol Hill.