Martin HellmanThis article was originally published on Defusing the Nuclear Threat.

Most people justify their complacency about the world’s 20,000 nuclear weapons by noting that the Cold War is over. But, the more I study Russian-American relations, the more potential I see for a misunderstanding to escalate into a crisis, and the more concerned I become about the world’s nuclear complacency. I sometimes feel like a German Jew in the early 1930′s who has read Mein Kampf and vainly tries to alert his countrymen to the need to take action before it’s too late.

Just from its title – “Russia and the United States: Pushing Tensions to the Limit?” – you can tell that a recent Stratfor article challenges that complacency. Stratfor – short for Strategic Forecasting, Inc. – is a highly respected, private intelligence company that has been referred to as “the shadow CIA,” so hopefully their concern will be taken seriously. Here are some key excerpts:

Moscow and Washington have been in a standoff over myriad issues ever since Russia began to roll back Western influence in its periphery and assert its own power. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States got involved in the region intending to create a cordon around Russia to prevent it from ever becoming a global threat again. … Moscow’s ultimate goal is not to recreate the Soviet Union – that entity eventually failed. Instead, Russia wants to limit the influence of external powers in the former Soviet Union and be recognized as the dominant player there. …

Tensions between Moscow and Washington can be attributed to one primary issue: ballistic missile defense (BMD). … Russia offered to integrate its BMD system with NATO’s system. … However, Washington rejected the offer, thereby confirming Moscow’s suspicions that the BMD system is more about Russia than the Iranian threat.

While we see Russia’s attempts to exercise influence in its “near abroad” as meddling in other nations’ affairs, our own efforts to impose our will throughout the world are seen in a totally benign light. That double standard threatens our very existence because Russia is capable of standing up to us if its vital national interests are threatened, but only by playing its nuclear card. And that’s a game we shouldn’t want to play.