NATO and Russia

A recent open letter by a former German Defense Minister and other high ranking German military figures presents a simple solution to two of the most dangerous irritants in Russian-American relations: NATO’s expansion, seen by many Russians as American encirclement; and American missile defense, seen by many Russians as an attempt to destroy the credibility of the Russian deterrent.

Their letter suggests inviting Russia to join NATO and making missile defense a joint effort that includes Russian involvement. The latter move would be in keeping with President Reagan’s original promise that “We seek neither military superiority nor political advantage” in developing missile defense, as well as recent repeated assurances that the system is not aimed at Russia.

While domestic American politics currently make these suggestions impossible, it would be an important step for our words and our actions to be consistent. Right now, we say that neither NATO nor missile defense is intended to threaten Russia, yet our actions reinforce Russian fears to the contrary. Since most Americans are unaware of the Russian perspective, we tend to see Russia’s reactions as paranoid, and treat her accordingly — a very dangerous situation.

This problem of saying one thing and being seen as doing another is a replay of the problem covered in my 1986 OpEd, “Will the Real Star Wars Please Stand Up?” Unfortunately, it is still extremely relevant. See the RESOURCES below for links to the German letter, that OpEd and other useful references.

Thanks for your efforts to defuse the nuclear threat.

Martin Hellman
Member, National Academy of Engineering
Professor Emeritus of Electrical Engineering
Stanford University


  • If you agree that we should not stand idly by in tacit acceptance of this unacceptable situation, please send a link to this post to friends who might be interested and encourage them to sign up for this blog’s RSS feed.
  • As suggested in email #27, consider whether there you are a member of a group where you might replicate the process I am trying at Stanford. For details, see the project description.
  • If you are a member of the Stanford community and want to receive announcements about on campus activities, please email me at (Please do not reply to this message.)


  • For an English translation of the German letter click here.
  • To read my 1986 OpEd, “Will the Real Star Wars Please Stand Up?” click on the article.
  • For another short piece on missile defense and why the Russians fear it click here.
  • Last, but not least, here is an explanation of why the Russians feel both threatened and double crossed by NATO expansion.

Permission is granted to reproduce this page in whole or in part. A reference to would be appreciated, or in print to

About Martin Hellman

I am a professor at Stanford University, best known for my invention of public key cryptography -- the technology that protects the secure part of the Internet, such as electronic banking. But, since 1982, my primary interest has been how fallible human beings can survive possessing nuclear weapons, where even one mistake could be catastrophic. My latest project is a book, co-written with my wife Dorothie, with the audacious subtitle "Creating True Love at Home & Peace on the Planet." It's on Amazon and a free PDF can be downloaded from its website:
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