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New US-Russia arms race? Battle lines grow over missile defense.

Defense Secretary Gates and his Russian counterpart will sit down for high-level talks Thursday. US plans for antimissile deployments are spurring threats that Russia might withdraw from the New START nuclear treaty.

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US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (r.) shakes hands with his Russian counterpart Anatoly Serdyukov during a meeting at the Russia-NATO Council in Brussels on Wednesday, June 8.

Jason Reed/Reuters

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Moscow's previously troubled relations with NATO have improved greatly over the past two years, but the sleeping elephant in the room – the widening gap between Russian and Western visions for a missile defense shield to defend civilization from rogue attacks – may be about to wake up and turn nasty.

Matters could come to a head Thursday, when Defense Secretary Robert Gates meets his Russian counterpart, Anatoly Serdyukov, at the first high level meeting of the Russia-NATO Council since ties cooled following Russia's brief summer war with Georgia in 2008.

Last November, at NATO's Lisbon summit, presidents Barack Obama and Dmitry Medvedev agreed to search for a joint formula to build a system that would protect Eurasia and North America without threatening Russia's aging nuclear deterrent, seen by the Kremlin as the foundation of its national security.

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