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NATO: European missile shield 'provisionally operational'

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Kiichiro Sato/AP

(Read caption) The NATO Missile Defense exhibit stands near the NATO summit media center at The McCormick Place, Friday, May 18, in Chicago.

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At its weekend summit in Chicago, NATO announced that the first phase of its controversial European missile defense shield has become "provisionally operational," news that will not be received well in Moscow.

If there is any issue that threatens to derail the fragile East-West détente that's held since President Obama set out to reverse the mini-cold war that prevailed under George W. Bush, it's the increasingly acrimonious dispute over missile defense.

Earlier this month Russia's top general, Nikolai Makarov, went so far as to suggest that his forces might launch a preemptive strike against NATO missile defense emplacements in Central Europe if they were perceived to threaten Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent.

But NATO, which has made the issue a litmus test of alliance unity, has remained unmoved by Russian bombast on the subject and is clearly moving forward with the project, which is planned to reach full operational capability by 2020.

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