Russia may abandon a landmark arms control treaty that helped end the Cold War, an authoritative military study has predicted.
The Military Balance 2008 gave warning of new threats to European security. John Chipman, the head of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, which published the survey, said the "next target of Moscow’s assertive revisionism" could be the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty of 1987.
This crucial agreement, signed by President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, eliminated medium-range nuclear missiles in Europe.
If Russia withdraws from the treaty, it would be free to build a new generation of missiles capable of striking western Europe.
President Vladimir Putin has already stopped adhering to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE), which came into force in 1992 and restricts the deployment of troops and tanks near sensitive European frontiers.
Later this year, Russia is expected to formally withdraw from the CFE treaty.
Taken together, these steps would allow Russia to build a new generation of medium-range nuclear missiles capable of striking Western Europe.
Its armed forces would also be free to deploy near any European country bordering Russia.
"The end of the CFE treaty, the cornerstone of post-Cold War European security, could have negative consequences for Europe," said Mr Chipman.
"It will abolish an important confidence-building mechanism — including the exchange of data and an inspection regime — and introduce new tensions between Russia and its neighbours, particularly if Russia decides to redeploy its troops closer to Nato member states."
In 2002, America withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which bars the deployment of defensive missiles.
Taking this alongside Russia's possible breach of the INF Treaty, Mr Chipman said: "The unravelling of the infrastructure of European arms control can be seen as well in train."
"For this not to matter, the burden will be all the higher on diplomats and politicians to avoid an escalation of tensions that would make military dispositions in Europe again a cause of strategic concern."
Russia's total military spending is exceptionally difficult to calculate. Several ministries have defence-related budgets.
Taking all this into account, The Military Balance estimates Russia's total expenditure is £35 billion, compared with Britain’s £34 billion this year.
Yet last November, Des Browne, the defence secretary, claimed Britain had the "second highest defence budget in the world in real terms", with only America spending more.
The gap between British and Russian military expenditure is set to widen. Russia's defence budget is forecast to rise by 23 per cent by 2010.
Meanwhile, Britain's is increasing by 1·4 per cent after inflation. Elsewhere, the global military balance is shifting decisively away from Western Europe and towards Asia. China raised its military spending by 33 per cent in a single year, 2006-7. India’s defence budget rose by 24 per cent in the same period.
Both countries are acquiring the ability to project power across the world.
While Western Europe is steadily being overhauled, America's global military dominance is still assured. The Pentagon spent £310 billion last year, almost 10 times more than the Kremlin's defence budget.