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As yet, almost nobody is speaking in public about it. But a conflict is smoldering in the relationship between America and Russia that is becoming increasingly hostile.

If everybody involved isn’t very careful, the almost forgotten quarrel about missiles and nuclear warheads, about striking distances and megatons, about deterrence and "mutually assured destruction," will return to Europe.

A key disarmament agreement is in danger, and from a European perspective, the treaty is perhaps the most important of all. The U.S. government has been claiming for years that Russia is violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty – also known as the INF Treaty.

In Washington, the Americans have long been saying that their country will no longer sit back and do nothing about the treaty violations.

"Our patience," said a senior government official, "is not  indefinite."

On December 8, 1987, in front of a fireplace in the foyer of the White House, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty.

"A number of journalists and politicians are now speculating about who has won," Mr. Gorbachev said after the signing ceremony. "That is a relapse into the old way of thinking. Common sense has won."

The two signatures sealed the end of years of wrestling over rearmament in Europe.

At the beginning of this struggle was a lecture given on October 28, 1977, by the then-chancellor of West Germany, Helmut Schmidt, before the members of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Mr. Schmidt spoke of a hazardous imbalance in so-called Euro-strategic weapons. The Europeans and Americans had nothing to counter against the Soviet Union’s new SS-20 intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

The speech by Mr. Schmidt marked the birth of the NATO Double-Track Decision and the highly emotional rearmament debate. The West’s Pershing II missiles and cruise missiles were supposed to restore the balance in mutual deterrence – and they would be deployed unless the Soviet Union was willing to scrap its SS-20s. Which it wasn’t. So the West decided to counter-arm and deploy its own nuclear  medium-range ballistic missiles.

The peace movement went into action.

On October 10, 1981, about 300,000 people demonstrated against rearmament in a park in Bonn, the then capital of West Germany. Activists set up their tents in front of the Americans’ missile depots in West Germany, blocking access. The German Left, from novelist Heinrich Böll to politician Oskar Lafontaine, stood beside them. Mr. Schmidt lost backing in the Social Democratic Party, his own party, and eventually was forced  out of office by a vote of no-confidence in Parliament. Helmut Kohl became the new chancellor of West Germany.

But Mr. Schmidt was proved right. The Soviets backed down with regard to the stationing of Pershing II and cruise missiles. After years of negotiations, a whole category of nuclear missiles was abolished with the signatures of Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev.

The INF Treaty became a milestone on the path to ending the Cold War. By 1991, four years after the signing of the treaty, the Americans and Russians had destroyed all of their ground-based medium-range missiles. New ones were not allowed to be tested or produced.

This treaty, however, could very soon be null and void.

In a series of interviews, Die Zeit has learned just how much the INF Treaty is under threat. None of those Die Zeit spoke with wished to be quoted because of the sensitivity of the topic. A number wouldn’t be interviewed at all. But no one denies a great deal is at stake.