The warning was made in an article written by Russian defence minister, Sergei Ivanov, and published in Russia in Global Affairs magazine on Thursday.

The minister also charged NATO with failing to evolve fully into a political organisation.

"If NATO remains a military alliance with its current offensive military doctrine, Russian military planning and principles of developing the armed forces, including its nuclear component, will be revised."
   
Ivanov confirmed that Russia's self-proclaimed right to launch preventive nuclear strikes - similar to that claimed by NATO - was included in its current military doctrine.
    
His article refers to reports that Washington was developing a new generation of nuclear arms.

"Making nuclear forces a military instrument rather than a political deterrent was an extremely dangerous tendency undermining global and regional stability.
   
"Even a modest lowering of the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons would still demand that Russia rebuild its troop control system, as well as the principles for the combat employment of its troops."
 
Cold War returning?

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia stopped aiming its nuclear missiles at NATO targets and agreed a special partnership with its Cold War enemy.
   
But NATO's expansion eastwards to Russia's borders to take in former Warsaw Pact allies and three ex-Soviet Baltic states appears to have revived dormant Kremlin fears of encirclement.
   
NATO officials say expansion is not aimed at Russia.

"Making nuclear forces a military instrument rather than a political deterrent was an extremely dangerous tendency undermining global and regional stability"

Sergei Ivanov,
Russian defence minister

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in January that bases set up in ex-Soviet states were not an attempt to encircle Russia.
   
However, this view is not shared in Moscow – especially with numerous examples that are increasing Russian concerns.

The latest development has seen Latvia announcing that when it joins NATO next week, Belgian fighter aircraft will begin patrolling the Baltic skies from a Lithuanian air base.
   
UN decline

Ivanov, a confidant of President Vladimir Putin, said in the article published on the magazine's website www.globalization.ru that the decline in the influence of the United Nations was also spurring Moscow to look again at its security doctrine.

Russia opposed the NATO-led air bombardment of Yugoslavia in 1999 and criticised the United States for bypassing the United Nations and invading Iraq last year.
   
Reducing the role of the UN and its Security Council "is a very dangerous trend, which may pose a serious threat to Russia's military and political interests in future", he said.
   
Moscow has often expressed concern that new NATO members could revive the alliance's former anti-Russian bias.
   
"Russia is keeping a close watch on NATO's transformation and is hoping for a complete removal of direct and indirect anti-Russian elements from military plans and political declarations of its member states."