The November 2001 summit between Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin marked the end of the lengthy saga of the ABM Treaty. After years of intense conflict, the situation is curiously peaceful: Russia has clearly indicated that it would not initiate a major crisis; the buildup of strategic nuclear weapons is completely out of the question.
Still, the passing of the ABM Treaty ushers in an era of uncertainty because the parameters of the future U.S.-Russian political-military relationship is not entirely clear. The main risk is no longer a direct confrontation between the two powers, but a crisis generated by misperception, misunderstanding, or even provocation that might upset the emerging atmosphere of partnership. The next several years appear particularly delicate and require careful handling. New opportunities have generated excessive optimism, including plans to quickly and even hastily, do away with such traditional elements of the relationship as nuclear deterrence and existing arms control treaties. Prudence dictates a considerably more cautious attitude toward these traditional elements, or old problems may return with a vengeance. […]