Ratification of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT, or the Moscow Treaty), signed by Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush on May 24, 2002, is all but certain. Critics in both capitals have apparently been proven wrong—it turned out to be possible to break with three decades of arms control experience and traditions and to sign a treaty that almost completely lacks substantive provisions; even those that are included into the treaty cannot be efficiently verified. In contrast, this treaty exemplifies the Bush administration’s assertion that the United States and Russia no longer need complicated treaties that impose many restrictions on the maintenance, operation, and modernization of the two countries’ nuclear arsenals.
Optimism about near unlimited flexibility, which the new treaty grants both sides, seems misguided, however. Although traditional concerns about a “bolt out of the blue” first strike have no place in the existing environment, both sides still need the reassurance and mutual trust that only a robust transparency regime could provide. Both sides have already proclaimed their intention to pursue further negotiations: the United States appears to favor the exchange of data whereas Russia seems more interested in measures that would limit the uploading capability of the United States. Either way, at issue is the predictability of the U.S.-Russia strategic relationship.
The stable cooperative relations between the United States and Russia offer an opportunity that should not be missed. The two sides feel reasonably safe vis-à-vis one another and can afford approaching transparency negotiations without undue haste. […]