Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and throughout the decades of the Cold War, nuclear weapons have been at the very center of Soviet and American national security policies and, indeed, of the entire post-World War II international order. As long as the confrontation between the two nuclear superpowers continued, the centrality of nuclear weapons in global affairs seemed an inevitable and unchangeable fact. As recently as 1988 and 1989, despite promising signs of liberalization in the domestic and foreign policies of the Soviet Union, concerns about nuclear weapons and the potential for nuclear war remained at the top of the Soviet-American agenda. However, the dramatic events of 1989 to 1991— including the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Eastern Europe, the completion of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) combined with further unilateral reductions of U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991—have profoundly altered perceptions of the nature and risks of the Russian-American relationship and with it the importance of nuclear weapons. The probability of great-power war seems now to be extremely low, and hence nuclear weapons appear to be more a legacy of a previous age than a dominant element of international relations.
KeywordsNuclear Weapon Nuclear Force Major Power Nuclear Guarantee Nuclear Deterrence
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