In our hearts many of us already live in a post-nuclear era. We so yearn to be free of nuclear fear that our imaginations have leaped ahead to the future. With the menacing dangers of the 1980s seemingly past, we no longer even think of the bomb. We want to believe the president when he says that our children really can sleep safely at night.
But troubling realities intrude and shatter our dreams of security. Nuclear tests in India and Pakistan. Israel's formidable nuclear arsenal amidst the cauldron of Middle East tension. Atomic ambitions in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. Continuing doubts about the security of nuclear weapons in traumatized Russia. While the threat of thermonuclear attack on the United States has diminished, the risks of nuclear weapons being used somewhere in the world are probably greater now than at any time in the nuclear age.
The United States is a major part of this huge problem, with nuclear weapons as the cornerstone of U.S. defense policy. The U.S. nuclear arsenal stands at approximately 15,000 weapons, and even after all currently planned reductions are completed (in the year 2007 or later) the United States will retain some 10,000 nuclear bombs. More ominously, the role of the bomb in U.S. military doctrine has expanded, and the potential uses of nuclear weapons have multiplied. A December 1997 Presidential Decision Directive extended the role of nuclear weapons to permit their use against countries possessing chemical and biological weapons, against nations with "prospective access" to nuclear weapons, and even against "non-state actors." Under this extraordinary but little noticed doctrine, nuclear weapons can now be used against so-called "rogue states" or terrorist groups suspected of possessing weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons, far from fading away, have taken on frightening new roles and seem destined to remain a permanent and increasingly central element of U.S. military strategy.