In the long ago days of the cold war, people joked that "even one nuclear weapon could ruin your day." That's still true. And the likelihood of the deliberate use of such weapons, especially in places like India and Pakistan, is dangerously high. Despite their great power rivalry, the United States and the Soviet Union developed numerous ways to reduce the chances of accidental war or a hyper-reactive escalation to a deliberate one -- the hot line, incidents at sea agreements, Permissive Action Links. The rivals also concluded a series of arms control agreements that worked, despite shared mistrust.
Yesterday the government declassified the bottom line stockpile data -- how many nuclear weapons the United States had at the end of each year for the past half century. Look at the numbers.The peak was in 1967: 31,255. At the end of the G.H.W. Bush administration, following the breakup of the USSR, the number dropped sharply, to 13,708. They continued to fall, reaching a low point last year of 4,571. That's still too many for deterrence, so we need to continue working to bring the numbers down -- and to keep others from adding significantly to their own arsenals. I don't have much faith that we could safely do away with all nuclear weapons, but it helps to keep working for limits and reductions.