Whether Americans are justified in no longer worrying so much about the bomb is another question. Jon Wolfsthal, a senior adviser to Global Zero, a group that advocates the abolition of nuclear weapons, and a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, thinks not. “A lot of this is subjective,” he said. “In the ’60s and ’70s we believed that Russians would launch unless we were on our guard. They were sure that we would launch.” As that fear receded, he said, so did awareness of the ever-present threat. “Before, all senators had to know the language of throw-weight” — the payload of a nuclear missile. “Today, there’s not five senators who understand the issue.”
Yet nuclear arms controls are as needed today as they ever were, and not only with Moscow. Mr. Putin obliquely acknowledged that when, after saying on Feb. 21 that Russia would suspend participation in New START, Russia quickly added that the country would continue to respect the treaty’s limits on nuclear warheads and delivery systems. The alternative, he knew, could be a new arms race in which Russia was no match for America’s economic and technological abilities. In effect, Mr. Putin’s announcement extended a suspension of on-site inspections that began during the pandemic.
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