WHETHER he is reelected this November or not, George Bush will almost certainly be remembered by historians as the United States president who presided over the most dramatic nuclear-arms-control steps of the atomic age's first 50 years, when the Soviet Union collapsed and Moscow's new leaders decided there was no longer any point to the runaway arms spiral.
The Bush administration has pressed ahead to take advantage of the opportunities being offered by its former adversary.
The speed of arms reductions over the last two years has left even those who are usually critical of administration nuclear policy breathless.
After the latest big deal, concluded at the spring Washington superpower summit, Arms Control Association president Spurgeon Keeny Jr. judged that "Presidents George Bush and Boris Yeltsin served their countries well." Plans repudiated
In general, both Washington and Moscow are repudiating their decades of constructing elaborate plans and weapons for fighting nuclear war and are moving towards stripped-down, deterrence-only atomic arsenals. Major steps include:
* Tactical weapons. In September 1991, after the Moscow coup attempt failed, President Bush announced that he would remove and destroy all land-based US short-range tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. Sea-based tactical weapons would be withdrawn and stored.
Whether these weapons had any real military utility is open to question, but then-Soviet President Gorbachev welcomed the move and agreed to scrap his own short-range ground-launched nuclear arms.
* Strategic weapons. The START long-range strategic weapons treaty signed by Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 took nine exhausting years to negotiate. It's a measure of how far traditional notions of arms control have come that it took only a few months for Bush and Gorbachev's successor, Boris Yeltsin, to produce an even more dramatic follow-up agreement.
The US and Russia agreed to a range limit of 3,000 to 3,500 strategic warheads. That means that when the cuts are implemented, both sides will have long-range arsenals less than one-third the size of the early 1980s.
Russia accepted a US proposal to eliminate the most dangerous nuclear weapons of all: land-based, multiwarhead missiles. In return, the US agreed to to a one-half reduction in the Pentagon's cherished submarine-carried multiwarhead missile force.
The Bush administration still plans to deploy defenses against long-range missiles while resisting the growing congressional clamor for an end to nuclear tests.