The cold war is over, but an overriding concern of that era - the threat of nuclear war - continues. Reducing that threat remains a diplomatic priority.
The Clinton administration gave needed attention to the nuclear question recently when it decided to alter US strategic doctrine. Gone is the old strategy of amassing the kilotonnage needed to "win" a nuclear exchange. In its place is the more reasonable goal of deterring nuclear attack by retaining the capacity to respond in kind.
This step adds a little momentum to the slow-moving process of reducing the nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia. Inertia settles in all too easily. The Russian parliament, swayed by nationalism, has blocked ratification of the START II treaty, which would bring the numbers of nuclear warheads to around 6,000 each (less than half the cold-war high).
A START III treaty is in the wings. It would bring warheads down by at least another half.
Such arms reduction diplomacy has, unfortunately, a highly theoretical tone for most people. But let's not forget that the weapons exist. They remain targeted. Reductions, and constructive changes in doctrine, by the two nuclear heavyweights are crucial. They set the pace for preventing nuclear proliferation worldwide.