Our Cold War enemy had nuclear weapons capable of destroying us, and the rest of the planet, many times over. In 1991, when the Cold War ended, the Soviet Union had more than 27,000 nuclear weapons. According to the Federation of American Scientists, these included more than 11,000 strategic nuclear weapons -- warheads on land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched missiles, and weapons on bombers capable of attacking the US -- along with more than 15,000 warheads for "tactical" use as artillery shells and short-range "battlefield" missiles, as well as missile defense interceptors, nuclear torpedoes, and nuclear weapons for shorter-range aircraft. We learned in 1993 that the USSR at one time possessed almost 45,000 nuclear warheads, and still had nearly 1,200 tons of bomb-grade uranium. (Of course, sizeable Russian -- and American -- nuclear arsenals still exist.) In comparison to all that, the arsenals of al-Qaeda and our other terrorist enemies are remarkably insignificant.
Jon Wiener teaches American history at the University of California-Irvine and is a contributing editor at the Nation . His latest book, How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey Across America (University of California Press), has just been published.
Copyright 2013 Jon Wiener