Where Jimmy Carter shifted in less than four years as president from advocate of disarmament to arsenal builder, Ronald Reagan underwent the opposite shift. Simultaneously, the public culture was subject to contrary panics, the first Soviet based and the second of American origins. With the subsequent signing of the INF treaty, nuclear issues lost much of their urgency and the public culture retreated to the sanctuary of nuclear forgetting. The remaining talks on arms control are too technical and arcane to engender much interest.
Until the Gulf War, "drift" probably best characterized the nuclear policy of the Bush administration. As the Soviet enemy that provided a rationale for so much of U.S. domestic and foreign policy looked less and less like an enemy, American policy makers seemed to be in a quandary. Gorbachev had outflanked them on nuclear and Cold War issues. Yet the administration made no attempt to seize the initiative. Rather than take a proactive position that might help Gorbachev control the opposition or stay in power, policy makers