North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a ballistic rocket launch drill at an unknown location in an undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency in March 2016. 

There have always been good reasons to worry about nuclear weapons, but those reasons have changed over time. During the Cold War, U.S. national security experts fretted about an expensive nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. After the 9/11 attacks, specialists and the American public alike were afraid that terrorists might get their hands on highly enriched uranium and make a primitive nuclear device. Those dangers remain. But the first concern has been mitigated to some degree by strategic arms control agreements between the United States and Russia, which are still in place (although not always adhered to). And the second concern has been ameliorated through a significant reduction in the amount of highly enriched uranium used in research reactors around the world. 

Today, however, there is another reason to worry about nuclear weapons: the rise of personalist dictatorships in states that possess or could acquire the bomb. These

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  • SCOTT D. SAGAN is Caroline S. G. Munro Professor of Political Science, Mimi and Peter Haas University Fellow in Undergraduate Education, and a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University.
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