It was only five months ago that the media was cap­ti­vated by a his­toric meeting between the leader of North Korea Kim Jong-Un and Pres­ident Donald Trump, with breathless promises of denu­clearization on the Korean Peninsula. Only a few months later, North Korea has dis­ap­peared from the head­lines.

Now, many Amer­icans probably have no idea that after months of fraught nego­ti­a­tions, the State Department announced that a meeting between Sec­retary of State Mike Pompeo and Kim Jong-Un’s right-hand man scheduled for today has been post­poned to a later date. Last week, the Demo­c­ratic People’s Republic of Korea even threatened to “restart” its nuclear program if the U.S. did not ease sanc­tions.

While the story may have lost our attention, the impor­tance of nuclear power as an important com­ponent of American strategy should not. With the Democrats now in control of the House, we can expect U.S. nuclear strategy to come into the spot­light again as the newly-elected majority will undoubtedly take the Pres­ident to task on areas of dis­agreement in his nuclear posture.

Nuclear weapons have not been used for 73 years, and the U.S. is the only country to have ever used a nuclear bomb. Through the height of the Cold War, although con­ven­tional proxy wars raged in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, the two great powers never resorted to using nuclear weapons. After the fall of the Soviet Union, with the U.S. enjoying unchal­lenged hegemony, nuclear weapons faded from the lime­light, attention turning to con­ven­tional con­flicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The concept of deter­rence was and is a central element of U.S. strategy to prevent nuclear war. As the theory went, the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons and the fear of retal­i­ation would prevent war and aggression. Not only that, a “nuclear taboo,” a term coined by author and political sci­entist Nina Tan­nenwald, has developed: a nor­mative pro­hi­bition against and a stigma asso­ciated with using nuclear weapons. The use of nuclear weapons is per­ceived as unac­ceptable and ille­git­imate. This has led to a raft of arms control and reduction agree­ments, neg­ative security assur­ances, and com­mit­ments to achieving a “nuclear zero.”

While some have gone so far as to say that nuclear weapons “don’t matter,” today’s volatile and fluc­tu­ating threat envi­ronment make nuclear weapons a sig­nif­icant concern. The increasing power of near-peer com­petitors, weak­ening arms control agree­ments, and tech­no­logical mod­ern­ization threaten the “nuclear taboo.” North Korea has achieved several break­throughs in its nuclear program. Pres­ident Trump’s with­drawal from the Joint Com­pre­hensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran and the Inter­me­diate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia illus­trate the uncer­tainty of dealing with bad actors.

While the dream of a “world without nuclear weapons” seems far off, if not impos­sible, the U.S. can take con­crete steps to maintain com­mit­ments to non­pro­lif­er­ation and arms control, maintain a credible deter­rence, and assure allies.

It seems unlikely that the U.S. can con­vince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, but the U.S. can work with other nuclear powers and its allies and partners to strengthen export con­trols and improve mea­sures to prevent smug­gling of nuclear material.

The Department of Defense’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) includes devel­oping low-yield or “tac­tical” nuclear weapons, much smaller nuclear weapons that can be used in a  precise, tar­geted way. According to the Nuclear Posture Review, Russia and other near-peer com­petitors have devoted sig­nif­icant resources to devel­oping low-yield nuclear war­heads, oper­ating under the assumption that limited nuclear war by using “tac­tical” nuclear weapons can offer a decisive advantage in lower-level con­flict.

Former Sec­retary of State George Schultz and others have crit­i­cized the Nuclear Posture, arguing that devel­oping low-yield nuclear war­heads decreases the threshold for nuclear war, as decision makers may feel less restrained from using a smaller-scale weapon. Sec­retary of Defense James Mattis has also expressed con­cerns of the poten­tially “desta­bi­lizing” effects of low-yield weapons and is not con­vinced that “limited nuclear war” is pos­sible. Mattis still main­tains, however, that deploying these weapons are critical to closing gaps in deter­rence and pre­venting mis­cal­cu­lation.

One problem with nuclear deter­rence and the “nuclear taboo” is that hostile actors may not regard U.S. deter­rence as credible, since U.S. inhi­bi­tions would prevent them from employing large-scale, earth-shat­tering nuclear mis­siles, allowing hostile actors to believe they can get away with using limited nuclear force. To close any gaps in our deter­rence, the U.S. should expand low-yield options to prevent any mis­cal­cu­lation. Dis­abusing others of the usability of low-yield weapons thereby raises the threshold for nuclear war.

These mea­sures along with increasing trans­parency and com­mu­ni­cation with rel­evant stake­holders and reas­suring others of our com­mit­ments under the Nuclear Non-Pro­lif­er­ation Treaty (NPT) will demon­strate our good faith and reduce the risk of nuclear war.

Our nuclear strategy should not be overrun with hys­teria. Embarking on an indis­crim­inate arms buildup would be inef­fective, and concern over nuclear power should not turn into obsession, dis­tracting from other important issues of national concern.

But pol­i­cy­makers and cit­izens should not take for granted the 73 years of rel­ative peace without the use of nuclear weapons and rec­ognize the oblig­ation to our­selves and pos­terity to con­tinue that peace.

Nathanael Cheng is a senior studying pol­itics and a George Wash­ington Fellow.