Nuclear weapons differ from other types of weapons – only nuclear weapons can, within a few hours, kill hundreds of thousands of human beings and bring an end to human civilisation.
Official nuclear weapon states (under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, NPT)
- United States of America (USA)
- Russian Federation
- United Kingdom (UK)
De-facto nuclear weapon states (states that have acquired nuclear weapons after the NPT opened for signature in 1968)
Threshold States (States with unclear intentions and possessions)
- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)
How many nuclear weapons exist?
None of the states possessing nuclear weapons give detailed official accounts of their nuclear weapon arsenals, making it difficult to give an exact number of nuclear weapons in the world. Also, depending on if only operational nuclear weapons are accounted for, or if numbers include warheads in reserves and waiting to be dismantled, numbers vary largely.
The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist do a great job in keeping account of existing nuclear arsenals. The status of the world’s nuclear arsenal is continuously updated at http://www.fas.org/programs/ssp/nukes/nukestatus.html.
To get the most recent numbers, please visit the above URL. The table below is dated July/August, 2010.
|State||Strategic (1)||Tactical||Total deployed||Total reserve|
|USA||1968||500 (2)||2468||9400 (3)|
|United Kingdom||225||NA||<160||~240 (5)|
|China||180 (7)||?||-180||240 (7)|
|North Korea (8)||NA||NA||NA||<10 (9)|
- Warheads belonging to Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are considered strategic; only some (if any) may be fully operational. Both Pakistan and India are increasing their arsenals.
- Of the 500 nonstrategic U.S. warheads, approximately 200 are deployed in Europe.
- This number includes warheads that have been retired but are not part of the Defense Department stockpile listed in the table on pages 81 and 82.
- Only about 2,050 of Russia’s 5,390 nonstrategic warheads (down from 15,000 in 1991) are believed to be in some form of operational status. The estimate for the size and composition of the total Russian inventory comes
- with considerable uncertainty. Perhaps as many 3,000 of the weapons listed may be awaiting dismantlement. Russia dismantles an estimated average of 1,000 retired warheads per year.
- Britain currently has only 50 missiles, which together can carry a maximum of 150 warheads. Forty-eight missiles are needed to arm three nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SS BNs), with a maximum of 144 warheads; only a single British SS BN is on patrol at any given time.
- France may have a small inventory of spare warheads, but it holds no reserve warheads, unlike the United States and Russia. As per Sarkozy’s 2008 statement, the French arsenal is expected to shrink slightly.
- Many “strategic” warheads are for regional use. The status of a Chinese nonstrategic nuclear arsenal is uncertain, and China’s deployed warheads are not thought to be fully operational (that is, mated with delivery systems). China holds additional warheads in storage, for a total stockpile of approximately 240 warheads.
- There is no publicly available evidence that North Korea has operationalized its nuclear weapons capability. A 2009 survey by the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center does not credit any of North Korea’s ballistic missiles with nuclear capability.
- North Korea conducted nuclear weapons test explosion on Oct. 28 2008 with an effect of lower than 1 kt. This is an indication of a partially failed explosion. A more succesful test explosion was conducted on May 25 2009 with an effect of about 4 kt.
- Numbers may not add up due to rounding and uncertainties about operational status (particularly for warheads of the four newer nuclear weapon states) and total inventories (Russia and China).
NOTE! Numbers may not add up due to rounding and uncertainty about the operational status of the four lesser nuclear weapons states and the uncertainty about the size of the total stockpile of three of the five initial nuclear powers.