NUKE WAR, Part II: Today’s global nuclear weapons states and their arsenals
Global nuclear weapons stockpiles are at their highest level ever
Approximately 50 B61 nuclear bombs inside an igloo at what might be Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. Seventy-five igloos at Nellis store “one of the largest stockpile in the free world,” according to the U.S. Air Force, one of four central storage sites in the United States. Photo: Federation of American Scientists
Best estimates for each nation place the number of known nuclear weapons at insanely
As President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un engage in their war of words, the world is poised on the brink of Mutually Assured Destruction. Global nuclear weapons stockpiles — including both strategic warheads, lower-yield devices a.k.a: tactical battlefield weapons, and weapons awaiting dismantlement — are at their highest level ever. This, in spite of treaties and agreements that aim to reduce the potential for such cataclysm.
While the superpowers have made important strides in the long walk towards disarmament, there are numerous countries that fly below the radar of full disclosure. Some of these countries have opted-out of treaty efforts, and maintain secret nuclear programs and growing stockpiles of nuclear weapons.
Growth, reduction of global nuclear weapons inventories
The U.S. hope of maintaining a monopoly on nuclear weapons was wishful thinking, as the secrets of nuclear technology soon spread. Four years after the decimation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the nuclear race was in full swing between the major world powers — China, France, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and the United States.
The Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test in 1949, the UK in 1952, France in 1960, and China in 1964. The U.S. and the other nuclear states negotiated the landmark international Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996, seeking to prevent global nuclear armament. Despite the treaties, espionage enabled India, Israel, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, South Africa, and North Korea to embark on their own nuclear programs. These nations, with the exception of North Korea, never signed the NPT and most possess nuclear arsenals, today. North Korea withdrew from the NPT in January 2003 and has tested nuclear devices ever since, to the chagrin of the major nuclear powers.
Iraq initiated a secret nuclear program under Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Iran and Libya have pursued secret nuclear activities in violation of the treaty’s terms and Syria is suspected of having done the same. Still, nuclear nonproliferation successes outnumber failures and dire forecasts decades ago that the world would be home to dozens of states armed with nuclear weapons. Thus far, that has not come to pass.
At the time the NPT was concluded, the nuclear stockpiles of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union numbered in the tens of thousands. Beginning in the 1970s, U.S. and Soviet leaders negotiated a series of bilateral arms control agreements and initiatives that limited and later helped to reduce the size of their nuclear arsenals. Today, the U.S. and Russia each deploy more than 1,500 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles and are modernizing their nuclear delivery systems.
China, India, and Pakistan all are pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. In addition, Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. North Korea continues its nuclear pursuits in violation of its earlier denuclearization pledges.
The nuclear-weapon states were officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons by the NPT. The treaty serves to legitimize their nuclear arsenals, but prohibits building and maintaining such weapons in perpetuity. In 2000, the powers committed themselves to the “total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” Because of the secretive nature with which most governments treat information about their nuclear arsenals, most of the figures below are best estimates of each nuclear-weapon state’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, including both strategic warheads and lower-yield devices referred to as tactical battlefield weapons.
The following are best estimates for each nation:
United States: September 2016 New START declaration, 1,367 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 681 ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. FAS estimates 2,570 non-deployed strategic warheads and roughly 500 deployed and nondeployed tactical warheads. In May 2016 the Defense Department announced that as of Sept. 30, 2015, the U.S. possessed 4,500 active and inactive nuclear warheads. (Note: This number does not include warheads awaiting dismantlement.) The State Department announced in April 2015 that approximately 2,500 warheads are retired and await dismantlement.
Russia: September 2016 New START declaration, 1,796 strategic warheads deployed on 508 ICBMs, Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers.(Note: In March 2016, the U.S. State Department issued the latest fact sheet on its data exchange with Russia under New START, sharing the numbers of deployed nuclear warheads and New START-accountable delivery systems held by each country.) The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates roughly 2,700 non-deployed strategic, deployed and nondeployed tactical warheads, and 3,200 additional warheads awaiting dismantlement.
United Kingdom: Estimate, 120 strategic warheads, of which no more than 40 are deployed at sea on four nuclear ballistic missile submarines at any given time. Total stockpile is estimated up to 215 warheads.
France: 300 total warheads.
China: 260 total warheads.
Next week: Part III — “Non-treaty nation or terrorist state likely culprit in tomorrow’s nuke war”
The following sources contributed to this report:
Arms Control Association, Federation of American Scientists, International Panel on Fissile Materials, U.S. Department of Defense, and U.S. Department of State.
Federation of American Scientists, CIA World Fact book, Nuclear Threat Initiative, U.S. Census Bureau; army-technology.com
U.S. Department of Nonproliferation Policy, U.S. Department of Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy.
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Next week: NUKE WAR, Part III — “Non-treaty nation or terrorist state likely culprit in tomorrow’s nuke war”