The number of nuclear weapons in the world has declined significantly since the Cold War: down from a peak of approximately 70,300 in 1986 to an estimated 14,550 in late-2017. Government officials often portray that accomplishment as a result of current arms control agreements, but the overwhelming portion of the reduction happened in the 1990s. Moreover, comparing today’s inventory with that of the 1950s is like comparing apples and oranges; today’s forces are vastly more capable. The pace of reduction has slowed significantly. Instead of planning for nuclear disarmament, the nuclear-armed states appear to plan to retain large arsenals for the indefinite future.
Approximately 93 percent of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States who each have roughly 4,000-4,300 warheads in their military stockpiles; no other nuclear-armed state sees a need for more than a few hundred nuclear weapons for national security:
The exact number of nuclear weapons in each country’s possession is a closely held national secret. Despite this limitation, however, publicly available information, careful analysis of historical records, and occasional leaks make it possible to make best estimates about the size and composition of the national nuclear weapon stockpiles:
Status of World Nuclear Forces 2017*
How to read this table:
Deployed strategic warheads are those deployed on intercontinental missiles and at heavy bomber bases. Deployed nonstrategic warheads are those deployed on bases with operational short-range delivery systems. Reserve/Nondeployed warheads are those not deployed on launchers and in storage (weapons at bomber bases are considered deployed). The military stockpile includes warheads that are in the custody of the military and earmarked for use by commissioned deliver vehicles. The total inventory includes warheads in the military stockpile as well as retired, but still intact, warheads in queue for dismantlement.
a Warheads in the “military stockpile” are defined as warheads in the custody of the military and earmarked for use by military forces. b The “total inventory” counts warheads in the military stockpile as well as retired, but still intact, warheads awaiting dismantlement. c This number is higher than the aggregate data under the New START treaty because this table also counts bomber weapons at bomber bases as deployed. Detailed overview of Russian forces as of 2017. Numbers have been updated for later changes. d All are declared to be in central storage. Several thousand retired non-strategic warheads are awaiting dismantlement. e Includes an estimated 790 strategic warheads and all 1,800 non-strategic warheads. f In addition to the 4,300 in the military stockpile, an estimated 2,500 retired warheads are estimated to be awaiting dismantlement. Details are scarce, but we estimate that Russia is dismantling 200-300 retired warheads per year.
2017 overview of Russian forces g This number is higher than the aggregate data released under the New START data because this table also counts bomber weapons on bomber bases as deployed.
US numbers have been updated to account for recent developments. h Approximately 150 B61 bombs are deployed in Europe at six bases in five countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey). i Non-deployed reserve includes an estimated 2,050 strategic and 150 non-strategic warheads in central storage. j The U.S. government declared in January 2017 that its stockpile included 4,018 warheads as of September 2016. Since then, a small number of warheads are thought to have been retired for an estimated 4,000 remaining in the stockpile. k In addition to the roughly 4,000 warheads in the military stockpile, the US government in January 2017 announced that approximately 2,600 retired warheads are awaiting dismantlement. In addition, more than 20,000 plutonium cores (pits) and some 5,000 Canned Assemblies (secondaries) from dismantled warheads are in storage at the Pantex Plant in Texas and Y-12 plant in Tennessee. l Only weapons for France’s single aircraft carrier are not considered deployed, although it is possible that warhead loadings on some submarines missiles have been reduced. m China is thought to have “several hundred warheads,” far less than the 1,600-3,000 that have been suggested by some. None of the warheads are thought to be fully deployed but kept in storage under central control.
The existence of a Chinese non-strategic nuclear arsenal is uncertain. The Chinese arsenal is increasing with production of new warheads for DF-31/31A/41 and JL-2 missiles. n The number of British warheads on each submarine has been lowered from 48 to 40. This has lowered the number of “operationally available” warheads from 160 to 120. By the mid-2020s, the stockpile will be reduced to “not more than 180.” This reduction is already underway. o Although Israel has produced enough plutonium for 100-200 warheads, the number of delivery platforms and estimates made by the U.S. intelligence community suggest that the stockpile might include approximately 80 warheads. p None of Pakistan’s warheads are thought to be deployed but kept in central storage, most in the southern parts of the country. More warheads are in production. q Indian nuclear warheads are not deployed but in central storage. More warheads are in production. r After six nuclear tests, including two of 10-20 kilotons and one of more than 200 kilotons, we estimate that North Korea might have produced 10-20 warheads, although the operational status is difficult to assess.
Detailed overview of North Korean nuclear capabilities
s 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 inventories of three of the five initial nuclear powers.
The information available for each country varies greatly, ranging from the most transparent nuclear weapons state (United States) to the most opaque (Israel).
Accordingly, while the estimate for the United States is based on “real” numbers, the estimates for several of the other nuclear weapon states are highly uncertain.
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