How many nuclear weapons are there worldwide? And who has what?

Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday ordered “to put the Russian army’s dissuasive forces on special alert” read: to put its nuclear arsenal on edge. But exactly how many nuclear weapons does Russia have? How many are there worldwide? And who has what? An overview.

According to the most recent report (June 14, 2021) from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), there are nine states with nuclear weapons: Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. Together they owned an estimated 13,080 at the beginning of 2021. That is less than a year earlier, when an estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons were involved.

In contrast, there were some 3,825 nuclear weapons operational in early 2021, meaning they were mounted on missiles or on bases where operational forces were present. The rest were stored, were spare warheads, or were (old) warheads waiting to be dismantled.

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A year earlier, there were ‘only’ 3,720 nuclear weapons operational. Some 2,000 nuclear weapons are in a state of “high operational alertness”. Almost all of them belong to the US (1,800) or Russia (1,625).

The SIPRI – an independent international institute that conducts worldwide research into violence, armaments, arms control, and disarmament – also made an overview of the number of nuclear warheads per country.

Together, Russia and the United States possess more than 90 percent of all nuclear warheads. Russia had an estimated 6,255 at the beginning of 2021, the United States 5,550. If you compare the figures with those at the beginning of 2020 (-120 and -250 respectively), they are the only countries that have phased out their arsenal.

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France and Israel kept the number of nuclear weapons the same. France had an estimated 290 and Israel 90 at the beginning of 2021.

These nine countries have nuclear weapons.
These nine countries have nuclear weapons. ©Arms Control Association

All other countries expanded their arsenals: the United Kingdom had some 225 (+10), China 350 (+30), India 156 (+6), Pakistan 165 (+5), and North Korea between the 40 and 50 (at the beginning of 2020, there were between 30 and 40). However, according to the US Department of Defense, China is in the process of developing nuclear warheads. It could be 700 by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030.

According to US State Department figures (September 2021), Russia would have 1,458 operational, strategic warheads on 527 intercontinental missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers. The United States has 1,389 operational, strategic warheads on 665 intercontinental missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers.

The United States also has about 100 B61 nuclear weapons that planes can drop. According to the American Arms Control Association, these are located at six NATO bases in five European countries: Kleine Brogel in Belgium, Volkel in the Netherlands, Büchel in Germany, Incirlik in Turkey, and Aviano and Ghedi in Italy.

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Ukraine does not possess nuclear weapons, as do Belarus and Kazakhstan, but that was once different. They inherited nuclear weapons after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 but gave them back to Russia.

South Africa and Iraq also once had nuclear weapons, but they dismantled them. Other countries that once had ambitions for nuclear weapons, but put them away: Libya, Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan.

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