The United States is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons during a war, dropping two atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 that likely hastened the surrender of Japan to end World War II, the most expensive war in U.S. history. The American nuclear monopoly did not last long. Four years later, the Soviet Union detonated its first atomic device, and the race was on for nuclear weapon supremacy between the Cold War adversaries.
Since 1949, the Earth has been living under a nuclear Damocles sword, and according to historians, the world could have ended on several occasions. Fortunately for humankind, rationality prevailed. The United States and the Soviet Union, which between them have 92% of the world’s nuclear weapons, took measures to avoid atomic Armageddon, with various disarmament treaties beginning with the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963 followed by the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM), and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START).
Despite the treaties, the world remains a dangerous place as other nations have joined the nuclear club. At least nine countries now have nuclear weapons. Two others — Iran and Syria — might have them or soon will.
South Africa built six nuclear weapons in the 1980s but chose to dismantle them in the 1990s, the only country so far to end its nuclear program. Even though some nations possessing nuclear weapons have been reducing their inventories, all the nuclear weapon-possessing countries are developing new nuclear weapon systems and modernizing their existing ones.
Using data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the nine countries with the largest nuclear stockpiles and the two that may be on the brink of developing nuclear capabilities. Most nations do not publicize the exact figures of their nuclear weapons inventories, so some SIPRI figures are estimates based on expert analysis.
In 2018, world military expenditures reached $1.8 trillion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The United States spends $649 billion on the military, or 36% of the world’s total, the most of any nation, according to SIPRI.