Of all the collective problems facing the world today, nuclear proliferation ranks among the most dire and unpredictable. Currently, nine countries are known to be in possession of a total of 13,865 nuclear warheads — and maintaining control over those weapons and keeping other countries from developing them is a priority for the United States and its allies.
A nuclear weapon falling into the wrong hands or a miscommunication and inadvertent escalation between nuclear adversaries could be catastrophic. Of the 19 disasters that could end the world, less than half are man made, and nuclear war is one of them.
The number of nuclear weapons on the planet fell slightly last year, due largely to the continued dismantling of stockpiles in the United States and Russia — two powers that together possess over 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. Still, every nuclear-armed country is modernizing its nuclear arsenals — and some countries are even expanding theirs.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed nuclear weapon stockpile estimates, released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, to identify the countries with the largest nuclear stockpiles. The countries on this list have developed and maintained a nuclear arsenal in the interest of national security — and not surprisingly, military might is often a priority for them. In fact, several countries with the largest nuclear arsenals are also the countries spending the most on war.
Throughout history, the United States has been the only country to have used a nuclear weapon in combat, bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945, at the end of WWII. South Africa is the only non-nuclear power to have once had a nuclear arsenal — building six warheads in the 1980s and dismantling them the following decade.
To identify the countries with the largest nuclear stockpiles, 24/7 Wall St reviewed 2019 weapons inventory data provided by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI. For many nuclear powers, official inventory figures are state secrets, and some SIPRI figures are estimates based on expert analysis. Data on annual military expenditure, which also came from SIPRI, are for 2018 and are in current U.S. dollars. GDP in 2018 are also listed in current U.S. dollars and came from the World Bank.