With the proliferation of nuclear weapons, many experts warn that another use of nuclear weapons would cause World War III and account for hundreds of thousands of deaths, or perhaps millions. And for the first time, perhaps, since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, there is widespread worry that Russia could use nuclear weapons in its invasion of Ukraine.
The lack of progress by the Russian military may prompt them to turn to more destructive weapons. Several NATO countries are on the Ukraine border, and NATO members have their own large supply of nuclear weapons. (By conventional means, these are the countries with the strongest militaries.)
Though the Cold War ended in 1989, several countries continue to develop nuclear arms capabilities. Russia is completing a decades-long effort to modernize its nuclear weapons systems, while the United States deployed 8-kiloton nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles as recently as 2019, according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. China, India and Pakistan are expanding their nuclear weapons capabilities, and Iran may be secretly developing its own nuclear weapons program.
To determine the country with the most nuclear weapons, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed warhead inventories for each country using estimates from the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that works to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons and increase government transparency. All other data came from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Nuclear weapons vary in potency, ranging from small tactical nuclear devices to intercontinental ballistic missiles that can yield up to 800 kilotons, or about 44 times the power of the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The smallest nuclear weapon system ever built was the American M28 and M29 (aka the Davy Crocket), with a yield of about 0.02 kilotons, equivalent to 20 tons of TNT.
The United States and Russia continue to maintain the most nuclear weapons, far more than the other seven nuclear powers combined. Fortunately, the number of nuclear weapons has declined significantly from its peak years prior to the end of the Cold War, thanks in part to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and the New START, which extended the treaty between the United States and Russia to 2026. However, plenty of nuclear firepower remains.
The Russian Federation has 5,977 nuclear warheads, of which 1,588 are deployed, 2,889 are stored, and 1,500 are retired. Russia tested its first nuclear warhead in 1949, four years after the U.S. first dropped the bombs in World War II. The country’s current defense budget is $62 billion, less than 10% of the U.S. defense budget of $778 billion. (See the weapon the u s military spends the most money on.)
FAS researchers used unclassified information to arrive at their estimates. In addition, researchers used a variety of sources, including satellite images, public statements from public officials, newspapers articles, private conversations with government officials, and historical analyses over many years, to ascertain these estimates.
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