Special Report

Nuclear Weapons Arsenals Ranked by Country

Handout / Getty Images News via Getty Images

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in World War II changed the world and ushered in a new era. Going forward, many countries developed nuclear weapons systems that has resulted in a current global arsenal of more than 12,500 nuclear warheads. International treaties aimed at regulating testing, preventing proliferation, and facilitating disarmament have helped limit the utilization and spread of nuclear capabilities.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine continuing, there is growing apprehension over the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons in the conflict. With recent reports indicating that Russia is moving nuclear weapons to Belarus, concerns have deepened over the potential for an escalation that could trigger World War III.

To identify the countries with nuclear weapons, 24/7 Wall St. referred to the  Status of World Nuclear Forces report from the Federation of American Scientists, an organization that works to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons and promote government transparency. The FAS categorizes a country’s nuclear arsenal into four divisions: retired, reserve/nondeployed, deployed nonstrategic, and deployed strategic. We merged the deployed warhead classifications, designating the reserve/nondeployed category as “stored.” Military expenditure figures were sourced from The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Only a handful of nations worldwide have nuclear capabilities, yet these countries often have strong military forces and significant defense budgets. Notably, GlobalFirepower identifies many of the listed countries as having some of the most powerful conventional armed forces globally.

Leading this list are the United States and Russia, both engaged in a long-standing nuclear rivalry that originated during decades of Cold War hostilities. These two superpowers have the largest nuclear stockpiles, with 5,244 and 5,889 nuclear warheads, respectively, collectively constituting around 89% of the world’s nuclear weapons.

The United Kingdom and France, both close allies of the United States, also maintain substantial nuclear arsenals, estimated at approximately 225 and 290 warheads, respectively.

In recent years, China has markedly strengthened its nuclear capabilities. With an estimated arsenal of 410 nuclear warheads, the nation is expanding its geopolitical ambitions and strategic focus on maintaining nuclear stability in Asia.

The South Asian neighboring nations of India and Pakistan are both armed with nuclear capabilities and have faced several conflicts since gaining independence. Their mutual distrust has driven the buildup of nuclear arsenals to uphold a regional balance of power, with both countries adhering to the doctrine of “no first use.” India has approximately 160 nuclear warheads, while Pakistan has around 170.

Many global organizations, including the United Nations, advocate for long-term global disarmament agreements. However, increasing geopolitical tensions could hinder the advancement of these agreements.

Here are the countries with nuclear weapons, ranked by arsenal size:

9. North Korea

Source: Stefan Krasowski / Wikimedia Commons
  • Total nuclear warheads: 30
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 0
  • Number of stored warheads: 30
  • Year of first test: 2006
  • Military expenditure (2022): N/A

Ever fearful of foreign intervention, leaders of the Hermit Kingdom have aggressively pursued the development of nuclear weapons systems to serve as a deterrent. North Korea maintains a “no-first-use” policy since its fourth nuclear weapons test in 2016, but the country’s strictly controlled media has made nuclear threats for perceived provocations, like U.S.-South Korean military exercises. FAS estimates that North Korea may have produced enough fissile material to build between 40 and 50 nuclear weapons, though it may not have assembled that many.

8. Israel

Source: Nadav Neuhaus / Getty Images News via Getty Images
  • Total nuclear warheads: 90
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 0
  • Number of stored warheads: 90
  • Year of first test: 2008
  • Military expenditure (2022): $23.4 billion

It is an open secret that Israel has nuclear weapons, but because the country does not acknowledge its possession of such weapons, it is very difficult to conduct research on Israel’s nuclear capabilities. Still, it is believed that Israel has air and land-based nuclear weapons delivery systems as well as a rumored sea-based land-attack cruise missiles. Israel’s primary security concern is that Iran could soon develop its own nuclear weapons.

7. India

Source: Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images News via Getty Images
  • Total nuclear warheads: 164
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 0
  • Number of stored warheads: 164
  • Year of first test: 1974
  • Military expenditure (2022): $81.4 billion

India and Pakistan have stockpiled plenty of nuclear arms to wipe each other out amid cold war-like tensions regarding the territorial dispute of the Kashmir region that both countries claim. India can launch nuclear weapons by air, land, and sea, and it is believed to be expanding its land-based ballistic missile stockpile. India is estimated to have produced enough military plutonium for 150 to 200 nuclear warheads but has likely produced only 150 to 160.

6. Pakistan

Source: Syed Zargham / Getty Images News via Getty Images
  • Total nuclear warheads: 170
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 0
  • Number of stored warheads: 170
  • Year of first test: 1998
  • Military expenditure (2022): $10.3 billion

Tensions between Pakistan and India make this one of the world’s most tense nuclear standoffs. Both countries are expanding their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems. U.S. intelligence may vastly underestimate how many nuclear weapons Pakistan would have developed by 2020. Like its adversary, India, Pakistan can launch nuclear warheads from air, land, and sea. FAS estimates that the country’s stockpile could grow to around 200 by 2025.

5. United Kingdom

Source: Handout / Getty Images News via Getty Images
  • Total nuclear warheads: 225
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 120
  • Number of stored warheads: 105
  • Year of first test: 1952
  • Military expenditure (2022): $68.5 billion

The U.K. has the fifth-largest arsenal of nuclear weapons, with more than half available for quick deployment on four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The U.K. is the only nuclear weapon country that has only one deterrence system. One Vanguard carrying about 40 warheads is deployed at sea at all times as an ongoing deterrent. In 2021, the U.K. government announced the country would increase its stockpile ceiling to up to 260 warheads.

4. France

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Total nuclear warheads: 290
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 280
  • Number of stored warheads: 10
  • Year of first test: 1960
  • Military expenditure (2022): $53.6 billion

France has 65 more nuclear warheads than Britain, not counting about 10 warheads that are spares or in maintenance, making it the fourth-largest nuclear power. Unlike the United Kingdom, which maintains only a submarine-based force, France can launch 50 nuclear weapons from its Rafale fighter jets by land or aircraft carrier. The rest of its nuclear warheads are submarine based. France’s nuclear arsenal of nearly 300 warheads has remained stable in recent years, the FAS notes.

3. China

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Total nuclear warheads: 410
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 0
  • Number of stored warheads: 410
  • Year of first test: 1964
  • Military expenditure (2022): $292.0 billion

China is believed to have the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal, but its estimated 410 weapons systems is a fraction of the nearly 12,000 nuclear weapons held by the U.S. and Russia. But like Russia, China is modernizing its nuclear weapons systems to keep up with its competitors, including construction of new intercontinental missiles and missile silos. China’s stockpile is expected to increase significantly in the next decade, the FAS estimates.

2. United States

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons
  • Total nuclear warheads: 5,244
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 1,770
  • Number of stored warheads: 1,938
  • Year of first test: 1945
  • Military expenditure (2022): $876.9 billion

The United States is the oldest nuclear weapons country and the only one to have used nuclear bombs against another country. The oldest still active U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile was first deployed in 1961 and currently consists of 46 nuclear-capable B-52 bombers. The U.S. has deployed modern submarine-launched ballistic missiles since 2008. Of the near 1,800 deployed nuclear warheads, 400 are on land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, roughly 1,000 are on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 300 are at bomber bases in the U.S., and 100 tactical bombs are at European bases. The U.S. also retired 1,536 warheads.

1. Russia

Source: rusm / iStock Unreleased via Getty Images
  • Total nuclear warheads: 5,889
  • Number of deployed nuclear warheads: 1,674
  • Number of stored warheads: 2,815
  • Year of first test: 1949
  • Military expenditure (2022): $86.4 billion

The Russian Federation is the largest nuclear power, with the largest arsenal of nuclear warheads. Russia is wrapping up a decades-long modernization of its nuclear arsenal, replacing Soviet-era weapons. In recent years, Russia deployed additional nuclear cruise missiles that can be fired from its Tupolev Tu-160 (aka Blackjack) strategic bombers. Of Russia’s 4,489 deployed and stored warheads, about 1,674 strategic warheads are deployed on ballistic missiles and at heavy bomber bases. Russia also retired 1,400 warheads, the FAS estimates.

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