The possession of nuclear weapons is a critical aspect of international security and geopolitics. In this article, we will delve into the top 10 countries with the largest nuclear arsenals in the world as of 2023. These nations play a pivotal role in global strategic dynamics, shaping policies and alliances that impact the state of international relations.
International agreements are governed by a variety of bilateral and multilateral treaties, the most notable of which is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons, which was signed in 1970. The Non-Proliferation Treaty was intended to do exactly what it says: it is an agreement between member governments not to expand or proliferate their nuclear weapons stockpiles. Furthermore, the NPT established the commitment to nuclear disarmament or reduction. The distinction between non-proliferation and disarmament is clear, and the divided viewpoints are highlighted by the “Waltz-Sagan dispute.”
The development of nuclear weapons is a closely guarded government secret. The accuracy of the figures presented is suspect at best and is based mostly on educated estimations based on historical data paired with judgments regarding nuclear material ownership and the technological capabilities to weaponize nuclear material by developing a delivery device. The following are current nuclear weapons-in-use estimates per nation.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Nuclear Weapons in the World 2023
1. Russia – (6,255 – Nuclear Weapons): In 1949, the Soviet Union carried out the first nuclear test (RDS-1). Part of the expertise for this crash project came from espionage during and after WWII. The Soviet Union was the second country in the world to develop and test nuclear weapons, behind the United States.
Russia possesses the world’s greatest nuclear arsenal, according to most estimates. Putin possessed 6,255 nukes as of late 2021, according to the Stockholm Peace Institute. The number is estimated to be between 5,977 and 6257 by other nuclear proliferation watchdogs.
The current total includes 1,760 warheads that are believed to be in the process of being decommissioned. Although still alarming, Russia’s nuclear arsenal has shrunk dramatically since the USSR disintegrated in 1991, when the country inherited 35,000 weapons. Both Russia and the United States signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which has been in effect since 2011. The pact sets a maximum of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads and bombs.
2. The United State Of America – (5,550 – Nuclear Weapons): Fearing that Nazi Germany might develop nuclear weapons first, the United States collaborated with the United Kingdom and Canada on the Manhattan Project to build the first nuclear weapons during World War II. It was the first country to use nuclear bombs in a war, killing the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on July 16, 1945. It is still the world’s only country to have used nuclear bombs in combat.
In 1952, it was the first country to test a prototype of the hydrogen bomb, and in 1954, it was the first country to test a deployable weapon.
Throughout the Cold War, it continued to improve and grow its nuclear arsenal, but since 1992, it has mostly concentrated on stockpile stewardship.
The US possesses around 5,550 nuclear weapons, with 1,800 of them ‘deployed,’ meaning they are on missiles or at facilities with active forces.
Until now, the US has been the only country to use an atomic bomb in a fight.
3. China (290 – Nuclear Weapons): At the Lop Nur test site in 1964, China conducted its first nuclear weapon test. The weapon was designed as a deterrence to both the United States and the Soviet Union. Two years later, China developed a fission bomb that could be placed into a nuclear missile. It tested its first hydrogen bomb 32 months after testing its first nuclear weapon.
Following the United States and Russia, each country’s nuclear arsenal is severely reduced. China has less than a tenth of the resources that the US does.
Last November, a Pentagon report warned that China’s nuclear arsenal was growing more faster than the US had anticipated a year earlier.
The US is afraid that by 2030, Beijing would have more than 1,000 weapons.
4. France – (290 – Nuclear Weapons): With 290 nuclear weapons, France ranks among the countries with the most nuclear weapons in the world. The majority of these weapons are submarine-based, with the remainder being cruise missiles launched from the air.
In 1960, the country conducted its first nuclear attack test. France vows to follow a “strict sufficiency” policy, keeping its nuclear weapons at the “lowest strategic level achievable.”
5. The United Kingdom – (225 – Nuclear Weapons): In 1952, the United Kingdom tested the first nuclear weapon, dubbed “Hurricane.” Austrian, German, and Polish physicists working at British institutions who had left or refused to return to Nazi Germany or Nazi-controlled countries were early supporters of the atomic bomb idea.
During the Manhattan Project, the UK worked closely with the US and Canada, but when US secrecy increased after 1945, it was compelled to create its own technique of producing and detonating a bomb. Following the United States and the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom became the world’s third country to develop and test nuclear weapons.
The United Kingdom has roughly 225 nuclear weapons and began its nuclear weapons program during World War II. Arms are deployed at sea and are delivered by US-made Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
Trident is a fleet of four submarines operated by the Royal Navy and located at HMNB Clyde in Scotland. The government has conducted 45 nuclear weapons tests to date.
6. Pakistan – (165 – Nuclear Weapons): Pakistan is officially not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Since the late 1970s, Pakistan has been secretly developing nuclear weapons. Pakistan got its start with nuclear weapon in the early 1970s, when it built its first nuclear power plant in Karachi with mostly Western-supplied equipment and components.
In 1971, Pakistani President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto stated that if India could construct nuclear weapons, so could Pakistan: “We would develop Nuclear stockpiles, even if we have to eat grass.”
Pakistan possesses 165 nuclear weapons and wants to build more by 2021. The country’s tense relationship with India has a significant impact on the country’s nuclear weapons production rate. Pakistan resumed nuclear weapons testing in 1988, citing national security concerns.
7. India – (156 – Nuclear Weapons): The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not include India. In 1998, India implemented the “no first use” policy. In 1974, India conducted a test of a “peaceful nuclear explosive” (which became known as “Smiling Buddha”). The test was the first after the NPT was established, and it raised new concerns about how civilian nuclear technology may be discreetly converted to military objectives (dual-use technology).
India has been in an arms race with Pakistan for a long time, with 156 nuclear weapons. However, recent tense relations with China make nuclear weapons production more difficult. As a result, every attempt by India to modernize its nuclear weapons will be seen as a threat by Pakistan, escalating the nuclear arms race.
8. North Korea – (50 – Nuclear Weapons): In February 2005, North Korea claimed to have operational nuclear weapons, but the lack of a test at the time prompted many analysts to doubt the claim. In response to rising US threats, North Korea said in October 2006 that it would conduct a nuclear test to legitimize its nuclear stance. North Korea claimed the successful completion of a nuclear test on October 9, 2006.
With 50 nuclear weapons, North Korea is assumed to have the fewest on the list, although it is a famously secretive country. In 2018, the government agreed to a nuclear and long-range missile testing freeze, however long-range missile tests resumed in 2020.
North Korea has conducted many missile tests over the Sea of Japan under the leadership of Kim Jong Un, heightening fears of an assault. Kim has stated that his country’s military and nuclear weapons would be expanded.
9. Israel: Despite its ambiguous stance, Israel is usually thought to be in possession of a sizable quantity of nuclear weapons. The Israeli government neither confirms nor denies its existence of nuclear weapons, and the specifics of its arsenal remain shrouded in secrecy. Between 80 and 400 nuclear warheads are thought to be in Israel’s arsenal, and the nation is thought to be able to deliver them using a variety of platforms, such as aircraft, submarine-launched cruise missiles, and the Jericho series of intermediate-range ballistic missiles.
It is believed that its first nuclear weapon was finished in late 1966 or early 1967, making it the sixth nation in the world to have created one. Despite international pressure, Israel has also resisted signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), claiming that doing so would compromise its national security interests.
10. Germany: Despite being well-known for its adamant opposition to nuclear weapons, Germany continues to be a fascinating case. The nation does not have nuclear weapons of its own, but as part of NATO’s nuclear sharing policy, it hosts a number of American nuclear warheads.
To increase the collective security of NATO member nations, these weapons are stationed in Germany. As part of a nuclear sharing agreement, Germany is one of five NATO allies to host US nuclear weapons on their soil. Approximately 10–15 B61 nuclear bombs are deployed at the Büchel air base for the German air force.
In compared to other nuclear powers, the US and Russia have a significant quantity of nuclear weapons. During the Cold War, the two countries engaged in a nuclear weapons race, which resulted in this. You could also reflect on the devastating damage and repercussions of two nuclear bombs unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and question why any government would want hundreds upon thousands of nuclear warheads.
Practically, only a small fraction of that would destroy the world as we know it, but politically, accumulating weapons was a way of demonstrating worldwide dominance. Because of the Cold War arms race, Russia and the United States still have the most nuclear weapons.