6. World nuclear forces

Contents

  • Overview (sample PDF)
    SHANNON N. KILE AND HANS M. KRISTENSEN
  • I. US nuclear forces
    HANS M. KRISTENSEN
  • II. Russian nuclear forces
    VITALY FEDCHENKO, HANS M. KRISTENSEN AND PHILIP SCHELL
  • III. British nuclear forces
    SHANNON N. KILE AND HANS M. KRISTENSEN
  • IV. French nuclear forces
    PHILLIP SCHELL AND HANS M. KRISTENSEN
  • V. Chinese nuclear forces
    PHILLIP SCHELL AND HANS M. KRISTENSEN
  • VI. Indian nuclear forces
    SHANNON N. KILE AND HANS M. KRISTENSEN
  • VII. Pakistani nuclear forces
    PHILLIP SCHELL AND HANS M. KRISTENSEN
  • VIII. Israeli nuclear forces
    PHILLIP SCHELL AND HANS M. KRISTENSEN
  • IX. North Korea’s military nuclear capabilities
    SHANNON N. KILE
  • X. Global stocks and production of fissile materials, 2012
    ALEXANDER GLASER AND ZIA MIAN

Summary

At the start of 2013 eight states possessed approximately 4400 operational nuclear weapons. Nearly 2000 of these are kept in a state of high operational alert. If all nuclear warheads are counted—operational warheads, spares, those in both active and inactive storage, and intact warheads scheduled for dismantlement—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel possess a total of approximately 17 270 nuclear weapons.

The availability of reliable information about the nuclear weapon states’ arsenals varies considerably. France, the UK and the USA have recently disclosed important information about their nuclear capabilities. In contrast, transparency in Russia has decreased as a result of its decision not to publicly release detailed data about its strategic nuclear forces under the 2010 Russian–US New START treaty, even though it shares the information with the USA. China remains highly non-transparent as part of its long-standing deterrence strategy.

Reliable information on the operational status of the nuclear arsenals and capabilities of the three states that have never been party to the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)—India, Israel and Pakistan—is especially difficult to find. In the absence of official declarations, the available information is often contradictory, incorrect or exaggerated.

 

World nuclear forces, 2013


Country
Deployed
warheads
Other
warheads
Total
Inventory
USA 2 150
5 550

~7 700

Russia 1 800
6 700
8 500
UK 160
65
225
France ~290
~10
~300
China . .
~250
~250
India . .
90–110
90–110
Pakistan . .
100–120
100–120
Israel . .
~80
~80
North Korea . .
. .
6–8?
Total ~4 400
~12 865
~17 270
All estimates are approximate and are as of January 2013.

The legally recognized nuclear weapon states

All five legally recognized nuclear weapon states, as defined by the NPT—China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA—appear determined to remain nuclear powers for the indefinite future. Russia and the USA have major modernization programmes under way for nuclear delivery systems, warheads and production facilities. At the same time, they continue to reduce their nuclear forces through the implementation of New START and through unilateral force reductions.

Since the nuclear weapon arsenals of Russia and the USA are by far the largest, one result has been that the total number of nuclear weapons in the world has been declining. The nuclear arsenals of the other three legally recognized nuclear weapon states are considerably smaller, but all three states are either deploying new weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so. Of the five legally recognized nuclear weapon states, only China appears to be expanding the size of its nuclear arsenal. In 2012, China conducted a comprehensive series of missile trials consolidating its road-mobile, land-based and submarine-based nuclear deterrent.

 

Stocks of fissile materials

Materials that can sustain an explosive fission chain reaction are essential for all types of nuclear explosives, from first-generation fission weapons to advanced thermonuclear weapons. The most common of these fissile materials are highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium.

For their nuclear weapons, China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA have produced both HEU and plutonium; India, Israel and North Korea have produced mainly plutonium; and Pakistan mainly HEU. All states with a civilian nuclear industry have some capability to produce fissile materials.


Global stocks, 2012
Highly enriched uranium  ~1285 tonnes*
Separated plutonium
  Military stocks  ~224 tonnes
  Civilian stocks  ~264 tonnes

* Not including 92 tonnes to be blended down. 

Indian and Pakistani nuclear forces

India and Pakistan are increasing the size and sophistication of their nuclear arsenals. Both countries are developing and deploying new types of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missile and both are increasing their military fissile material production capabilities.

India’s nuclear doctrine is based on the principle of a minimum credible deterrent and no-first-use of nuclear weapons. In June 2012 the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, convened a meeting of India’s Nuclear Command Authority, which reportedly stressed the need for the ‘faster consolidation’ of India’s nuclear deterrence posture based on an operational triad of nuclear forces.

In 2012 Pakistan conducted a series of missile trials testing most of its nuclear-capable missile types that are currently in operational service or still under development. Pakistan is also expanding its main plutonium-production complex at Khushab, Punjab.

 

Israeli nuclear forces

Israel continues to maintain its long-standing policy of nuclear opacity. It neither officially confirms nor denies that it possesses nuclear weapons. It is estimated that Israel has approximately 80 intact nuclear weapons, of which 50 are for delivery by Jericho II medium-range ballistic missiles and 30 are gravity bombs for delivery by aircraft. The operational status of the longer-range Jericho III ballistic missile is unknown. There was renewed speculation in 2012 that Israel may also have developed nuclear-capable submarine-launched cruise missiles.

 

North Korea’s military nuclear capabilities

North Korea maintains a secretive and highly opaque military nuclear programme. There is no public information to verify that it possesses operational nuclear weapons. However, in January 2012 the US Director of National Intelligence assessed that North Korea had produced nuclear weapons, although he gave no estimate of the size of the country’s weapon inventory.

During 2012 several non-governmental reports concluded, based on the analysis of satellite imagery and other evidence, that North Korea was making technical preparations for carrying out a third underground nuclear test in tunnels at its nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, in the north-east of the country.

 

Global stocks of fissile materials, 2012

Materials that can sustain an explosive fission chain reaction are essential for all types of nuclear explosives, from first-generation fission weapons to advanced thermonuclear weapons. The most common of these fissile materials are highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium.

For their nuclear weapons, China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA have produced both HEU and plutonium; India, Israel and North Korea have produced mainly plutonium; and Pakistan mainly HEU. All states with a civilian nuclear industry have some capability to produce fissile materials.

The International Panel on Fissile Materials compiles information on global stocks of fissile materials.