The independent resource on global security

7. World nuclear forces


Overview, Shannon N. Kile [PDF]

I. US nuclear forces, Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

II. Russian nuclear forces, Shannon N. Kile, Vitaly Fedchenko, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

III. British nuclear forces, Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

IV. French nuclear forces, Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

V. Chinese nuclear forces, Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

VI. Indian nuclear forces, Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

VII. Pakistani nuclear force, Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

VIII. Israeli nuclear forces, Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

IX. North Korea’s military nuclear capabilities, Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Hans M. Kristersen [PDF]

X. Global stocks and production of fissile materials, 2011, Alexander Glaser and Zia Mian* [PDF]


* International Panel on Fissile Materials


At the start of 2012, 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 USA, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel together possess a total of approximately 19 000 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 Russia–USA 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, and little information is publicly available about its nuclear forces and weapon production complex.


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 publicly available information is often contradictory or incorrect.


World nuclear forces, 2012


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, which entered into force in 2011, as well as through unilateral force cuts. Since Russia and the USA possess by far the two largest nuclear weapon arsenals, one result has been that the total number of nuclear weapons in the world continues to decline.


The nuclear arsenals of China, France and the UK are considerably smaller, but all are either developing new weapons or have plans to do so. China is the only one of these states that appears to be expanding the size of its nuclear forces, albeit slowly.


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, 2011
Highly enriched uranium ~1270 tonnes*
Separated plutonium
Military stocks ~237 tonnes
Civilian stocks ~250 tonnes

* Not including 171 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 missiles 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. There have been no official statements specifying the required size and composition of the arsenal but, according to the Ministry of Defence, it involves ‘a mix of land-based, maritime and air capabilities’ (a ‘triad’).


In May 2011 the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, convened a meeting of the Nuclear Command Authority—the body responsible for overseeing the country’s nuclear arsenal—to assess progress towards the goal of achieving an operational triad.


Pakistan’s nuclear doctrine is also based on the principle of minimum deterrence but does not specifically rule out the first-use of nuclear weapons to offset India’s superiority in conventional arms and manpower.


Pakistan’s development of new short-range ballistic missiles suggests that its military planning has evolved to include contingencies for the use of ‘battlefield nuclear weapons’. This may lead to nuclear warheads being deployed on a more launch-ready posture.


Israeli nuclear forces

Israel continues to maintain its long-standing policy of nuclear opacity, neither officially confirming nor denying that it possesses nuclear weapons. However, it is widely believed to have produced plutonium for a nuclear weapon arsenal.


Israel may have produced non-strategic nuclear weapons, including artillery shells and atomic demolition munitions, but this has never been confirmed.


North Korea’s military nuclear capabilities

North Korea has demonstrated a military nuclear capability. However, there is no public information to verify that it possesses operational nuclear weapons.


At the end of 2011 North Korea was estimated to have separated roughly 30 kilograms of plutonium. This would be sufficient to construct up to eight nuclear weapons, depending on North Korea’s design and engineering skills.


According to a leaked report prepared in 2011 by the UN Security Council’s panel of experts on North Korea, the country has pursued a uranium-enrichment programme ‘for several years or even decades’. It is not known whether North Korea has produced HEU for use in nuclear weapons.

Shannon N. Kile, Phillip Schell and Vitaly Fedchenko