The independent resource on global security

16. World nuclear forces

Contents

Overview, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

I. US nuclear forces, Hans M. Kristensen

II. Russian nuclear forces, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

III. British nuclear forces, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

IV. French nuclear forces, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

V. Chinese nuclear forces, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

VI. Indian nuclear forces, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

VII. Pakistani nuclear forces, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

VIII. Israeli nuclear forces, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

IX. North Korea's military nuclear capabilities, Shannon Kile and Hans M. Kristensen

X. Global stocks and production of fissile materials, 2015, Alexander Glaser and Zia Mian

At the start of 2016, nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea)—possessed approximately 15 395 nuclear weapons, of which 4120 were deployed with operational forces. Roughly 1800 of these weapons are kept in a state of high operational alert.

Nuclear arsenals

The total number of nuclear warheads in the world is declining, primarily due to the USA and Russia reducing their nuclear arsenals, as a result of the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) and unilateral reductions. The pace of reductions appears to be slowing, however, and neither party has made significant reductions in its deployed strategic nuclear forces since early 2011. Furthermore, both the USA and Russia have extensive and expensive modernization programmes under way for their remaining nuclear delivery systems, warheads and production facilities.

The other nuclear-armed states have considerably smaller nuclear arsenals, but all are also either developing or deploying new weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so. The UK (which opted in 2015 for ‘like-for-like’ Trident replacement) and France are committed to maintaining and modernizing their nuclear forces and infrastructure; China has embarked on a long-term modernization programme to make qualitative improvements to its nuclear forces; India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon stockpiles as well as developing land-, sea- and air-based missile delivery systems; Israel is testing a long-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile; and North Korea continues to prioritize its military nuclear programme, with uncertainty as to whether it has developed a nuclear warhead that can be carried by a ballistic missile.

Inadequate transparency

The existence of reliable information on the status of the nuclear arsenals and capabilities of the nuclear-armed states varies considerably. The USA has disclosed substantial information about its stockpile and forces, while the UK and France declare some information. Even though it shares such information with the USA, Russia does not otherwise disclose the detailed breakdown of its forces counted under New START. China remains highly non-transparent. The governments of India and Pakistan make statements about some of their missile tests but provide no information about the status or size of their respective arsenals. Israel neither officially confirms nor denies that it possesses nuclear weapons, and North Korea provides no public information about its nuclear weapon capabilities.

Fissile materials

The raw material for nuclear weapons is fissile material, either highly enriched uranium (HEU) or separated plutonium. China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA have produced HEU and plutonium for use in their nuclear weapons; India and Israel have produced mainly plutonium; and Pakistan has produced mainly HEU. All states with a civilian nuclear enrichment or reprocessing industry are capable of producing fissile materials.

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