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Animated Chart: Nuclear Warheads by Country (1945-2022)

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Visualizing The Nuclear Warheads of Countries Since 1945

Despite significant progress in reducing nuclear weapon arsenals since the Cold War, the world’s combined inventory of warheads remains at an uncomfortably high level.

Towards the late 1980s, the world reached its peak of stockpiled warheads, numbering over 64,000. In modern times, nine countries—the U.S., Russia, France, China, the UK, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea—are estimated to possess roughly 12,700 nuclear warheads.

The animated chart above by creator James Eagle shows the military stockpile of nuclear warheads that each country has possessed since 1945.

Nuclear Warheads Currently in Possession by Countries

The signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) brought about a rapid disarmament of nuclear warheads. Though not immediately successful in stopping nuclear proliferation, it eventually led to countries retiring most of their nuclear arsenals.

As of 2022, about 12,700 nuclear warheads are still estimated to be in use, of which more than 9,400 are in military stockpiles for use by missiles, aircraft, ships and submarines.

Here’s a look at the nine nations that currently have nuclear warheads in their arsenal:

CountryMilitary StockpileRetired WeaponsTotal Inventory
🇷🇺 Russia4,4771,5005,977
🇺🇸 United States3,7081,7205,428
🇫🇷 France2900290
🇨🇳 China3500350
🇬🇧 United Kingdom18045225
🇮🇱 Israel90090
🇵🇰 Pakistan1650165
🇮🇳 India1600160
🇰🇵 North Korea20020
Total9,44012,705

The U.S. and Russia are by far the two countries with the most nuclear warheads in military stockpiles, with each having close to 4,000 in possession.

Timeline: Key Events in the Nuclear Arms Race

At the dawn of the nuclear age, the U.S. hoped to maintain a monopoly on nuclear weapons, but the secret technology and methodology for building the atomic bomb soon spread. Only 10 countries have since possessed or deployed any nuclear weapons.

Here are a few key dates in the timeline of the nuclear arms race from 1945 to 2022:

August 6 & 9, 1945:

The U.S. drops two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, decimating the cities and forcing the country’s surrender, ending the Second World War.

August 29, 1949:

The Soviet Union tests its first nuclear bomb, code-named First Lightning in Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstan. It becomes the second country to develop and successfully test a nuclear device.

October 3, 1952:

The UK conducts its first nuclear test at Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia, and later additional tests at Maralinga and Emu Fields in South Australia.

February 13, 1960:

France explodes its first atomic bomb in the Sahara Desert, with a yield of 60–70 kilotons. It moves further nuclear tests to the South Pacific, which continue up until 1996.

October 16–29, 1962:

A tense stand-off known as the Cuban Missile Crisis begins when the U.S. discovers Soviet missiles in Cuba. The U.S. intiaties a naval blockade of the island, with the crisis bringing the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war.

October 16, 1964:

China becomes the fifth country to test an atomic bomb in 1964, code-named Project 596. The country would conduct an additional 45 atomic bomb tests at the Lop Nor testing site in Sinkiang Province through 1996.

July 1, 1968:

The NPT opens for signatures. Under the treaty, non-nuclear-weapon states agree to never acquire nuclear weapons, and nuclear powers must make a legal undertaking to disarm.

May 18, 1974:

India conducts an underground nuclear test at Pokhran in the Rajasthan desert, code-named the Smiling Buddha. Since conducting its first nuclear test, India has refused to sign the NPT or any subsequent treaties.

September 30, 1986:

Through the information provided by Israeli whistleblower and nuclear technician Mordechai Vanunu, The Sunday Times publishes a story that leads experts to conclude that Israel may have up to 200 nuclear weapons.

October 9, 2006:

After previously signing onto the NPT, North Korea breaks from the treaty and begins testing nuclear weapons in 2006. It has since gathered 20 nuclear warheads, though the actual number and their efficacy are unknown.

Though the threat of nuclear weapons never left, the latest growing tensions in Ukraine have brought the topic back into focus. Even as work towards disarmament continues, many of the top nuclear states hesitate to fully reduce their arsenals to zero.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Maps

Mapped: The World’s Largest Armies in 2024

Vietnam, India, and South Korea top the list.

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Map showing the world's largest armies in 2024.

Mapped: The World’s Largest Armies in 2024

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Despite being considered the biggest military force in the world, the United States doesn’t have the largest army in terms of personnel.

This graphic shows the top 10 countries by military personnel as of May 2024, including active and reserve personnel, as well as paramilitary forces. It is based on estimates from GlobalFirepower.com.

Vietnam, India, and South Korea Have the Biggest Armies

China has the largest standing army, with over 2 million active personnel. With increasing defense spending over the last decades, the country also ranks third in the number of tanks and second in the number of aircraft carriers in service.

When reserve personnel are included, however, the Chinese military falls behind those of Vietnam, India, South Korea, and Russia.

Vietnam’s forces include 600,000 active personnel and over 5 million in reserve. This is because Vietnam, along with countries like South Korea and Israel, has a standing policy of conscription for young adults.

CountryTotal Military Personnel (est.)Region
🇻🇳 Vietnam5.8MAsia
🇮🇳 India5.1MAsia
🇰🇷 South Korea3.8MAsia
🇷🇺 Russia3.6MEurope/Asia
🇨🇳 China3.2MAsia
🇺🇦 Ukraine2.2MEurope
🇺🇸 United States2.1MNorth America
🇰🇵 North Korea2.0MAsia
🇵🇰 Pakistan1.7MAsia
🇮🇷 Iran1.2MMiddle East

Interestingly, the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine resulted in a massive increase in Ukrainian personnel numbers. Active personnel rose from around 170,000 in 2016 to over 900,000.

Despite not having the largest army, the U.S. accounts for almost 40% of global military expenditures, with its 2022 spending totaling $877 billion.

China ranked second in absolute terms, accounting for another 13% of world military expenditure at $292 billion.

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