Which Countries Have the Most Nuclear Weapons?
In theory, nuclear weapon stockpiles are closely held national secrets. The leading countries have rough estimates that aren’t regularly updated, newly nuclear countries keep their capabilities vague and unclear, and Israel has never officially confirmed a nuclear weapons program.
But thanks to limited disclosures, records, and leaks, we can visualize the full extent* of the world’s nuclear arsenal. This graphic uses estimated nuclear warhead inventories from the Federation of American Scientists as of August 2021.
Based on these estimates, there are just nine countries with nuclear weapons in the world.
Editor’s note: Exact numbers of nuclear warheads possessed by countries are closely guarded state secrets, with the FAS estimate being the closest, most-used, and most-trusted international approximation available.
Nuclear Weapons, by Country
The nuclear arms race has always centered around the U.S. and Russia.
After the end of World War II and well into the Cold War, the world’s two superpowers raced to build more nuclear weapons (and more capable nuclear weapons) than the other.
Even while international organizations lobbied for the end of nuclear proliferation, the world’s nuclear weapon stockpile grew to a peak of 70,300 total warheads in 1986.
As arms agreements and non-proliferation treaties started to gain greater momentum, the U.S. and Russia cut back on stockpiles while new countries with nuclear weapons started to pop up.
|Country||Total Warheads (2021)||% of Total|
|🇰🇵 North Korea||45||0.34%|
Despite reducing their stockpiles significantly since the end of the Cold War, Russia and the U.S. still own around 90% of all nuclear warheads in the world.
Far behind them are China and France, which started testing nuclear weapons in 1964 and 1960 respectively. The UK has the fifth-most nuclear weapons today, though it was the third country in the world to develop them after the U.S. and Russia in 1952.
The countries with fewer than 200 nuclear weapons are regional rivals India and Pakistan, which first tested nuclear weapons in the 1970s, and North Korea, which began to operate uranium fabrication plants and conduct explosive tests in the 1980s.
Israel is also estimated to have fewer than 200 nuclear weapons, and reports have its weapons program dating back to the 1960s. However, the country has never confirmed or announced its nuclear capabilities.
Countries With Nuclear Weapons, by Warhead Status
Though the world has 13,132 nuclear weapons, that doesn’t mean they’re all ready to fire.
Weapons (or “warheads”) are delivered by missile, and countries don’t keep all of their nuclear warheads primed for use. The estimation of nuclear stockpiles also clarifies whether warheads are considered deployed, reserved, or retired:
- Deployed warheads are deployed on intercontinental missiles, at heavy bomber bases, and on bases with operational short-range delivery systems.
- Reserve warheads are in storage and not deployed on launchers.
- Retired warheads are still intact but in queue for dismantlement.
|Country||Deployed Warheads||Reserve Warheads||Retired Warheads|
|🇰🇵 North Korea||0||45||0|
Only four countries have officially deployed warheads, while the majority of the world’s nuclear stockpile is in reserve. This is partially due to estimates ranging from relatively transparent in the case of the U.S. to opaque and uncertain for countries like China and North Korea.
But some countries are expected to further bolster their stockpiles. The UK government announced it would increase its stockpile to no more than 260 warheads, and U.S. intelligence expects China, India, and Pakistan to increase their stockpiles.
Though the world’s nuclear stockpile will likely continue dwindling on account of U.S. and Russia retirements, the 2021 landscape of countries with nuclear weapons shows that proliferation is still underway.
Mapped: World’s Top 40 Largest Military Budgets
War in Europe has caused Ukraine’s military spend to jump up by 640%. How do the world’s largest military budgets compare?
Mapped: World’s Top 40 Largest Military Budgets
In the final year of World War II, the U.S. spent about 38% of its GDP on its military. When adjusted for inflation, the military budget over those four years of war came to a staggering $4.1 trillion in 2020 dollars.
Almost 80 years later, modern day military spending isn’t much of a far cry from World War II budgets. The top spenders have continued to increase their military capabilities, while war in Ukraine has caused countries in the region to re-evaluate their budgets as well.
In 2022, global military budgets hit an all-time high of $2.2 trillion, according to data released by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the eighth consecutive year of increase. This post looks at the top 40 largest military budgets in the world.
The Largest Military Budgets in 2022
The United States accounts for almost 40% of global military expenditures, with its 2022 spend coming to $877 billion.
Here are the top 40 largest military budgets in the world for 2022 in U.S. dollars:
|Rank||Country||Military Budget (Billions)||% of World
|5||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||$75.0||3.3%|
|9||🇰🇷 South Korea||$46.4||2.1%|
China, ranked second in absolute terms, accounts for another 13% of world military expenditure at $292 billion.
Russia, India and Saudi Arabia round out the top five biggest military budgets in 2022. Add in the UK to the mix (#6 rank), and these countries all had military expenditures that made up at least 3% of global spend.
Comparatively, the lowest budgets on the top 40 ranged include Romania at $5.2 billion, Denmark at $5.5 billion, and Chile at $5.6 billion. They each account for just 0.2% of the world’s military budgets in 2022, and of course there are many countries with even smaller spends.
Largest Military Budget Increases in 2022
Russia’s position as the third-largest military spender is a recent development, as the country’s military spend had a 9% increase between 2021 and 2022, according to SIPRI estimates.
On the other side of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine was the top 40 military budget with the largest annual increase in 2022, surging nearly six and a half times above its 2021 expenditures.
|🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||16%||+3|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||-2.5%||+1|
Ukraine’s dramatic increase represents the highest single-year jump ever recorded by SIPRI, painting a vivid before-and-after picture of a nation engaged in conflict.
Although no other country comes close in matching Ukraine’s surge in defense spending, Qatar saw a substantial increase of 27% over the last year, marking a continuing trend over the last decade of significantly bolstering its military.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia, along with four European nations (Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Poland), have registered year-over-year changes of over 10%.
On the flipside, 13 of the nations with the largest military budgets decreased spend from 2021, including top 15 spenders such as South Korea, Italy, and Israel.
The largest drop was seen by Türkiye, with an estimated 26% reduction in military budget. This drop may be linked to Türkiye’s inflation problem, which saw prices rise 72.3% in 2022—effectively decreasing the purchasing power of their currency in relative terms to other nations.
The Specter of War in Europe
With an ongoing conflict in the region and large financial powerhouses, its no surprise that eight of the top 10 countries with the most significant increases in military spending are located in Europe.
Consequently, European military budgets have reached levels not witnessed since the end of the Cold War.
And amid escalating geopolitical concerns, countries in Asia such as India, Japan, and China have also ramped up their defense spending. This is an indication of simmering global flashpoints such as India and China’s border skirmishes, the longstanding South China Sea territorial conflict, and concerns surrounding Taiwan’s sovereignty.
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