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.
Ranked: Top 10 Countries by Military Spending
As geopolitical tensions began to heat up around the world, which nations were the top military spenders in 2021?
The Top 10 Countries by Military Spending in 2021
As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has continued, military spending and technology has come under the spotlight as the world tracked Western arms shipments and watched how HIMAR rocket launchers and other weaponry affected the conflict.
But developing, exporting, and deploying military personnel and weaponry costs nations hundreds of billions every year. In 2021, global military spending reached $2.1 trillion, rising for its seventh year in a row.
Using data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), this visualization shows which countries spent the most on their military in 2021, along with their overall share of global military spending.
Which Countries Spend the Most on Military?
The United States was the top nation in terms of military expenditure, spending $801 billion to make up almost 38% of global military spending in 2021. America has been the top military spending nation since SIPRI began tracking in 1949, making up more than 30% of the world’s military spending for the last two decades.
U.S. military spending increased year-over-year by $22.3 billion, and the country’s total for 2021 was more than every other country in the top 10 combined.
|Country||Military Spending (2017)||Military Spending (2018)||Military Spending (2019)||Military Spending (2020)||Military Spending (2021)|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$51.6B||$55.7B||$56.9B||$60.7B||$68.4B|
The next top military spender in 2021 was China, which spent $293.4 billion and made up nearly 14% of global military spend. While China’s expenditure is still less than half of America’s, the country has increased its military spending for 27 years in a row.
In fact, China has the largest total of active military personnel, and the country’s military spending has more than doubled over the last decade.
While Russia was only the fifth top nation by military spending at $65.9 billion in 2021, it was among the higher ranking nations in terms of military spending as a share of GDP. Russia military expenditures amounted to 4.1% of its GDP, and among the top 10 spending nations, was only beaten by Saudi Arabia whose spending was 6.6% of its GDP.
Military Collaboration Since the Russia-Ukraine Conflict
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February has resulted in seismic geopolitical shifts, kicking off a cascade of international military shipments and collaboration between nations. The security assistance just sent by the U.S. to Ukraine has totaled $8.2 billion since the start of the war, and has shown how alliances can help make up for some domestic military spending in times of conflict.
Similarly, Russia and China have deepened their relationship, sharing military intelligence and technology along with beginning joint military exercises at the end of August, alongside other nations like India, Belarus, Mongolia, and Tajikistan.
Since China’s breakthrough in hypersonic missile flight a year ago, Russia has now been testing its own versions of the technology, with Putin mentioning Russia’s readiness to export weaponry he described as, “years, or maybe even decades ahead of their foreign counterparts”.
Sanctions and Energy Exports: New Weapons in Modern Warfare
Along with advanced weaponry, sanctions and energy commodities have become new tools of modern cold warfare. As Western economic sanctions attempted to cripple Russia’s economy following its invasion, Russian gas and oil supplies have been limited and forced to be paid in rubles in retaliation.
Global trade has been turned into a new battlefield with offshore assets and import dependencies as the attack vectors. Along with these, cyberattacks and cybersecurity are an increasingly complex, obscure, and important part of national military and security.
Whether or not Russia’s invasion of Ukraine ends in 2022, the rise in geopolitical tensions and conflict this year will almost certainly result in a global increase in military spending.
A Century of Unions in Europe (1920-2022)
This year marks 100 years since the birth of the Soviet Union. How have countries in and near Europe aligned themselves over the last century?
Timeline: A Century of Unions in Europe (1920-2022)
On February 24th, Russia invaded Ukraine launching one of the biggest wars on European soil since World War II. The invasion reflects a longstanding belief of Russia’s that Ukraine—and much of the Soviet Union’s former republics and satellite states—is still their territory to claim. But what is the “former glory” of Russia?
Of the USSR’s former republics and satellite states, many have moved on to join the European Union, and in Putin’s eyes have become more “Westernized” and further from Russian values. In fact, Ukraine recently had its candidacy status approved with the EU.
It’s now been a full century since the formation of the USSR. Much has changed since then, and this visual timeline breaks down how countries within and near Europe have aligned themselves over those 100 years.
The USSR / Soviet Union
The Soviet Union—officially titled the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)—was formed 100 years ago in 1922 and was dissolved in 1991 almost 70 years later. At its height it was home to 15 republics, over 286 million people, and stretched from the Pacific Ocean to Ukraine, with virtual control and influence in countries as far west as East Germany.
Notable leaders characterized both the rise and fall of the USSR, starting with its establishment under Vladimir Lenin until the union’s dissolution under Mikhail Gorbachev. Latvia and Lithuania were among the first republics to make the move for sovereignty, beginning the demise of the Soviet Union.
Here’s a look at which modern day countries were a part of the USSR.
|Modern Day Country||Name Under USSR||Date Joined||Date Gained Independence|
|🇬🇪 Georgia||Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇺🇦 Ukraine||Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇦🇲 Armenia||Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇦🇿 Azerbaijan||Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇧🇾 Belarus||Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇷🇺 Russia||Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic||1922||1991|
|🇺🇿 Uzbekistan||Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic||1924||1991|
|🇹🇲 Turkmenistan||Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic||1924||1991|
|🇹🇯 Tajikistan||Tajik Soviet Socialist Republic||1929||1991|
|🇰🇬 Kyrgyzstan||Kirghiz Soviet Socialist Republic||1936||1991|
|🇰🇿 Kazakhstan||Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic||1936||1991|
|🇱🇹 Lithuania||Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1990|
|🇪🇪 Estonia||Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1991|
|🇱🇻 Latvia||Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1990|
|🇲🇩 Moldova||Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic||1940||1991|
Additionally, there were multiple satellite states, which were not formally joined with the USSR, but operated under intense Soviet influence.
|Modern Day Country||Country Name at the Time|
|🇦🇱 Albania||People's Republic of Albania|
|🇵🇱 Poland||Polish People's Republic|
|🇧🇬 Bulgaria||People's Republic of Bulgaria|
|🇷🇴 Romania||Romanian People's Republic|
|🇨🇿 Czechia||Czechoslovak Socialist Republic|
|🇸🇰 Slovakia||Czechoslovak Socialist Republic|
|🇩🇪 Germany||East Germany (German Democratic Republic)|
|🇭🇺 Hungary||Hungarian People's Republic|
|🇸🇮 Slovenia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇭🇷 Croatia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇷🇸 Serbia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇧🇦 Bosnia & Herzegovina||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇪 Montenegro||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇰 North Macedonia||Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia|
|🇲🇳 Mongolia||Mongolian People's Republic|
Today, there are still some countries that align themselves with Putin and Russia over the EU.
Belarus, sometimes called Europe’s “last dictatorship”, shares a border with both Ukraine and Russia and facilitated the entry of Russian soldiers into Ukraine. Furthermore, according to the Pentagon, Russian missiles have been launched from Belarus.
The European Union
The European Union was officially formed in 1993 and has 27 member states. Some former USSR republics are now a part of the union including Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The most recent member to join was Croatia in 2013.
The EU has its roots in the European Coal & Steel Community which was formed in 1952 with Italy, France, West Germany and a few other countries comprising its first members. There are currently six candidate countries on track to join the EU — all but one were either former Soviet satellite states or formal republics:
- 🇦🇱 Albania
- 🇲🇪 Montenegro
- 🇲🇰 North Macedonia
- 🇷🇸 Serbia
- 🇹🇷 Turkey
- 🇺🇦 Ukraine
- 🇲🇩 Moldova
There are many reasons countries opt to join the EU: a common currency, easier movement of goods and people between national borders, and, of course, military protection.
However, in 2020 the UK formally left the union, making it the first country in history to do so. Here’s a look at every EU member state.
|EU Member States||Year Joined||Former USSR Republic?||Former USSR Satellite State?|
|🇩🇪 Germany||1952||No||Yes (East Germany)|
The iron curtain that was draped across Europe, which used to divide the continent politically and ideologically, has since been drawn back. But the war in Ukraine is a threat to many in Europe, and countries such as Poland have voiced fears about the spillover of conflict.
In late June, the European Council approved Ukraine’s bid for expedited candidacy to the EU, but the process will still likely be lengthy—for example, it took Croatia 10 years to formally join at the normal pace.
Beyond other needs such as military support, joining the union would allow refugees from Ukraine the freedom to migrate and work in other EU countries with ease.
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