Between North Korea’s constant nuclear test provocations and the recent “fire and fury” comments by President Trump, concerns about nuclear conflict are re-ignited around the world.
So, how many nuclear weapons are there, and what exactly is happening right now? Let’s launch into it.
Who has Access to Nuclear Weapons?
As the map above demonstrates, the United States and Russia still maintain the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, holding 92% of the world’s estimated 15,000 nuclear warheads.
While today’s arsenals seem quite excessive, they are actually quite modest compared to historical totals such as those during the Cold War. In 1986, for example, there were actually 70,300 nuclear weapons globally – but luckily for us, the number of warheads has eased down over time as countries disarm more weapons.
Will this number of warheads continue to slide down as a result of increased international cooperation? The Brookings Institution has grouped the nine countries with nuclear arsenals into categories that identify prospective entrants to the global arms control regime:
Any advancement of multilateral arms control, such as a treaty limiting limiting nuclear weapons, would likely take place between these countries.
Mapping Nuclear Sites Within the United States
Thanks to various arms reduction agreements, thousands of nuclear warheads have been retired. That said, warheads are still stored in a number of sites around the continental United States. The map below also highlights laboratories and interstate shipping routes. (Yes, nuclear weapons are apparently shipped in big rigs.)
The Wild Card: North Korea
The Hermit Kingdom is a relatively minor player in the nuclear weapon ecosystem, but they have been capturing the world’s attention. Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has dramatically ramped up the frequency of missile tests, with 17 confirmed launches so far in 2017.
Here’s a look at the country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, along with ranges of specific weapons.
More than a decade has passed since North Korea detonated its first nuclear weapon, and the country is now believed to be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile delivery. This, combined with aggressive rhetoric from North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has forced the Trump administration to take their threats more seriously.
That said, experts suggest that recent provocations aren’t much different from previous periods of tension between the two countries, and that the risk of an actual conflict is overblown.
North Korea’s comments are clearly deterrent in nature, and the Guam ‘threat’ was exactly along those lines.
– David Kang, director, Korean Studies Institute, USC
Either way, while the prospect of an all-out war is unlikely – the war of words between North Korea and the United States is likely destined to continue.
Visualizing the BRICS Expansion in 4 Charts
We provide a data-driven overview of how the recent BRICS expansion will grow the group’s influence and reach.
Visualizing the BRICS Expansion in 4 Charts
BRICS is an association of five major countries including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Distinguished by their emerging economies, the group has sought to improve diplomatic coordination, reform global financial institutions, and ultimately serve as a counterbalance to Western hegemony.
On Aug. 24, 2023, BRICS announced that it would formally accept six new members at the start of 2024: Saudi Arabia, Iran, Ethiopia, Egypt, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
In this graphic, we provide a data-driven overview of how the BRICS expansion will grow the group’s influence and reach.
Share of Global GDP
Because most of the new BRICS members are considered to be developing economies, their addition to the group will not have a major impact on its overall share of GDP.
The following table includes GDP projections for 2023, courtesy of the IMF.
|Country||GDP (USD billions)||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||$399||0.4%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||$1,062||1.0%|
|-||Rest of World||$74,362||70.7%|
The original six BRICS members are expected to have a combined GDP of $27.6 trillion in 2023, representing 26.3% of the global total. With the new members included, expected GDP climbs slightly to $30.8 trillion, enough for a 29.3% global share.
Share of Global Population
BRICS has always represented a major chunk of global population thanks to China and India, which are the only countries with over 1 billion people.
The two biggest populations being added to BRICS are Ethiopia (126.5 million) and Egypt (112.7 million). See the following table for population data from World Population Review, which is dated as of 2023.
|Country||Population||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||60,414,495||0.8%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||36,947,025||0.5%|
|-||BRICS Total||3.7 billion||46.0%|
|-||Rest of World||4.3 billion||54.0%|
It’s possible that BRICS could eventually surpass 50% of global population, as many more countries have expressed their desire to join.
Share of Oil Production
Although the world is trying to move away from fossil fuels, the global oil market is still incredibly large—and BRICS is set to play a much bigger role in it. This is mostly due to the admission of Saudi Arabia, which alone accounts for 12.9% of global oil production.
Based on 2022 figures from the Energy Institute Statistical Review of World Energy, BRICS’ share of oil production will grow from 20.4% to 43.1%.
|Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||0||0.0%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||12,136||12.9%|
|-||Rest of World||53,394||56.9%|
It’s worth noting that China has been pushing for oil trade to be denominated in yuan, and that Saudi Arabia’s acceptance into BRICS could bolster this ambition, potentially shifting the dynamics of global oil trade.
Share of Global Exports
The last metric included in our graphic is global exports, which is based on 2022 data from the World Trade Organization. We can see that the BRICS expansion will grow the group’s share of global exports (merchandise trade) to 25.1%, up from 20.2%.
|Country||Exports (USD billions)||Share of Global (%)|
|Yes||🇿🇦 South Africa||123||0.5%|
|No||🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia||410||1.6%|
|-||Rest of World||18,646||74.9%|
Unsurprisingly, China is the world’s largest exporter. Major exporters that are not a part of BRICS include the U.S. (8.3%), Germany (6.6%), the Netherlands (3.9%), and Japan (3.0%).
Who Else Wants to Join?
According to Reuters, there are over 40 countries that have expressed interest in joining BRICS. A smaller group of 16 countries have actually applied for membership, though, and this list includes Algeria, Cuba, Indonesia, Palestine, and Vietnam.
As the group grows in size, differing opinions and priorities among its members could create tensions in the future. For example, India and China have had numerous border disputes in recent years, while Brazil’s newly elected President has sought to “kickstart a new era of relations” with the U.S.
One thing that is certain, however, is that a new acronym for the group will be needed very soon.
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