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.
This is How Much NATO Countries Spend on Defense
How much does each country in the military alliance contribute to NATO defense spending? We break it down with this map.
This Is How Much NATO Countries Spend on Defense
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exists for the sole purpose of facilitating a political and military alliance between almost 30 countries. All are obligated to one another in times of war, but some countries have much stronger militaries and defense systems than others.
Using data from NATO, this map reveals what each NATO member country spends on its own national defense.
Note: Numbers are 2021 projections.
Biggest NATO Defense Spenders
The U.S. spends more on defense than any other NATO country.
According to the 2021 estimates, U.S. defense spending will be close to $811 billion this year. On the other hand, the defense spending of all other NATO countries combined is projected to be $363 billion, meaning the U.S. will outspend all other countries by a whopping $448 billion.
|Rank||Country||Millions (USD) 2021p||Change (2014-2021)|
|#1||🇺🇸 United States||$811,140||24.0%|
|#2||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$72,765||10.8%|
|#16||🇨🇿 Czech Republic||$4,013||103.2%|
|#28||🇲🇰 North Macedonia||$219||76.6%|
NATO is based on building up forces and equipment for the goal of joint security and defense. And, despite the pandemic, many members did increase their spending in 2020.
However, not all countries contribute equally. The agreed-upon target for European NATO members, for example, is to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024, but many countries are not on track to meet this goal.
Who Pays for NATO Itself?
One of the key pillars of NATO is collective defense: a commitment to the idea that an act of violence against one or more of its member states is an act of aggression towards all.
Collective defense, cooperative security, and crisis management are at the heart of NATO’s purpose and operations.
Apart from defense spending, running a transcontinental political alliance costs around $3 billion annually. So which countries foot the bill for these expenses?
|Country||Cost Share Arrangements
|🇺🇸 United States||16.36%|
|🇬🇧 United Kingdom||11.29%|
|🇨🇿 Czech Republic||1.06%|
Members have pre-arranged mechanisms to divide NATO alliance expenses evenly.
Getting into specifics, the members are paying for:
- Civilian staff wages and overhead costs of running NATO headquarters.
- Running strategic commands, joint operations, early warning and radar systems, training, etc.
- Defense communications systems, harbors, airfields, and fuel supplies.
The Future of NATO
While outright nation-on-nation conflict is becoming more rare, threats to the collective security of NATO allies have not disappeared.
While countries may have differing opinions over the exact amount each should contribute, rising expenditures are a sign that NATO is still a priority for the near future.
Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan
This map explainer looks at Afghanistan from a structural point of view, delving into geography and population patterns.
Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan
The country of Afghanistan has a long and complicated history of domination by foreign powers and conflict between factions within the country.
While Afghanistan is well covered in headlines and news stories, the lion’s share of this coverage is directly related to conflict. As a result, Afghanistan is viewed by many in Western countries as a war-torn desert, with conflict, ideology, and geopolitical power obscuring more practical information about the country and its people.
In the Afghanistan map graphic above, we step back and examine Afghanistan from a structural point of view. How does its unique landscape influence population patterns? How does this geography influence the economy and relationships with neighboring nations? Let’s dive in.
Mountain High, Valley Low
Afghanistan’s rugged landscape is defined by towering snow-capped mountains, fertile valleys, and expansive deserts.
First, the country has a wide variety of climate extremes. There is more than 100ºC (180ºF) separating the record high and low temperatures.
The extremes don’t stop at temperature though. Afghanistan has the sixth-highest elevation span in the world, with 7,234m (23,734 ft) between its highest and lowest point. Afghanistan is one of 44 landlocked nations in the world, which helps explain why its lowest point is so much higher than sea level.
For those living in North America, the country’s terrain has been compared to Colorado, with Kabul sharing similarities with Denver.
Where Do People Live in Afghanistan?
Settlement patterns in Afghanistan are similar to other countries in the region; people cluster where there is access to fresh water.
As the cartogram below demonstrates, a large portion of the country’s population is located around Kabul, and the region adjacent to the Kabul River.
The southwestern province of Nimruz is the most sparsely populated area in the country. The Wakhan Corridor—which connects Afghanistan to China—is also very sparsely populated, with about 14,000 total residents.
Key Facts About Afghanistan’s Demographics
Afghanistan has a very youthful population. The country’s median age of 19 years is one of the youngest in the world, and is low compared to its neighbors Pakistan (24) and Iran (30).
Islam is the official state religion of Afghanistan. 99.7% of the Afghan population are Muslim, one of the highest proportions of the 49 Muslim-majority countries.
So far in 2021, the OCHA estimates that 550,000 people in Afghanistan are “internally displaced” due to conflict, and this number may rise still as new data tracks the final days of the Taliban’s takeover of the country. The majority of those displaced persons are children.
Paving the Way
The Ring Road connecting Afghanistan’s major cities began in the 1960s but was soon cut short by war. After the U.S. took control in 2001, new road construction began in earnest.
Between 2002 and 2016, USAID and the Department of Defense (DoD) spent approximately $2.8 billion building and maintaining Afghanistan’s road infrastructure. This number doesn’t include additional investment from other sources that poured in to improve the country’s road network.
The result is a more comprehensive road network, but one that is difficult to maintain. A 2016 report found collapsed bridges and sections of road around the country that were washed out.
Resources and Relationships
Afghanistan is a critical source of fresh water for the arid region. Several major regional rivers flow from the country’s mountainous eastern provinces into neighboring countries, so any new irrigation schemes and dam infrastructure will come with a geopolitical price tag as well.
Already in the recent past, tensions have increased with Iran and Pakistan over the flow of water crossing the border.
Outside countries are also very interested in Afghanistan’s rich mineral resources. Decades of near-continuous conflict have made mining a tough proposition in the country, but with growing demand for resources such as lithium and rare earths, that may soon change.
Afghanistan is estimated to have over $1 trillion of untapped mineral reserves, and outside interests are taking notice.
China said it was ready for “friendly and cooperative relations” with the new Taliban regime, and it’s possible that investment from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may step in to fill the vacuum left by departing Western powers.
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