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The World’s 15,000 Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What?

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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?

Nuclear Weapons Factsheet

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:

Brookings Nuclear Classifications

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.)

U.S. Nuclear Weapons Map

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.

North Korea Missile Range

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.

Talking Heads Kim Jong Un

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.

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Politics

The Cost and Composition of America’s Nuclear Weapons Arsenal

A data-driven look at America’s nuclear weapons arsenal – both location and deployment, and the costs associated with refurbishing an aging nuclear program.

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The American nuclear weapons arsenal is nowhere near its 1960s peak, but there are still thousands of warheads in the stockpile today.

The U.S. nuclear program is comprised of a complex network of facilities and weaponry, and of course the actual warheads themselves. Let’s look at the location of warheads, how they’re deployed, and the costs associated with running and refurbishing an aging nuclear program.

Let’s launch into the data.

Nuclear Weapons Map

As of 2019, the U.S. Department of Defense maintained an estimated stockpile of 3,800 nuclear warheads for delivery by more than 800 ballistic missiles and aircraft. Roughly 1,300 warheads are actually deployed, while most of the remaining inventory is either held in reserve (as a hedge against “technical or geopolitical surprises”) or is destined to be dismantled.

These weapons are thought to be stored across 11 U.S. states, with the vast majority residing in New Mexico, Washington, and Georgia.

us nuclear weapons location

Source

Over 1,500 of the warheads in New Mexico are retired and are destined to be dismantled at the Pantex facility in Texas.

The United States also maintains a small amount of nuclear inventory in and around Europe as well. Turkey’s Incirlik Air Base likely holds the biggest supply of warheads outside the U.S., and a few weapons are also located in storage vaults in Belgium, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Deployment Data

Nuclear warheads, while devastatingly powerful, are nothing without a delivery mechanism. In simple terms, there are three primary methods for actually launching missiles: Silos, bombers, and submarines.

us nuclear weapons strategic deployment

The most common deployment of nuclear weapons is under the sea. The U.S. Navy is thought to operate 14 ballistic missile submarines, with each carrying as many as 24 Trident II missiles.

Missile silos are not as popular as they once were, but the U.S. Air Force still maintains 400 silo-based missiles, and another 50 are kept “warm” in the event of an emergency.

America’s Nuclear Weapons Budget

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is required to project the 10-year costs of nuclear forces every two years.

Though much of the program is shrouded in secrecy, the budget below provides an overview of the costs of running America’s nuclear weapons arsenal.

America's nuclear warhead arsenal budget

Costs in the budget are split between the Department of Energy (DoE) and the Department of Defense (DoD), which handle different parts of the process.

On one hand, the DoD takes care of the delivery systems for warheads. Those submarines, bombers, and missile silos spread around the country will add up to a projected $249 billion in costs over the next decade. Another large portion of the DoD budget accounts for operational aspects of the program, such as funding facilities, control, and early warning systems.

On the other hand, the DoE is responsible for building and maintaining the actual warheads themselves. The U.S. stopped producing new warheads in the 1990s, but all that changed last year.

Back in the Bomb Business

Generally, we think of nuclear weapons stockpiles as a sunsetting resource, slowly being dismantled; however, since the treaty that ended the arms race collapsed in mid-2019, the flood gates may be opening once again.

New warheads are reportedly rolling off the production line, and in the beginning of this year, Lockheed Martin was tapped by the U.S. Navy to manufacture low yield submarine-based nuclear missiles.

The development of lower yield nuclear weapons appears to be a response to efforts by Russia to modernize their arsenal.

Recent Russian statements […] appear to lower the threshold for Moscow’s first-use of nuclear weapons.

– Nuclear Posture Review (2018)

With this new weapons development, the U.S. is aiming to create “tailored response options” to any potential conflict. By eliminating the perceived advantages that adversaries may have, the U.S. is hoping to lower the likelihood of a nuclear conflict.

Arms control advocates warn that new lower-yield warheads entering production will lower the threshold for a nuclear conflict.

While advocates and critics of nuclear weapons debate the merits of new weapons, we appear to be entering a new era of weapons proliferation.

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How China Overtook the U.S. as the World’s Major Trading Partner

China has become the world’s major trading partner – and now, 128 of 190 countries trade more with China than they do with the United States.

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How China Overtook the U.S. As the World’s Trade Partner

In 2018, trade accounted for 59% of global GDP, up nearly 1.5 times since 1980.

Over this timeframe, international trade has transformed significantly—not just in terms of volume and composition, but also in terms of the countries that the rest of the world leans on for their most important trade relationships.

Now, a critical shift is occurring in the landscape, and it may surprise you to learn that China has already usurped the U.S. as the world’s most dominant trading partner.

Trading Places: A Global Shift

Today’s animation comes from the Lowy Institute, and it pulls data from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) database on bilateral trade flows, to determine whether the U.S. or China is a bigger trading partner for each country from 1980 to 2018.

The results are stark: before 2000, the U.S. was at the helm of global trade, as over 80% of countries traded with the U.S. more than they did with China. By 2018, that number had dropped sharply to just 30%, as China swiftly took top position in 128 of 190 countries.

The researchers pinpoint China’s 2001 entry into the World Trade Organization as a major turning point in China’s international trade relationships. The dramatic shift that followed is clearly demonstrated in the visualization above—between 2005 and 2010, a number of countries tipped towards Chinese influence, especially in Africa and Asia.

Over time, China’s dominance has grown dramatically. It’s no wonder then, that China and the U.S. have a contentious trade relationship themselves, as both nations battle it out for first place.

A Tale of Two Economies

The United States and China are competitors in many ways, but to be successful they must rely on each other for mutually beneficial trade. However, it’s also the major issue on which they are struggling to reach a common ground.

The U.S. has been vocal about negotiating more balanced trade agreements with China. In fact, a mid-2018 poll shows that 62% of Americans consider their trade relationship with China to be unfair.

Since 2018, both parties have faced a fraught relationship, imposing major tariffs on consumer and industrial goods—and retaliations are reaching greater and greater heights:

trade war china us

While a delicate truce has been reached at the moment, the trade war has caused a significant drag on global growth, and the World Bank estimates it will continue to have an effect into 2021.

At the same time, China’s sphere of influence continues to grow.

One Belt, One Road, One Trade Direction?

China seems to have a finger in every pie. The nation is financing a flurry of megaprojects across Asia and Africa—but one broader initiative stands above the rest.

China’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) Initiative, planned for a 2049 completion, is advancing at a furious pace. In 2019 alone, Chinese companies signed contracts worth up to $128 billion to start Chinese large-scale infrastructure projects in various countries.

While building new highways and ports abroad is beneficial for Chinese financiers, OBOR is also about creating new markets and trade routes for Chinese goods in Asia. Recent research found that the OBOR program’s infrastructure expansion and logistics performance improvements led to positive effects on China’s exports.

Nevertheless, it’s clear the new infrastructure network is already transforming global trade, possibly cementing China’s position as the world’s major trading partner for years to come.

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