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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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Chart of the Week

Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies

This map shows the 25 oldest democracies in the world, based on how long current democratic governments have been in continuous power.

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Mapped: The World’s Oldest Democracies

Which country today is the world’s oldest democracy?

It’s a loaded question ⁠— as you’ll see, there is plenty of nuance involved in the answer.

Depending on how you define things, there are many jurisdictions that can lay claim to this coveted title. Let’s dive into some of these technicalities, and then we can provide context for how we’ve defined democracy in today’s particular chart.

Laying the Claim

If you’re looking for the very first instance of democracy, credit is often attributed to Ancient Athens. It’s there the term originated, based on the Greek words demos (“common people”) and kratos (“strength”). In the 6th century BC, the city-state allowed all landowners to speak at the legislative assembly, blazing a path that would be followed by democracies in the future.

However, Ancient Athens wasn’t really a country in the modern sense. It’s also not around anymore, so that certainly disqualifies the oldest continuous democratic country today.

Iceland and the Isle of Man both have interesting claims to democracy. Each has a parliamentary body that is over 1,000 years old, making them the longest standing democratic institutions in the world. But Iceland only got its independence in 1944 from Denmark — and while it is self-governing, the Isle of Man is not a country.

Of course, when we’re talking about democracy today, we’re really talking about universal suffrage. New Zealand may have the best claim here — by 1893, the self-governing colony allowed all women and ethnicities to vote in elections.

A Common Set of Criteria

While many civilizations, institutions, and societies have a rightful claim to contributing to democracy (including many we did not mention above), measuring the world’s oldest democracies today requires following a common set of criteria.

In today’s chart, we used data from Boix, C., Miller, M., & Rosato, S. (2013, 2018), which looks at the age of democratic regimes for 219 countries since the year 1800. Countries are classified as democracies if they meet the following conditions:

  1. Executive:
    The executive is directly or indirectly elected in popular elections and is responsible either directly to voters or to a legislature.
  2. Legislature:
    The legislature (or the executive if elected directly) is chosen in free and fair elections.
  3. Voting:
    A majority of adult men has the right to vote.
  4. Democracies also have to be continuous in order to count. Although France has important democratic origins, the country is currently on its fifth republic since the French Revolution, thanks to Napoleon, Vichy France, and other instances where things went sideways.

    While the above criteria isn’t perfect, it does create a stable playing field to assess when countries adopted democratic systems in principle. (However, the exclusion of certain populations, notably women and specific ethnicities, in being given the right to vote, or to be elected to legislative assemblies, is another story).

    The Oldest Democracies, by Number of Years

    Using the above criteria, here is a list of the world’s 25 oldest democracies:

    RankCountryAge of Democracy (Years)
    #1🇺🇸 United States219*
    #2🇨🇭 Switzerland171
    #3🇳🇿 New Zealand162
    #4🇨🇦 Canada152
    #5🇬🇧 United Kingdom134
    #6🇱🇺 Luxembourg129
    #7🇧🇪 Belgium125
    #8🇳🇱 Netherlands122
    #9🇳🇴 Norway119
    #10🇦🇺 Australia118
    #11🇩🇰 Denmark118
    #12🇸🇪 Sweden108
    #13🇫🇮 Finland102
    #14🇮🇸 Iceland101
    #15🇮🇪 Ireland97
    #16🇸🇲 San Marino74
    #17🇦🇹 Austria73
    #18🇫🇷 France73
    #19🇮🇹 Italy73
    #20🇮🇱 Israel71
    #21🇨🇷 Costa Rica70
    #22🇮🇳 India69
    #23🇯🇵 Japan67
    #24🇨🇴 Colombia61
    #25🇯🇲 Jamaica57

    * The data goes back to 1800, so U.S. democracy can be considered at least 219 years old.

    Using this specific criteria, there is only one country with continuous democracy for more than 200 years (The United States), and fourteen countries with democracies older than a century.

    As you’ll notice in the data, many countries became democracies after World War II. The Japanese Empire, for example, was occupied by Allied Forces and then dissolved. It then regained sovereignty afterwards, emerging as a newly democratic regime.

    Final notes: The data here goes back to 1800, and we have adjusted it to be current as of 2019. One change we made was to Tunisia, which is listed as the 24th oldest democracy in the data. Based on our due diligence on the subject, we felt it was appropriate to leave it off the list, given that most experts see the country as only achieving the status in 2014 in the post-Arab Spring era.

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Chart of the Week

All the World’s Carbon Emissions in One Chart

Just 15 countries are responsible for almost three quarters of the world’s carbon emissions. But what does this look like per capita, and over time?

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All the World’s Carbon Emissions in One Chart

Two degrees Celsius may not seem like much, but on our planet, it could be the difference between thriving life and a disastrous climate.

Over two centuries of burning fossil fuels have added up, and global decision-makers and business leaders are focusing in on carbon emissions as a key issue.

Emissions by Country

This week’s chart uses the most recent data from Global Carbon Atlas to demonstrate where most of the world’s CO₂ emissions come from, sorted by country.

RankCountryEmissions in 2017 (MtCO₂)% of Global Emissions
🌐 Rest of World10,02827.7%
#1🇨🇳 China9,83927.2%
#2🇺🇸 United States5,26914.6%
#3🇮🇳 India2,4676.8%
#4🇷🇺 Russia1,6934.7%
#5🇯🇵 Japan1,2053.3%
#6🇩🇪 Germany7992.2%
#7🇮🇷 Iran6721.9%
#8🇸🇦 Saudi Arabia6351.8%
#9🇰🇷 South Korea6161.7%
#10🇨🇦 Canada5731.6%
#11🇲🇽 Mexico4901.4%
#12🇮🇩 Indonesia4871.3%
#13🇧🇷 Brazil4761.3%
#14🇿🇦 South Africa4561.3%
#15🇹🇷 Turkey4481.2%
🌐 Top 1526,12572.2%

In terms of absolute emissions, the heavy hitters are immediately obvious. Large economies such as China, the United States, and India alone account for almost half the world’s emissions. Zoom out a little further, and it’s even clearer that just a handful of countries are responsible for the majority of emissions.

Of course, absolute emissions don’t tell the full story. The world is home to over 7.5 billion people, but they aren’t distributed evenly across the globe. How do these carbon emissions shake out on a per capita basis?

Here are the 20 countries with the highest emissions per capita:

Emissions per capita
Source: Global Carbon Atlas. Note: We’ve only included places with a population above one million, which excludes islands and areas such as Curaçao, Brunei, Luxembourg, Iceland, Greenland, and Bermuda.

Out of the original 30 countries in the main visualization, six countries show up again as top CO₂ emitters when adjusted for population count: Saudi Arabia, the United States, Canada, South Korea, Russia, and Germany.

The CO₂ Conundrum

We know that rapid urbanization and industrialization have had an impact on carbon emissions entering the atmosphere, but at what rate?

Climate data scientist Neil Kaye answers the question from a different perspective, by mapping what percentage of emissions have been created during your lifetime since the Industrial Revolution:

Your Age% of Total Global Emissions
15 years oldYou've been alive for more than 30% of emissions
30 years oldYou've been alive for more than 50% of emissions
85 years oldYou've been alive for more than 90% of emissions

Put another way, the running total of emissions is growing at an accelerating rate. This is best seen in the dramatic shortening between the time periods taken for 400 billion tonnes of CO₂ to enter the atmosphere:

  • First period: 217 years (1751 to 1967)
  • Second period: 23 years (1968 to 1990)
  • Third period: 16 years (1991 to 2006)
  • Fourth period: 11 years (2007 to 2018)

In order to be a decarbonised economy by 2050, we have to bend the (emissions) curve by 2020… Not only is it urgent and necessary, but actually we are very nicely on our way to achieving it.

Christiana Figueres, Convenor of Mission 2020

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