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Nuclear weapons - Statistics & Facts

The threat posed by nuclear weapons has loomed over humanity ever since their creation in the final stages of World War Two. As of 2022, the world's nuclear powers have approximately 13,400 nuclear warheads, the vast majority belonging to Russia and the United States. According to recent estimates, nuclear powers collectively spent 72.6 billion U.S. dollars on their nuclear weapons programs in 2020, with the United States accounting for 37.4 billion dollars of this expenditure. While there are considerably fewer nuclear warheads than there were at the height of the Cold War, it is unlikely that the world's nuclear powers will give up these weapons entirely. The deterrence theory, whereby a country retains nuclear weapons to deter other nuclear powers, underpins the logic behind maintaining a nuclear capability. Global nuclear disarmament would therefore require a substantial diplomatic effort based on mutual trust and transparency. Tensions between the two major nuclear powers have rendered this a remote possibility, particularly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022 and hinted that any interference from outside forces would be met with a devastating response.

Which countries have nuclear weapons?

There are currently nine countries that possess nuclear weapons, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea. South Africa is the world's only former nuclear power after dismantling its nuclear weapons from 1989 onwards. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, there was also a brief period where atomic weapons remained in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. By the mid-1990s, these weapons had all been destroyed or transferred to Russia, with the three states also joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The NPT, which has been in force since 1970 and most nations are part of, has proven quite effective at preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons in recent decades. Since then, countries that have developed nuclear weapons are either non-signatories, like India, Pakistan, and Israel, or have withdrawn as North Korea did in 2003. Despite there being several nuclear powers, nuclear weapons have only ever been used twice, both times by the United States against Japan in World War Two. On August 6, 1945, the United States attacked the city of Hiroshima with an atomic bomb that devastated the entire city, followed by the bombing of Nagasaki a few days later on August 9. Both attacks resulted in vast civilian casualties, either by the initial blast or by the radiation the weapons unleashed. After the attacks, Japan unconditionally surrendered to the allies, ending World War Two.

Cold War Tensions

The United States was unable to keep the technology to make nuclear weapons to itself for long, however, and by 1949, the U.S.S.R had successfully developed its own nuclear weapons. As tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union increased, both sides increased their stockpile of such weapons, including how they could be deployed. These tensions almost led directly to nuclear war during the infamous Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, which is arguably the closest the world has come to a nuclear war. Following this incident, the two adversaries managed to avoid further escalation and even relaxed hostilities during the period of Détente in the 1970s. The Doomsday Clock, a metaphor for how close the world is to nuclear armageddon (represented by midnight), was adjusted to reflect this reality. The clock was moved closer to midnight in the 1980s, but after the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991, it was moved to 17 minutes to midnight, implying the world was safer from nuclear war than at any point since their creation. Due to the climate emergency and increasing geopolitical tensions, the clock has moved ever closer to midnight since 1991. The current setting of "100 seconds to midnight" is the closest the doomsday clock has been to midnight in its history.

Interesting statistics

In the following 4 chapters, you will quickly find the 24 most important statistics relating to "Nuclear weapons".

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