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Nuclear weapons - Statistics & Facts

Though an ever-present danger, fears of nuclear war have heightened with North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons and the country’s intensification of missile tests. Leader Kim Jong Un also appears willing to test the international mood surrounding his new power with increasingly aggressive rhetoric. With the international community nervously watching on, U.S. President Trump has countered these comments with an aggressive tone of his own. Nuclear tensions appear at a high not seen since the Cold War. The difference now is Trump’s twitter handle provides as much of an insight into the thoughts of the man with his hand on the button as his assertive United Nations speech on the North Korean threat.

Despite continued attention on previously non-nuclear states seeking to develop nuclear weapons, the lion’s share of the world’s nuclear arsenal is still controlled by two countries. The lasting effects of the Cold War mean that together the United States and Russia control more than 90 percent of total nuclear warheads worldwide. Russia slightly outnumbers the United States with an estimated 6,500 warheads to the United States’ 6,185 .

The two countries with the largest modern arsenals are also most responsible for the most nuclear tests since testing began in 1945. Between 1945 and 2019 the United States conducted 1,030 nuclear tests. The corresponding figure Russia, when including the USSR, is 715. Though Russia and the United States hold a similar amount of warheads, the United States commits a considerably higher amount of financial resources to their program each year. In 2011, the United States more than tripled Russia’s financial input, spending 34 billion U.S. dollars to Russia’s 9.8.

The military budget from 2013 to 2022 for programs related to nuclear weapons and nuclear warfare suggests the United States view offense as the best form of defense. While the United States plans to spend around 97.44 billion U.S. dollars on missile defenses, the planned spend on nuclear forces will exceed 390 billion between 2013 and 2022. This spending breakdown reflects the reality of tactics in nuclear warfare where full-scale conflict between two nuclear states will likely end in mutually assured destruction. As Nobel Prize winning physicist James Franck who worked on the Manhattan Project stated, “In no other type of warfare does the advantage lie so heavily with the aggressor”.

The danger of mass destruction is present in an unstable state or group in possession of just one nuclear weapon. The nature of an attack by nuclear warhead renders domination through numbers somewhat ineffective leaving even global superpowers such as the United States and China vulnerable. As such, the global community has watched the nuclear development of Iran and North Korea with great concern. The Nuclear Security Index rates the risk from North Korea and Iran the highest among the countries in possession of nuclear material. Despite the attention, North Korea have continued their pursuit and over the last five years have significantly increased the number of ballistic missile tests they are conducting.

The terrifying consequences of nuclear weapons mean many countries and civil organizations are committed to the reduction or abolition of nuclear weapons around the world. These attempts have been somewhat successful in regards to reducing the number of nuclear warheads. At the peak of the Cold War nuclear arms race in 1986, the number of nuclear warheads globally was estimated to total to almost 65,000. By the same analysis, there were just over 9,000 active warheads in 2017. As mentioned, the instable nature of global politics means that the number of parties in control of nuclear warheads is of greater concern than the number of warheads themselves.

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North Korea

Nuclear threat reduction efforts

United States


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