The fear of a nuclear war has been growing since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine that started in February 2022, but the fact is that it shouldn’t be in anybody’s interest to use such a weapon. It is estimated that there are around 13,000 nuclear warheads worldwide, as there are plenty of countries that possess nuclear weapons today.
There are a number of nine countries on the planet that have nuclear weapons in their arsenal today. If you’re asking why these countries possess so many nuclear weapons, as any sane person would ask themselves, the reasons are complex and often related to national security considerations. However, the deterrence of other countries to start a war could be the most reasonable reason why countries possess nuclear weapons.
Either way, countries having weapons in their arsenal that could destroy the world surely can’t be a comfortable feeling. Here are the countries that are known to possess nuclear weapons:
The USA represents the world’s second-largest nuclear arsenal, as the country has thousands of such weapons of mass destruction. The USA has a diverse range of delivery systems, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), strategic bombers, as well as submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
The USA has even engaged in arms control agreements with Russia (the country that has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal), such as the New START treaty, with the purpose of limiting the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons.
You may have heard Russian President Vladimir Putin saying back in early 2022, when the military conflict with Ukraine started, that his country represents the number one nuclear power in the world. The even scarier part is that he wasn’t bluffing one bit, as Russia, indeed, has the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet.
Russia’s nuclear arsenal includes a mix of SLBMs deployed on submarines, land-based ICBMs, as well as strategic bombers.
Even though China also has an impressive number of nuclear weapons, that arsenal is small compared to those of the USA and Russia. China’s collection of weapons of mass destruction includes land-based missiles, as well as a limited number of strategic bombers and SLBMs.
China claims to have a policy of minimum deterrence, as it focuses on the ability to respond to a nuclear attack rather than looking for parity with larger nuclear powers.
France is known to maintain an independent nuclear deterrent and has a relatively small but sophisticated arsenal, such as air-launched missiles carried by strategic bombers and SLBMs that are deployed by submarines. The European country seems to have a fairly reasonable doctrine that emphasizes the role of nuclear weapons as a deterring factor for possible aggressors.
The nuclear deterrent of the UK consists of Trident II D5 SLBMs that are carried by Vanguard-class submarines. The UK has a Continuous Sea Deterrent (CASD), with a minimum of one submarine on patrol all the time. Similarly to France, the nuclear posture of the UK is centered on deterrence.
The nuclear arsenal of India includes mix of land-based ballistic missiles, as well as potential sea and air-based capabilities. As for the policy of the Asian country when it comes to nuclear weapons, India applies the “no first use” principle, committing to use nuclear weapons only in the case of another nuclear attack being used against them.
The nuclear arsenal of Pakistan mainly consists of land-based ballistic missiles, with a range of systems from short to medium. The nuclear doctrine of Pakistan seems to be influenced by a perceived threat from India, its neighbor.
North Korea is thought to possess a relatively small nuclear arsenal, although it has conducted several nuclear tests in recent years. The country’s delivery capabilities include short and medium-range ballistic missiles. As you’ve probably already guessed, the nuclear program of North Korea has triggered plenty of international concern, leading to diplomatic efforts to curb the Asian country’s nuclear ambitions.
Although Israel hasn’t officially admitted that it has nuclear weapons, various sources indicate the opposite. The supposed nuclear arsenal of this country is thought to include both land-based and sea-based capabilities. However, Israel also didn’t deny the existence of nuclear weapons on its territory, maintaining a policy of nuclear ambiguity.
Nuclear weapons were used in warfare only twice
The US bombings of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki back in 1945 represented the only times when nuclear weapons were used in warfare. Both of those instances occurred during WWII. On August 6, 1945, the first nuclear bomb was used in a war, as it was dropped on the city of Hiroshima by the B-29 bomber named Enola Gay. The bomb had the code name “Little Boy”.
Three days later, the city of Nagasaki was hit by another nuclear bomb code-named “Fat Man.” This second bomb was delivered by a B-29 bomber named Bockscar.
A total of about 120,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of the two nuclear bombs used during the Second World War in Japan, while the long-term effects of radiation exposure led to additional deaths over the years that followed. Those effects included cancer, radiation sickness, as well as other severe health problems.
Some nations perceive nuclear weapons as a means to ensure their survival and protection against possible threats. Discussions about disarmament and non-proliferation are ongoing at an international level.