[Current update: September 2020] The number of nuclear weapons in the world has declined significantly since the Cold War: down from a peak of approximately 70,300 in 1986 to an estimated 13,410 in early-2020. Government officials often portray that accomplishment as a result of current or recent arms control agreements, but the overwhelming portion of the reduction happened in the 1990s. Some also compare today’s numbers with that of the 1950s, but that is like comparing apples and oranges; today’s forces are vastly more capable. The pace of reduction has slowed significantly compared with the 1990s. Instead of planning for nuclear disarmament, the nuclear-armed states appear to plan to retain large arsenals for the indefinite future, are adding new nuclear weapons, and are increasing the role that such weapons play in their national strategies.
Despite progress in reducing Cold War nuclear arsenals, the world’s combined inventory of nuclear warheads remains at a very high level: roughly 13,410 warheads as of early-2020. Of these, nearly 9,320 are in the military stockpiles (the rest are awaiting dismantlement), of which some 3,720 warheads are deployed with operational forces, of which about 1,800 US, Russian, British and French warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.
Approximately 91 percent of all nuclear warheads are owned by Russia and the United States who each have around 4,000 warheads in their military stockpiles; no other nuclear-armed state sees a need for more than a few hundred nuclear weapons for national security:
Globally, the number of nuclear weapons is declining, but the pace of reduction is slowing compared with the past 30 years. The United States , Russia, and the United Kingdom are reducing their overall warhead inventories, France and Israel have relatively stable inventories, while China, Pakistan, India, and North Korea are increasing their warhead inventories.
All the nuclear weapon states continue to modernize their remaining nuclear forces, adding new types, increasing the role they serve, and appear committed to retaining nuclear weapons for the indefinite future. For an overview of global modernization programs, see our contribution to the SIPRI Yearbook. Individual country profiles are available from the FAS Nuclear Notebook.
The exact number of nuclear weapons in each country’s possession is a closely held national secret. Yet the degree of secrecy varies considerably from country to count. Between 2010 and 2018, the United disclosed its total stockpile size, but in 2019 the Trump administration stopped that practice. Despite such limitations, however, publicly available information, careful analysis of historical records, and occasional leaks make it possible to make best estimates about the size and composition of the national nuclear weapon stockpiles:
Status of World Nuclear Forces 2020*
How to read this table: “Deployed strategic warheads” are those deployed on intercontinental missiles and at heavy bomber bases. “Deployed nonstrategic warheads” are those deployed on bases with operational short-range delivery systems. “Reserve/Nondeployed” warheads are those not deployed on launchers and in storage (weapons at bomber bases are considered deployed). The “military stockpile” includes active and inactive warheads that are in the custody of the military and earmarked for use by commissioned deliver vehicles. The “total inventory” includes warheads in the military stockpile as well as retired, but still intact, warheads in the queue for dismantlement. For additional guidance, see endnotes below (note: as estimates are updated, they may vary from the printed materials below).
*Current update: September 2020. All numbers are approximate estimates and further described in our FAS Nuclear Notebooks published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and the World Nuclear Forces overview in the SIPRI Yearbook. Additional reports are published on the FAS Strategic Security Blog. Unlike those “fixed” publications, this web page is updated continuously as new information becomes available, so estimates may differ.
a Warheads in the “military stockpile” are defined as warheads in the custody of the military and earmarked for use by military forces. b The “total inventory” counts warheads in the military stockpile as well as retired, but still intact, warheads awaiting dismantlement. c This number is higher than the aggregate data under the New START treaty because this table also counts bomber weapons at bomber bases as deployed. Detailed overview of Russian forces as of 2020 is here. Numbers have been updated for later changes. d All are declared to be in central storage, although some storage sites may be close to bases with operational forces. Several thousand retired non-strategic warheads are awaiting dismantlement. e Includes an estimated 870 strategic warheads and all 1,870 non-strategic warheads. f In addition to the 4,312 warheads in the military stockpile, an estimated 2,060 retired warheads are thought to be awaiting dismantlement. Details are scarce, but we estimate that Russia is dismantling 200-300 retired warheads per year. See 2020 overview of Russian forces here. g This number is higher than the aggregate data released under the New START data because this table also counts bomber weapons on bomber bases as deployed. Detailed overview of U.S. forces as of 2020 is here. h Approximately 150 B61 bombs are deployed in Europe at six bases in five countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and Turkey). For details, see here. i Non-deployed reserve includes an estimated 1,970 strategic and 80 non-strategic warheads in central storage. j The U.S. government declared in March 2018 that its stockpile included 3,822 warheads as of September 2017. Since then, a small number of warheads are thought to have been retired for an estimated 3,800 remaining in the stockpile. k In addition to the roughly 3,800 warheads in the military stockpile and the 2,000 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, approximately 20,000 plutonium cores (pits) and some 4,000 Canned Assemblies (secondaries) from dismantled warheads are in storage at the Pantex Plant in Texas and Y-12 plant in Tennessee. For a detailed overview of U.S. forces, see here. l Weapons for France’s single aircraft carrier are not deployed on the ship under normal circumstances but could be on short notice. Warhead loadings on some submarines missiles have been reduced to increase targeting flexibility. For a detailed overview of French nuclear forces, see here). m The estimate for the Chinese warhead stockpile listed here is higher than the “low-200s” listed in the Pentagon’s 2020 China report. The reason is that the Pentagon estimate is from late-2019 (when we estimated 290) and that the Pentagon estimate only includes “operational” warheads, while our estimate also includes warheads produced for missiles not yet fully operational. Despite these differences, the estimates show that claims made by some that China might have “many more than 300” or even 1,600-3,000 warheads are baseless. Nonetheless, the Chinese stockpile is increasing. None of the warheads are thought to be fully deployed but kept in storage under central control. China considers all of its nuclear weapons to be strategic, but the US military calls its medium-and intermediate-range missile non-strategic. Detailed overview of Chinese forces is here.
n The number of British warheads on each submarine has been lowered from 48 to 40. This has lowered the number of “operationally available” warheads from 160 to 120. By the mid-2020s, the stockpile will be reduced to “not more than 180.” This reduction is already underway. Detailed overview of British forces is here. o Although Israel has produced enough plutonium for 100-200 warheads, the number of delivery platforms and estimates made by the U.S. intelligence community suggest that the stockpile might include approximately 90 warheads. Detailed 2014 overview of Israeli forces is here. p None of Pakistan’s warheads are thought to be deployed but kept in central storage, most in the southern parts of the country. More warheads are in production. Detailed overview here. q Indian nuclear warheads are not deployed but in central storage. More warheads are in production. Detailed overview of Indian forces is here. r After six nuclear tests, including two of 10-20 kilotons and one of more than 200 kilotons, we estimate that North Korea might have produced sufficient fissile material for roughly 35 warheads, although it is difficult to assess how many warheads may have been assembled or deployed. Detailed overview of North Korean nuclear capabilities is here. s Numbers may not add up due to rounding and uncertainty about the operational status of the four lesser nuclear weapons states and the uncertainty about the size of the total inventories of three of the five initial nuclear powers.
The information available for each country varies greatly, ranging from the most transparent nuclear weapons state (United States) to the most opaque (Israel). Accordingly, while the estimate for the United States is based on “real” numbers, the estimates for several of the other nuclear weapon states are highly uncertain.
This work was made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the New Land Foundation, the Prospect Hill Foundation, and the Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.