Article 1(1)(a) - INTERPRETATION
Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to: ‘[…] possess or stockpile nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.’
- The prohibition on possession of any nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device under Article 1(1)(a) makes it illegal to have a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device.
- Possession does not require ownership.
- One nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device is sufficient to constitute a stockpile.
- The prohibition on possession covers activities such as maintenance and deployment of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices. Indirectly, it also acts to render deterrence practices unlawful.
Nuclear warheads at the beginning of 2022
Usable stockpile, breakdown
Of the global arsenal of 12,705 nuclear warheads an estimated 9,440 warheads constituted usable stockpiles, meaning that they are available for use by the nuclear-armed states on missiles, aircraft, ships and submarines. Of these, 3,732 warheads were deployed with operational forces and the remaining 5,708 were in storage. An additional total of 3,265 warheads had previously been retired and were awaiting dismantlement in Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. See the animation below for the overview.
The respective numbers for each nuclear-armed state can also be found in their state profiles on this website. The availability of reliable information on the status of the nuclear arsenals and capabilities of the nuclear-armed states varies considerably. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States have declared some information. Russia refuses to publicly disclose the detailed breakdown of its nuclear forces, even though it shares its strategic forces information with the United States. China releases little information about force numbers or future development plans. The governments of India and Pakistan make statements about some of their missile tests but provide no information about the status or size of their arsenals. North Korea has acknowledged conducting nuclear weapon and missile tests but provides no information about the size of its nuclear arsenal. Israel has a long-standing policy of not commenting on its nuclear arsenal.
Additional information about global nuclear arsenals can be found on the ‘Status of World Nuclear Forces’ page on the Federation of American Scientists’ website.
Global usable stockpiles of nuclear warheads are increasing
While the total number of nuclear warheads in the world in 2021 continued to decrease slightly because the United States and Russia every year dismantle a small number of their retired, older nuclear warheads, the number of warheads in global usable stockpiles has actually been increasing somewhat since its lowest point in 2017, when it was at 9,227 warheads. This is illustrated in the chart below.
China, India, North Korea, and Pakistan all increased their total arsenals in 2021, and although Russia’s usable stockpile appeared stable in 2021, the trend over the past few years has been an increase. The United States’ usable stockpile increased slightly in 2019 but declined again in 2020 and 2021, while France’s and Israel’s stockpiles have remained constant. In its 2021 Integrated Review, the UK government also announced a significant increase in the upper limit of the United Kingdom’s nuclear inventory, up to 260 warheads. This sudden decision effectively reverses several decades of gradual disarmament-minded policies, and joins the United Kingdom together with China and Russia as the three members of the P5 to increase the sizes of their nuclear stockpiles, in conflict with their obligations under the NPT. As a result of these developments, the post- Cold War trend of countries reducing the number and role of nuclear weapons in their military doctrines appears to have now come to a halt. Worryingly, in some cases it is actually being reversed.
This situation is being driven by a variety of intersecting factors, including the embrace of ‘great power competition’ and the accompanying arms race; a renewed emphasis on nuclear warfighting in nuclear strategy; a general lack of interest in arms control; the powerful influence of the nuclear-weapons industry on national security policy; and a general lack of vision for how to advance global disarmament goals.
The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor estimates that the 9,440 nuclear warheads in the usable stockpiles of the nine nuclear-armed states have a collective yield of approximately 2,059 megatons (MT). This is almost 138,000 times the approximate yield of the 15-kiloton (Kt) bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945. The estimated total yield of each nuclear- armed state’s usable stockpile of warheads is shown in the table below, with the corresponding number of Hiroshima-bomb equivalents. The yield estimates are derived through the best open-source estimates of each type of warhead, multiplied by their estimated numbers in the usable stockpile. The number of “Hiroshima-bomb equivalents” is calculated by dividing the estimated stockpile yield by 15 kilotons, a widely-assumed yield for the Hiroshima bomb.
Combined, the United States and Russia are responsible for approximately 90% of the global nuclear stockpile yield. Both countries operate nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) that can fire several missiles that also carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), meaning that the total firepower onboard a single SSBN can be extraordinary in magnitude. It is estimated that the average current load-out of a single Russian Borei-class SSBN equates to approximately 6.4 MT, or 427 Hiroshima-bomb equivalents, and that the average current load-out of a single US Ohio-class SSBN equates to approximately 19 MT, or 1,266 Hiroshima-bomb equivalents. Therefore, even with an average current load-out, a single Russian SSBN is believed to carry as much destructive power as the entire, combined nuclear arsenals of India and Israel, while the destructive power carried on board a single US SSBN is believed to be twice that of the entire, combined nuclear arsenal of India, Pakistan, and Israel. In a nuclear crisis, the megatonnage could be increased further, by loading each missile with more warheads.
A single Russian SSBN is believed to carry as much destructive power as the entire, combined nuclear arsenals of India and Israel, while the destructive power carried on board a single US SSBN is believed to be twice that of the entire, combined nuclear arsenal of India, Pakistan, and Israel.
Facilities, delivery vehicles, and deployments
Nuclear weapons are currently believed to be stored at more than 100 distinct locations in 14 states: the nine nuclear-armed states plus five European host nations for US nuclear weapons (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey). Nuclear weapons are also frequently transported between locations for deployment, retirement, maintenance, or modification.
The estimated 9,440 nuclear warheads in global usable stockpiles are assigned to a wide variety of delivery vehicles. The chart below shows that nuclear-armed submarines are the largest carrier of nuclear weapons, accounting for 3,644, or almost two fifths of the warheads. At all times, a significant number of warheads are carried through the world’s oceans on SSBNs on active patrol, ready to be launched on short notice. As of January 2022, the United States operates 14 SSBNs that can carry nuclear weapons, Russia operates 10, China operates 6, the United Kingdom operates 4, France operates 4, and India operates 1, with two more being fitted. North Korea has one ballistic missile submarine (SSB) which is not considered operational. Russia also has attack submarines that can launch nuclear weapons, and Israel is thought to have nuclear-capable attack submarines.
Russia and India are the only nuclear-armed states that deploy surface vessels that can launch nuclear weapons. Russian surface vessels also carry naval aircraft for delivery of nuclear weapons. France too has a surface vessel with naval aircraft with a nuclear role. Significant numbers of nuclear warheads are also actively deployed during peacetime on mobile and siloed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), as well as at bomber bases. Several hundred warheads are also assigned to tactical delivery systems or air, coastal, and missile defence systems, although these are mostly kept in central storage. Some states, such as China, India, Pakistan, and Israel, keep the majority – or even the entirety – of their nuclear stockpiles in storage during peacetime, while others, such as France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, deploy nuclear weapons on alert in peacetime.
(The overview below does not include 32 warheads in India and 11 warheads in Pakistan that are not yet assigned to delivery vehicles but thought to have been produced to eventually arm delivery vehicles that are not yet operational.)