INDIA: Vladimir Putin’s decision to place Russia’s nuclear forces on ‘special alert’ has brought the world closer to a situation in which nuclear weapons are not altogether unthinkable. The fact that Russia possesses the most nuclear weapons in the world makes the current situation even more frightening.
Russia’s nuclear stockpile
Nine countries have around 12,700 nuclear weapons, with Russia having the most. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a policy research organisation created in 1945 that studies nuclear-armed states’ stockpiles, estimates that the Kremlin holds 5,977 nuclear weapons, 1,500 of which have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement.
A nuclear warhead is a component of a missile that includes explosive material. The FAS estimates that 1,588 strategic nuclear warheads are deployed out of the remaining 4,477 nuclear warheads (812 on land-based ballistic missiles, 576 on submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and 200 at heavy bomber bases). Another 977 strategic warheads, as well as 1,912 non-strategic warheads, are in storage.
“The exact quantity of nuclear weapons in each country’s possession is a closely held state secret,” according to FAS.
“As a result, the estimates offered here come with great uncertainty.”
United States’ nuclear stockpile
Russia and the United States own almost 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. The FAS estimates that the US has 1,800 deployed warheads out of a total of 5,428, according to the FAS. There are 1,400 strategic warheads on ballistic missiles, 300 in strategic bomber sites in the United States, and 100 at air bases in Europe.
Another 2,000 warheads are thought to be in storage as a backup in case of technical or geopolitical issues. In addition, the Energy Department has roughly 1,720 decommissioned but intact warheads in its hands, which are awaiting dismantlement.
China’s nuclear stockpile
After Russia and the United States, the number of nuclear warheads owned by a country diminishes dramatically. China is next on the list, with around 350 nuclear warheads.
China possesses 280 operating land-based ballistic missiles, 72 operational sea-based ballistic missiles, and 20 nuclear gravity bombs deployed to bombers to employ these weapons.
According to the Pentagon’s 2021 report to Congress, China could have up to 700 deployable nuclear warheads by 2027 and at least 1,000 by 2030.
China “very definitely keeps the majority of its nuclear force on a peacetime state with isolated launchers, missiles, and warheads,” according to the assessment.
France’s nuclear stockpile
In the last decade, France’s nuclear stockpile, which now stands at roughly 300 warheads, has stayed unchanged.
Former President François Hollande stated on February 19, 2015 that France’s 300 warhead stockpile is for “three sets of 16 submarine-based missiles and 54 ASMPA (air-launched) delivery systems.”
The 300-warhead stockpile, according to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, is “half the greatest number of warheads that (France) possessed throughout the Cold War.”
United Kingdom’s nuclear stockpile
The United Kingdom has 225 nuclear weapons in its arsenal. Around 120 of these warheads are operationally available for deployment on four nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines of the Vanguard-class (SSBNs).
This estimate is based on publicly accessible information, interviews with UK officials, and an examination of the organisation of the nuclear forces, according to the reports. The SSBNs are the UK’s only nuclear weapons platform.
Although the history of the UK stockpile amount has not been released, the then-Foreign Secretary William Hague stated in May 2010 that “our overall stockpile would not exceed 225 nuclear warheads in the future.”
Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile
Closer to home, Pakistan is barely ahead of India in terms of nuclear weapons stocks. Pakistan, according to the FAS, has a stockpile of 165 nuclear weapons.
Speculations that Pakistan will become the world’s third-largest nuclear weapon state with 350 warheads in a decade are dismissed as “exaggerated.”
Pakistan’s “full-spectrum deterrence posture,” according to the FAS, comprises long-range missiles and planes for strategic missions, as well as low-yield nuclear-capable weapon systems.
The National Command Authority, chaired by the prime minister and made up of both military and civilian personnel, is in charge of Pakistan’s nuclear policy and operational decisions.
India’s nuclear stockpile
According to the latest FAS statistics (as of February 23, 2022), India possesses 160 nuclear weapons. The FAS estimated that the number would be 150 by 2020.
According to the FAS, India is thought to have generated enough military plutonium for 150 to 200 nuclear weapons, but it is more likely that just 150 were manufactured.
While India’s principal deterrence connection is with Pakistan, the country’s nuclear modernisation suggests that it is prioritising its future strategic engagement with China.
According to the FAS’ ‘Indian nuclear forces, 2020’ analysis, “all of the new Agni missiles have ranges that indicate their primary target is China.”
Israel’s nuclear stockpile
The Israeli nuclear arsenal is the subject of much conjecture, with estimates ranging from 75 to more than 400 weapons.
“The most credible stockpile amount is less than one hundred warheads, possibly on the order of 90 warheads,” according to the FAS.
Israel has aeroplanes, land-based ballistic missiles, and even sea-based cruise missiles to use these warheads, according to the FAS. However, Israel has never tested, publicly declared, or used its nuclear weapons capacity.
Instead, for decades, it has pursued a policy of “nuclear ambiguity,” in which it keeps the world guessing whether it has nuclear weapons or not.
North Korea’s nuclear stockpile
North Korea, led by Kim Jong Un, has made significant progress in constructing a nuclear arsenal.
According to the FAS, it is unknown whether North Korea has developed fully functional nuclear warheads that can be delivered by long-range ballistic missiles and detonate as intended.
North Korea has carried out six nuclear tests and test-fired ballistic missiles thus far.
“Based on publicly available information about North Korea’s fissile material production and missile posture, we cautiously estimate that North Korea may have produced enough fissile material to build 40 to 50 nuclear weapons and assembled 10 to 20 warheads for delivery by medium-range ballistic missiles,” according to the FAS.