Numbers of nuclear weapons


This is an unpublished draft leaflet for Irish CND which gives a view on the need for nuclear disarmament. The figures relate to the position in August 1996 (later estimates at end):


Is there still a need for nuclear disarmament? Aren't they getting rid of the bombs? And surely they wouldn't use the ones they still have?

They're not getting rid of them all. And there is still a danger of nuclear bombs being used.

In the past, there were various disarmament negotiations, for example SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties). But while the negotiators were discussing limits on one type of nuclear weapon, each side was quietly building up its stocks of other types of nuclear weapon.

The first negotiations to produce real decreases in stocks of nuclear weapons were the START talks which were begun in 1982; under these, the United States and the then Soviet Union agreed in 1991 to cut around 20%of their nuclear weapons. Presidents Bush and Yeltsin agreed in January and June 1992 on further cuts in inter-continental missiles; but they are keeping their submarine-based nuclear missiles: these are particularly dangerous because no-one can keep track of submarines as they move about the oceans. Under START II (which hasn't been ratified by Russia) the United States and Russia agreed to reduce their nuclear warheads to 3500 each by the year 2003.

The reductions in nuclear weapons have affected only the United States and Russia. Britain has about 300 or 400 nuclear weapons (to be increased under the Trident programme), France and China about the same, and Israel about 100. India and Pakistan may have one or two each.

The 1968 treaty on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, originated by Irish Foreign Minister Frank Aiken and renewed in 1995, slowed down, but didn't stop, the expansion in the number of nuclear weapon states. Israel, India, and Pakistan, which have not admitted their weapons programmes, have not signed. Other countries which are nearly in a position to make nuclear weapons are South Korea, North Korea, Taiwan, Argentina, Brazil, Libya,and Iran; also, Iraq could resume its efforts which have been abandoned following the Gulf War; South Africa has abandoned its efforts, but could resume them under a different government; and some people say Algeria should be added to the list. Over the years, quite a lot of nuclear materials and expertise found their way to these countries, and it is widely believed that this happened again due to the break-up of the Soviet Union.

As the world looks at the moment, it may not seem very likely that the United States or Russia would use nuclear weapons against each other. But they might be tempted to use them against some other country,. For example, the U.S. might have considered using them against Iraq if the Gulf War had gone badly for them. And it's quite possible to imagine that some of those countries which could become nuclear powers over the next few years might contemplate using nuclear bombs in some of their own struggles. Also, we can't be sure what sort of government might come to power in Russia in a few years' time.

But nuclear weapons present a threat even if no government ever decided to use them. In the first place, despite all the precautions, there's always a risk that some general or colonel will discover a way to fire them without having been given an order by his government. In the second place, there is the possibility of an accident. Bombs have been dropped accidentally from aeroplanes in the past, in Spain in 1966, in Greenland in 1968, and on other occasions also. Nuclear explosions did not take place, but scientific research (the Drell report commissioned by the US Congress) has shown that certain types of accidents might result in a nuclear explosion. But even if there is no explosion, radioactivity can still escape, as it did on those occasions.

Radioactivity kills people - immediately if they get a high enough dose. If the dose is less high, people will contract diseases and some of them will die over the following years; and the radioactivity can damage their bodies so that genetic defects are passed on to their children.

Damage from radioactivity can come from other sources connected with nuclear weapons. At the beginning of the process,uranium has to be mined and the miners are exposed to radioactivity. The raw materials used in nuclear weapons are produced in nuclear power stations and reprocessing plants - in fact, most of the big programmes for nuclear power production originated in the desire to have materials available for bombs: producing electricity was not the main object. The British power station at Calder Hall, beside Sellafield, was started for this reason. The damage caused by the nuclear accidents at Windscale (Sellafield) and Chernobyl is well known. There was an earlier nuclear accident in Russia near Chelyabinsk in 1957, when a dump for nuclear materials blew up and hundreds of square kilometres were contaminated. Even keeping nuclear weapons in service presents risks, as they have to be transported back to their place of manufacture every 6-12 months for overhaul.

These threats affect everyone in the world. Even a minor exchange of nuclear weapons would kill millions of people. We have to continue working for
- no proliferation of nuclear weapons to any more countries
- no Irish involvement in NATO or in a European defence structure based on nuclear weapons
- unilateral abandonment of nuclear weapons by any country that can be persuaded to do so
- the complete elimination of the other weapons of mass destruction, biological and chemical weapons
- support for peaceful ways of organising internationally, in particular the Untied Nations and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe.


Figures for numbers of nuclear weapons in February 2003, compiled by Voor Moeder Aarde vzw:

US       10.600
Russia    8.400
China        400-450
France       288
UK            200
Israel         200
Pakistan     48
India           30-35
Iraq             0??

Figures for numbers of nuclear weapons in November 2002 are provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council's nuclear stockpiles web page.


Figures for strategic nuclear warheads and delivery vehicles for the United States and Russia In June 2002 are given on the U.S.-Soviet/Russian Nuclear Arms Control page from the Arms Control Association.


Figures for numbers of nuclear weapons in February 2002 are provided by the Center for Defense Information on its Nuclear Weapons Database.


This is from an article in the New York times by Steven Lee Myers, 27 January 2001:

As of last year, the United States had 7,519 nuclear warheads on missiles, submarines or bombers, while Russia had 6,464. Under the second strategic arms control treaty, or Start II, both countries are supposed to reduce their arsenals to roughly 3,000 to 3,500 warheads.

Russia's Parliament ratified Start 2 last year, though with conditions that many Republicans in Congress say they oppose.


This is a November 1999 estimate, circulated by "The Sunflower", of the number of nuclear weapons held by the United States:

Counting Nuclear Weapons: How Many and Where?

>Presently the United States has 7,300 strategic nuclear weapons and
>4,700 and 11,700 non-strategic nuclear weapons for an approximate total of at least 12,000 nuclear weapons. An article published by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Nov/Dec 99) titled "Where They Were" analyzes recently declassified information about where the US placed nuclear
>from 1951 through 1977. During those years complete nuclear bombs were placed in 18 locations: Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Japan, Kwajalein Island, Morocco, Okinawa, the Philippines, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan, Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey. One site remains censored, a country blacked out alphabetically between Canada and Cuba.

>The authors of the article, Robert S. Norris, William M. Arkin and William Burr, conclude with a thoughtful footnote, "Nuclear contingency plans no doubt still exist. They may include plans to disperse nuclear warheads to additional bases, to place warheads in countries which do not now host nuclear weapons, to fly in more planes, to 'recover' strategic bombers and submarines in foreign locations during alerts and operations, to overfly foreign airspace with nuclear weapons, and even to put Tomahawk nuclear cruise missile back on surface ships and submarines if circumstances warranted." (Read the full article at
> )



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