The World's Nuclear Powers: A Closer Look at the Top 9 Countries with the Most Nuclear Warheads

Nuclear weapons, the most destructive weapons known to humankind, have only been used twice in the history of warfare. Currently, there is an estimated global stockpile of around 13,000 nuclear warheads, with nine countries known to be nuclear-armed. According to the Arms Control Association, no country has more nuclear warheads in its stockpile than Russia, with an estimated inventory of 6,257 warheads, although 1,760 of them have been retired. The US follows with an estimated stockpile of 5,244 warheads. The other countries are China, France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea.


Russia's stockpile has shrunk significantly since the Cold War. However, there is only one such bilateral treaty with the US, the "New START," and it is due to expire in 2026. According to the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Russia is one of six nations that are increasing their number of nuclear warheads.


The US is the only nuclear-armed nation that is decreasing the size of its stockpile. The current American stockpile is around 5,500 strong, according to most estimates, including the ACA's data from late 2021, while FAS puts the number slightly lower, at 5,244. Over a thousand of them have been retired and will be dismantled.


China has the third-largest nuclear arsenal, owning around 350 atomic weapons. The 2021 US Department of Defense report to Congress revealed that China is accelerating its nuclear expansion, and by 2027, it may have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads, exceeding the pace and size the DoD projected in 2020. Unlike Russia and the US, China doesn't have any nuclear arms control treaties, although it did accede to the NPT in 1992.


France has been nuclear-armed since 1960, and currently has around 290 warheads in its arsenal, according to FAS and ACA. It has the capability to launch nuclear weapons from both aircraft and submarines, and it was relatively late to sign up to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, waiting until 1992 to accede to it.


The United Kingdom has approximately 225 warheads and is exclusively sea-based; it is only armed with submarine-launched missiles. It was the third nation to become nuclear-armed in 1952, just three years after the Soviet Union. It was one of the original signatories to the NPT, having ratified it in 1968.


Pakistan is believed to have the most nuclear warheads of all the countries that are not parties to the NPT, with an estimated 165 nuclear warheads. Its nuclear program began in the 1970s and was developed to counter India's nuclear program.


India is estimated to have around 156 nuclear warheads, and its nuclear program began in the 1940s. It tested its first nuclear device in 1974 and is not a party to the NPT.


Israel has never confirmed or denied its possession of nuclear weapons, but it is widely believed to have them. The country is not a party to the NPT, and no official estimate of its nuclear arsenal exists.

North Korea

North Korea is the only country known to have tested nuclear weapons in the 21st century, with its first test in 2006. It is believed to have an arsenal of around 30 nuclear weapons. It is not a party to the NPT and has been subjected to international sanctions