Between North Korea’s constant nuclear test provocations and the recent “fire and fury” comments by President Trump, concerns about nuclear conflict are re-ignited around the world.
So, how many nuclear weapons are there, and what exactly is happening right now? Let’s launch into it.
Who has Access to Nuclear Weapons?
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As the map above demonstrates, the United States and Russia still maintain the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, holding 92% of the world’s estimated 15,000 nuclear warheads.
While today’s arsenals seem quite excessive, they are actually quite modest compared to historical totals such as those during the Cold War. In 1986, for example, there were actually 70,300 nuclear weapons globally – but luckily for us, the number of warheads has eased down over time as countries disarm more weapons.
Will this number of warheads continue to slide down as a result of increased international cooperation? The Brookings Institution has grouped the nine countries with nuclear arsenals into categories that identify prospective entrants to the global arms control regime:
Any advancement of multilateral arms control, such as a treaty limiting limiting nuclear weapons, would likely take place between these countries.
Mapping Nuclear Sites Within the United States
Thanks to various arms reduction agreements, thousands of nuclear warheads have been retired. That said, warheads are still stored in a number of sites around the continental United States. The map below also highlights laboratories and interstate shipping routes. (Yes, nuclear weapons are apparently shipped in big rigs.)
The Wild Card: North Korea
The Hermit Kingdom is a relatively minor player in the nuclear weapon ecosystem, but they have been capturing the world’s attention. Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has dramatically ramped up the frequency of missile tests, with 17 confirmed launches so far in 2017.
Here’s a look at the country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, along with ranges of specific weapons.
More than a decade has passed since North Korea detonated its first nuclear weapon, and the country is now believed to be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile delivery. This, combined with aggressive rhetoric from North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has forced the Trump administration to take their threats more seriously.
That said, experts suggest that recent provocations aren’t much different from previous periods of tension between the two countries, and that the risk of an actual conflict is overblown.
North Korea’s comments are clearly deterrent in nature, and the Guam ‘threat’ was exactly along those lines.
– David Kang, director, Korean Studies Institute, USC
Either way, while the prospect of an all-out war is unlikely – the war of words between North Korea and the United States is likely destined to continue.