Nuclear Weapons

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Nuclear Proliferation: Which Countries have the most Nuclear Weapons?

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 Nuclear Proliferation – the uncontrolled spread of nuclear weaponry, has been the fear of nations since the first bombs were dropped in World War II. And while the US remains the only country in the world to use strategic nuclear bombs in a combat situation, the stockpiles of these weapons of mass destruction are a major concern to governments and private groups around the globe.

The problem is difficult to define as most counts focus on the nuclear devices themselves, and not the delivery system required to make it true weapon. Many countries listed as having nuclear capabilities lack the missiles or aircraft to make them a true long range threat.

So. Who has them and how many do they have?

Top Two: Russia and the United States:

To anyone who has read about or lived through the arms race of the 20th century will not be surprised that these two superpowers are at the top of the list for nuclear bombs, and by a hefty margin. Both the US and Russia have over 7,000 warheads, while the rest of the nuclear countries have 300 or less.

Some people might be surprised to learn, however, that in this contest, Russia scores in the number one slot with 7,700 devices to America’s 7,100. Still, at that scale, the difference is largely academic.

Leading the rest of the pack:

Representing Europe are two neighbors across the channel, France and Britain, ranking number 3 and 5 with 300 and 225 nuclear devices respectively. Ranking #4 with 260 warheads is China, the best armed of the Asian nations.

Tied for 6th with 120 warheads each are India and Pakistan, two other neighboring countries who share a long border and a longer history of animosity towards each other. This delicate balance is under careful scrutiny by those keeping an eye on nuclear issues.

Finishing up the list are Israel at #7 with 80 devices, and North Korea at #8 with 8.

Other nations may also have access to an ally’s nuclear arsenal under various treaty agreements. For example, NATO members Germany, Italy, Belgium and Turkey currently have nuclear weapons belonging to the United States which they are ‘hosting’ under NATO defense agreements.

 

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The Dangers of Nuclear Proliferation:

The problem with so many weapons out there is that it doesn’t take much to push a regime over the nuclear edge. Especially when the players have a long history of aggression, like Pakistan and India, North Korea and China, and of course Russia and the US. The chances of someone ‘hitting the button’ continues to be a source of concern.

Even the countries with smaller arsenals and a lack of long range attack capabilities are an issue. Bombs can be deployed over land and still be an effective weapon against a neighboring country. And with the kind of payload that even a small strategic nuclear device caries, accuracy in targeting is not the first concern.

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Nuclear Disarmament:

While many countries are genuinely working to reduce the total number of weapons both in their own arsenals and worldwide, other countries are looking to join the list of nuclear powers. This makes it important to keep an eye on the state of nuclear armament.

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Treaties That Limit Nuclear Weapons

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The threat of a nuclear war has hung over the world since the first military use of an atomic weapon in 1945. Each generation since has had to deal with the potential dangers of large scale nuclear conflict. While some feel that the continued stockpiling of nuclear weapons is the best way to prevent war, a growing movement exists that has 2 main goals:

  • Anti-Proliferation: to limit the expansion of nuclear weapons technology.
  • Nuclear Disarmament: to reduce the total number nuclear devices in existence, ideally down to zero.

Here are some key treaties and accords currently in place:

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  • Antarctic Treaty (1959): One of the first international weapons agreements, this treaty recognized the unique strategic danger that military installation and weapons sites in Antarctica would present. With emerging missile technology, nearly every other continent would have been in range of attacks from Antarctic based weapons. This treaty essentially demilitarized the entire continent, prohibiting any military exercises, troop emplacements, and the testing of or installation of weapons systems, both nuclear and conventional.

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  • Limited Test Ban Treaty (1969): This treaty recognizes and addresses that there is a danger to the world population not only from nuclear attacks, but from the side effects of the development and testing process itself. Studies had already shown that residual nuclear material from testing was making its way into the air, food and water supplies around the world, causing potential harm to men, women and children. Essentially, this treaty limited nuclear testing to underground sites, which reduced their impact on the environment.
  • Strategic Arms Limitations Treaties: Known as SALT I and SALT II, these treaties were crafted during talks between the then nuclear powers during the 1960’s and 1970’s. The idea was to address the rapid expansion of nuclear arsenals and stockpiles. Nicknamed ‘The Arms Race’, this accumulation of nuclear weapons was an attempt by both the US and the USSR to have a strategic advantage from the size of their arsenals, trying to maintain a condition of Mutually Assured Destruction.
  • Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties (I and II): A set of treaties worked out in the latter part of the 200th century which tried to reduce the total number of nuclear weapons systems in use. The first treaty was forged when the USSR was still a world power, while the second was established after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
  • Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972): This controversial treaty tries to address one of the main issues behind the arms race, which is weakening the ability of one side to destroy the other, thus upsetting the balance of power.
  • International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005): This treaty was designed to address a new nuclear threat posed by the possibility of nuclear weapons or material coming into the possession of nations or organizations who engage in acts of terrorism on a regional or global basis. It allows nations to prosecute anyone planning, threatening, or attempting any act of terrorism using a nuclear device or radioactive materials, or involving acts of sabotage on any nuclear power plant or other nuclear facility.

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