For decades, the world’s great powers have operated under the doctrine of mutually assured destruction, a grim social theory which states that by arming itself with powerful weapons, a nation can deter other countries from using similarly powerful instruments of death. In layman’s terms, throughout the forties, fifties, and sixties, the Soviet Union and The United States (as well as several other countries with troublesome neighbors) stockpiled an incredible amount of nuclear missiles under the dubious belief that more nukes meant more safety. For the most part, the nations that have nuclear weapons have learned that nuclear weapons — even one nuclear weapon — is bad news for everyone. That revelation hasn’t triggered a complete atomic withdrawal, but it has helped some nations move down a road toward disarmament. It’s slow progress. Nine countries currently have nuclear capabilities, and here they are, from fewest to most.
9. North Korea, Enough Nukes to Be Dangerous
The state of North Korea is shrouded in mystery. Ruled by a dictatorial dynasty, the things we know for sure are far outweighed by the information coming out of the country that has no concrete backing. Nuclear capability is a perfect example of that phenomenon. North Korea has conducted four nuclear tests, though no one is sure the extent of their nuclear stockpile. When it comes to nuclear weapons, however, just one is enough to ruin a lot of people’s day.
8. Israel, 80 Retired Nukes
Israel’s nuclear history has been somewhat underwhelming compared to some of this list’s heavy hitters. Of course, one might argue that Israel has built their nuclear arsenal out of necessity as much as anything else. At one point, the nation that’s surrounded by enemies had 80 nuclear weapons ready to fire. That said, the country never tested any of them (at least, no tests were proven). The nation has surrendered its entire stockpile of nuclear missiles for dismantlement.
7. India, Between 110 and 120 Retired Nukes
The countries of India and Pakistan have long been on the brink of war. Tensions between the two nations run deep, and conflicts are regular. In 1974, India entered the nuclear club when it successfully test-fired an atomic bomb. It was the first of three tests that took place between ’74 and 1998. Each of the nuclear weapons in India’s arsenal has been surrendered for retirement. Foregoing the possibility of nuclear war has done little to calm the distaste both countries feel for one another.
6. Pakistan, Between 110 and 130 Retired Nukes
It may have taken Pakistan a decade or two to catch up to India, but they did, conducting two nuclear tests throughout 1998 just to prove they could. The nation also worked to bypass India’s stockpile of weapons, potentially reaching as many as 130 — as though more than 5-10 would be needed to completely destroy a country. Like India, however, the leaders of Pakistan have agreed to disarm completely, handing over their entire stockpile.
5. China, 260 Retired Nukes
China was one of the charter nations to sign 1996’s Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, a document which prohibited nuclear explosions in any environment. Before that time, China had performed 45 nuclear tests, beginning in 1964. In the years since signing the CTBT, China has determined that its best course of action was conquering through manufacturing rather than bombs.
4. United Kingdom, 120 Operational Nukes
Never one to be caught unprepared, the United Kingdom has been building a nuclear arsenal for more than 60 years. Since its first test in 1952, Her Majesty’s Government has performed 45 nuclear experiments around the world. Though they have refused to submit their entire collection of nuclear weapons for disarmament, they have handed over 95 of them. 120 nuclear weapons are still ready to fire.
3. France, 280 Operational Nukes
If there’s one nuclear-equipped country on this list that’s surprising, it’s France. In fact, France was one of the first nations to build an atomic bomb. They were also one of the most enthusiastic countries to possess the technology. Their first test was conducted in February of 1960. In the 36 years between that first test and France’s signing of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the country launched 210 nuclear tests (give or take). To this day, France has only surrendered ten nuclear missiles for disarmament, which puts their potential stockpile at around 280 operational nuclear weapons.
2. United States, 1,750 Operational Nukes
The rest of the world are amateurs when it comes to manufacturing instruments of death. In that regard, the United States and Russia play in a league all their own. Thanks to the long conflict of the Cold War, the United States and Russia spent the better part of thirty years amassing a jaw-dropping collection of nuclear weapons. All in all, the United States built almost 7,000 nuclear weapons. The US has also conducted 1,030 tests. For anyone keeping count, that’s more tests than the combined arsenal of the bottom seven nations on this list, unless North Korea has amassed an arsenal of 50-plus nukes.
1. Russia, 1,790 Operational Nukes
Coming in at number one (even if it did squeak out the victory) is Russia, the modern-day incarnation of the Soviet Union. Like the government of the United States, Russia has handed over more than 4,000 nuclear warheads for disarmament. The former Soviet Union may have more nuclear weapons to hand over, but they’ve been far more conservative about testing the nukes, conducting “only” 715 nuclear tests since their first explosion in 1949.