Russia Has The Most Nuclear Weapons In The World—Here Are The Other Countries With The Largest Nuclear Arsenals


Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed to expand Russia’s nuclear arsenal Thursday, once again hinting at the threat of using nuclear weapons, as Russia’s arsenal already edges out that of the United States, the Federation of American Scientists estimates.

Key Facts

Putin unveiled plans to deploy Russian RS-28 Sarmats—long-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying up to 10 large nuclear warheads—and hypersonic missiles in 2023.

On Tuesday, Putin suspended Russia’s role in the New START nuclear arms control treaty with the U.S. after President Joe Biden visited Kyiv, with the Russian president saying he won’t let NATO inspect Russia’s nuclear arsenal, as Article XI of the treaty stipulates.

RS-28 Sarmats, nicknamed “Satan 2,” were supposed to enter service in 2018 after they debuted but have experienced several delays, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies.

Countries’ Nuclear Arsenals from Largest to Smallest

  1. Russia (5,977 warheads)
  2. United States (5,428)
  3. China (350)
  4. France (290)
  5. United Kingdom (225)
  6. Pakistan (165)
  7. India (160)
  8. Israel (90)
  9. North Korea (20)

Tangent (U.S. versus Russia)

Russia has more total nuclear weapons than the U.S., but the Federation of American Scientists estimates they don’t have as many deployed, or ready to use. The U.S. has deployed 1,644 strategic, long-range weapons to target cities and military support structures and 100 tactical weapons designed for battlefield use. Russia has deployed 1,588 strategic missiles and no known tactical weapons as of 2022. In a hypothetical Russian nuclear attack against Ukraine, experts told Forbes that Russia would likely use tactical missiles to attack Ukrainian troops or command centers. The U.S. has more weapons earmarked for destruction (1,720) than Russia (1,500), but Russia has far more undeployed missiles (2,889) than the U.S. (1,964). It’s unclear what kinds of weapons make up that number.

Key Background

Friday marks a year since Russia invaded Ukraine in what it called a “special military operation.” Tens of thousands of people, including Ukrainian civilians, have reportedly been killed. The U.S. gave roughly $47 billion of military support to Ukraine between January 24, 2022 and January 15, 2023, according to the Kiel Institute—more than any other country, and a further $500 million when Biden made a surprise—and historic—visit to Kyiv to mark one year of war. Citing NATO and U.S. aggression, Putin has repeatedly threatened nuclear destruction, implicitly and explicitly, since he increased the readiness of Russia’s nuclear arsenal three days after invading Ukraine.

Big Number

50 megatons. That’s how many pounds of TNT it would take to equal the destructive power of Tsar Bomba, the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated. Set off by the U.S.S.R on October 30, 1961, the hydrogen bomb was 1,500 times more powerful than the combined yield of the bombs detonated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The explosion reportedly shattered windows 560 miles away, and the resulting mushroom cloud reached 40 miles into the air and spanned 59 miles at its top. The previous record holder for largest nuclear bomb was the U.S.’ Castle Bravo with less than half Tsar Bomba’s explosive yield. Modern weapons usually have less power than bombs of old, between 10 and 100 kilotons according to The Washington Post, but they could still dwarf the ones deployed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which had blasts equivalent to 15,000 and 21,000 tons of TNT, respectively.

Surprising Fact

On January 24, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock, which measures humans’ proximity to self-extinction, to the highest threat level since the project’s inception: 90 seconds to midnight. Created in 1947 by Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and other scientists from the famed Manhattan Project, the clock illustrates the seriousness of biological, nuclear and climate-related threats to human survival. According to the clock, humans were farthest from destruction at 17 minutes following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The clock moved closer to midnight this year because of the increased risk of nuclear destruction following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the Bulletin, though Covid-19 and climate change also played a role.

Further Reading

Here’s What Would Happen If Putin Ordered A Nuclear Strike In Ukraine (Forbes)

Doomsday Clock–Measuring Humanity’s Threat Of Self-Annihilation–Moves To 90 Seconds To Midnight. Here’s What To Know. (Forbes)

Here’s What You Should Do In A Nuclear Attack, Experts Say (Forbes)

Further Viewing

Russia releases secret footage of 1961 Tsar Bomba hydrogen blast (Reuters)