September 3, 2022

What country has the most nuclear weapons? Can the US stop a nuclear attack?

There are around 13,000 nuclear warheads in the world. These weapons are known for their ability to cause mass destruction and death.

Because of this, nuclear war is no joke, and threats about nuclear attacks should and are taken seriously.  Google searches for “nuclear weapons” and “nuclear war” even spiked on Feb. 24, 2022 following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

With this rise in fear, as well as an overall fear of nuclear war, some may wonder which country has the largest stockpile of these dangerous weapons. 

Who has the most nuclear weapons?

Reports on countries’ nuclear arsenals vary, but the consensus is Russia has the largest number in its arsenal, followed by the United States. 

Although reports on the number of weapons in their arsenal vary, Russia has the most nuclear weapons in the world.

According to Business Insider, Russia has a nuclear arsenal of 6,850 nuclear weapons (1,600 deployed, 2,750 stored and 2,500 retired). The U.S. on the other hand has an arsenal of 6,450 nuclear weapons (1,750 deployed, 2,050 stored and 2,650 retired).

Statista puts Russia’s arsenal at 5,997 nuclear warheads as of January 2022 and the U.S. with 5,428 nuclear warheads. According to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Russia has a stockpile of around 4,477 weapons in its nuclear arsenal. In comparison, the U.S. has around 3,708 warheads. 

Despite varying reports on stockpiles, Russia and the U.S. have far more nuclear weapons than the rest of the world, accounting for 90% of the world’s stockpile. The country with the third-most nuclear weapons is China with 350 , according to Statista. Business Insider says China has 280.   

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Who has more nukes, America or Russia?

Russia has more nuclear weapons than the U.S., according to Business Insider. 

Russia has feared that it is weaker than NATO, the alliance formed between the U.S. and many western European nations following the aftermath of World War II.

Russia is focused on stopping an invasion from the West or the U.S., and with so many U.S. forces across the world, the Russians have built up their arsenal, Business Insider says. 

Can Russian missiles reach the US?

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Russian land-based missiles could reach the U.S. in as little as 30 minutes, with submarine-based missiles striking 10 or 15 minutes after they are launched. 

Both the U.S. and Russia have their missiles on hair-trigger alert, meaning they can be launched within minutes after a decision is made to do so. 

Weapons were put on hair-trigger alert during the Cold War when Soviet and American military strategists feared first-strike attacks of up to thousands of missiles thatcould be used to destroy bombers and land-based missiles in enemy territory, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Today, there are agreements between the U.S. and Russia which help to enhance America’s’ protection from Russian nuclear weapons. According to the Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms treaty between the United States and Russia, also known as the New START Treaty, both countries have agreed to the following limits on their nuclear holdings: 

The New START treaty also limits all Russian nuclear warheads “loaded onto an intercontinental-range ballistic missile that can reach the United States in approximately 30 minutes.” The New Start Treaty is in effect through Feb. 4, 2026.

Russia has also signed the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons treaty. The goal of this treaty is to “prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament,” according to the United Nations. 

A total of 191 states have signed the treaty.

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How many countries have nuclear weapons? 

Nine countries have nuclear weapons, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. 

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Can the US stop a nuclear attack? 

According to The Week, while it is not impossible to create a system that could stop a nuclear attack, it is extremely difficult. One challenge faced by engineers attempting to build these systems is the small size of missiles. Missiles also move very fast, meaning there is a small time frame for interception. 

Additionally, ICMBs can also only be intercepted at certain points of their launch “when it launches, when it is out in space, and when it re-enters the atmosphere.” 

Nuclear bombs must also be hit at a very specific place to be intercepted, otherwise they may be launched off course to another country. This is known as the “shortfall” problem, The Week says.

During President Ronald Reagan’s Administration he proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), also called Star Wars. SDI was meant to protect the U.S from Soviet ICBMs, according to Britannica.

A component of the program would have included  laser battle stations in space- and on earth that could “direct their killing beams toward moving Soviet targets.” While the SDI was approved by Congress, many disagreed over if it were necessary or would actually protect the U.S. 

Some pointed out that the SDI would further encourage an arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but supporters of the SDI said it would discourage Soviet attacks. The program, however, came to an end with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

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