1 Aug 2013

Bombs away! How have nuclear stockpiles changed since 1983?

As a speech from 1983, prepared for the Queen in case of nuclear war, is released – Channel 4 News looks at the size of atomic arsenals now.

(Infographic: David Doyle)

In 1983, the five states that had signed up to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) of 1978 (in order of graphic above – the United States, the Soviet Union/Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China) had an estimated 60,000 nuclear warheads between them.

At the time, Western relations with Russia were once again frosty as tensions were reawakened by the “second Cold War”. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and US president Ronald Reagan had both denounced the Soviet Union, with the latter labelling the country “the evil empire”.

This perhaps offers some insight into why the British government felt it needed to draft the Queen a speech for the event of a nuclear emergency.

Nuclear slashed

Today the number of nuclear weapons has been dramatically reduced – down by nearly three quarters to 17,000, according to data from the Federation of American Scientists.

The reason for the fall is huge cuts in the arsenals belonging to the two largest nuclear powers, the US and Russia. During a speech in Berlin in June, President Barack Obama called for further cuts to nuclear stockpiles – and said the US would work with Russia to achieve this goal.

Some 4,000 of Russia’s 8,500 warheads and 3,000 of the United States’ 7,700 warheads are currently waiting to be dismantled.

Unknown elements

More difficult to quantify, however, are the nuclear arsenals of non-NPT members such as North Korea and Pakistan.

The Federation of American Scientists estimates that there are less than 320 nuclear warheads across four non-NPT states – Israel, Pakistan, India and North Korea.

North Korea, which in February conducted the third nuclear test in its history, is likely to have less than 10 nuclear weapons, figures say.

Israel is estimated to have 80, Pakistan between 100 and 120, and India between 90 and 100.