Between North Korea’s constant nuclear test provocations and the recent “fire and fury” comments by President Trump, concerns about nuclear conflict are re-ignited around the world. So, how many nuclear weapons are there, and what exactly is happening right now? Let’s launch into it.
Who has Access to Nuclear Weapons?
As the map above demonstrates, the United States and Russia still maintain the world’s largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, holding 92% of the world’s estimated 15,000 nuclear warheads.
While today’s arsenals seem quite excessive, they are actually quite modest compared to historical totals such as those during the Cold War. In 1986, for example, there were actually 70,300 nuclear weapons globally – but luckily for us, the number of warheads has eased down over time as countries disarm more weapons.
Will this number of warheads continue to slide down as a result of increased international cooperation? We have grouped the nine countries with nuclear arsenals into categories that identify prospective entrants to the global arms control regime:
Any advancement of multilateral arms control, such as a treaty limiting limiting nuclear weapons, would likely take place between these countries.
Mapping Nuclear Sites Within the United States
Thanks to various arms reduction agreements, thousands of nuclear warheads have been retired. That said, warheads are still stored in a number of sites around the continental United States. The map below also highlights laboratories and interstate shipping routes. (Yes, nuclear weapons are apparently shipped in big rigs.)
The Wild Card: North Korea
The Hermit Kingdom is a relatively minor player in the nuclear weapon ecosystem, but they have been capturing the world’s attention. Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea has dramatically ramped up the frequency of missile tests, with 17 confirmed launches so far in 2017.
Here’s a look at the country’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, along with ranges of specific weapons.
More than a decade has passed since North Korea detonated its first nuclear weapon, and the country is now believed to be capable of intercontinental ballistic missile delivery. This, combined with aggressive rhetoric from North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, has forced the Trump administration to take their threats more seriously.
That said, experts suggest that recent provocations aren’t much different from previous periods of tension between the two countries, and that the risk of an actual conflict is overblown.
North Korea’s comments are clearly deterrent in nature, and the Guam ‘threat’ was exactly along those lines.
– David Kang, director, Korean Studies Institute, USC
Either way, while the prospect of an all-out war is unlikely – the war of words between North Korea and the United States is likely destined to continue.
War is narcotic for presidents. It confers instant satisfaction, raising their respectability. They get to make patriotic declarations on a topic where every utterance sounds divine. But removing a strongman always makes things worse. We leap in, thinking we’re helping the poor devils under the thumb of a dictator, and then a new dictator takes over and oppresses everyone else, usually much more brutally, while hating us even more than the old dictator. The Washington establishment is determined to manipulate the president into launching counterproductive military strikes. Our enemies, both foreign and domestic, would be delighted to see our bewildered country further weaken with stupid wars.
The largest bribes originate in the military industry. Military procurement is a corrupt business from top to bottom. The process is dominated by advocacy, with few checks and balances. Most people in power love this system of doing business and do not want it changed. War and preparation for war systematically corrupt all parties to the state-private transactions by which the government obtains the bulk of its military products. There is a standard 10% bribe to kleptocrats for military purchases.
Participants in the military industrial complex are routinely blamed for mismanagement, fraud, abuse, bribes, and waste. All of these unsavory actions, however, are typically viewed as aberrations, malfeasances to be covered-up, while retaining the basic system of state-private cooperation in the trade of military goods and services and the flow of bribes. These offenses are in reality expressions of a thoroughgoing, intrinsic rottenness in the entire setup.
As the debate about killer robots continues, the threat they pose looms large. Fully autonomous weapons, also known as lethal autonomous weapons systems and killer robots, would be able to select and attack targets without meaningful human control.
It’s time for countries to move beyond the talk shop phase and pursue a preemptive ban. Governments should ensure that humans retain control over whom to target with their weapons and when to fire. A ban is the only option for addressing all of the concerns. Other more incremental measures, such as adopting limited regulations on their use or codifying best practices for the development and acquisition of new weapons systems, have numerous shortcomings.
There are many challenges that fully autonomous weapons would present for compliance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law. Huge lack of accountability would exist for the unlawful harm caused by such weapons. The weapons would also cross a moral threshold, and their humanitarian and security risks would outweigh possible military benefits.
Several of the 121 countries that have joined the Convention on Conventional Weapons – including the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Israel, Russia, and South Korea – are developing weapons systems with increasing levels of autonomy. Critics who dismiss concerns about fully autonomous weapons depend on speculative arguments about the future of technology and the false presumption that technological developments could address all of the dangers posed by the weapons. The success of past disarmament treaties shows that an absolute prohibition on fully autonomous weapons would be achievable and effective.
Matryoshka dolls conceptualize collaborative defense procurement. In collaborative defense procurement, a number of states decide to buy some expensive piece of military equipment together, for instance a combat aircraft or a warship. This allows them to reduce costs through economies of scale and the sharing development costs, and to increase the interoperability of their armed forces by using the same equipment. A program management entity (an international organization or a lead nation) is tasked by the participating states with the award of the contract and the management of the program.
This organizational arrangement leads to the creation of a four-layer matryoshka doll of legal relationships at the crossroads of public international law, EU law and domestic law. The first doll consists of the law applicable to the decision of a state to participate in the program. This decision made on the basis of the domestic procurement legislation of the state concerned. In the EU, this legislation has to transpose the EU public procurement directives. The second doll is the legal relationship between the participating states and the program management entity, which is usually some form of international agreement under public international law. Those agreements, when concluded by EU member states, also have to comply with EU law. The third doll is the law applied by the program management entity to award the common contract. If the program management entity is one of the participating states acting as a lead nation, the applicable law will be its domestic procurement legislation transposing the EU public procurement directives. If the program management entity is an international organization, it will be its internal procurement rules, which are part of the international institutional law of the organization concerned. Finally, the fourth matryoshka doll consists of the law applicable to the execution and interpretation of the contract itself, which is usually the domestic contract law of one of the participating states.
So as we can see the image of the matryoshka dolls is a perfect way to conceptualize the legal and organizational structure of collaborative defense procurement, and is valid as well as a model for multinational collaborative procurement in general, even outside the defense sector. So the book is of interest, not only to specialists and academics active in the defense sector, but to a wider professional public as well. Nevertheless, this matryoshka doll can be especially complex in the defense sector, as a number of exemptions can be relied on (sometimes abusively) in order to avoid complying with EU law, in particular to protect the essential security interests of the participating states.