Nuclear Weapons in 2020

“…we hibakusha became convinced that we must warn the world about these apocalyptic weapons. …Nine nations still threaten to incinerate entire cities, to destroy life on earth, to make our beautiful world uninhabitable for future generations. The development of nuclear weapons signifies not a country’s elevation to greatness, but its descent to the darkest depths of depravity. These weapons are not a necessary evil; they are the ultimate evil.”

—Setsuko Thurlow, Nobel lecture given in Norway, Oslo, December 10, 2017


Globally, the number of nuclear weapons in the world has declined, but those that exist remain a threat to humanity—to everything that lives. According to the Federation of American Scientists, “the world’s combined inventory of nuclear warheads remains at a very high level: roughly 13,410 warheads as of early-2020. Of these, nearly 9,320 are in the military stockpiles (the rest are awaiting dismantlement), of which some 3,720 warheads are deployed with operational forces, of which about 1,800 US, Russian, British and French warheads are on high alert, ready for use on short notice.”

Most of the world’s nuclear weapons are more powerful than those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—enough to destroy the planet many times over. The United States alone possesses 5,800 total warheads (including 2000 retired and awaiting dismantling and 3,800 stockpiled) and remains one of the nine nuclear states that has not signed or ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

In 2019, the United States spent an estimated $34.5 billion on modernization and maintenance, and is estimated to spend about $45 billion this year as part of a 1.7 trillion-dollar modernization program through 2030. The Trump administration has pulled the United States out of critical nuclear arms control commitments.


What countries have nuclear weapons? In our world today, there are nine major countries that currently possess nuclear weapons. Here is the list of the nine states with nuclear warheads in descending order, starting with the country that has the most nuclear weapons at hand and ending with the country that has the least number of nuclear weapons:

— Russia: 6,370 nuclear warheads, incl. 2,000 retired & awaiting dismantling; 4,310 stockpiled
— United States: 5,800, including 2,000 retired & awaiting dismantling; 3,800 stockpiled
— China: 320, all stockpiled
— France: 290, some stockpiled
— The United Kingdom: 195, about half stockpiled
— Pakistan: 160
— India: 150
— Israel: 90
— North Korea: 35

(Note: Getting accurate numbers for nuclear weapons is difficult. Numbers obtained came from the Federation of Atomic Scientists as of April 2020.)


“A world of peace, free from nuclear weapons,
is the aspiration of millions of men and women everywhere.
To make this ideal a reality calls for involvement on the part of all.”
— Pope Francis’ Address on Nuclear Weapons, Nagasaki, November 24, 2019

The Catholic Church remains a leading proponent of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which 122 states. The Vatican was among the first states to sign and ratify the treaty at the United Nations in September 2017.

At a Vatican-sponsored symposium in November 2017, the Pope Francis said, “We must never grow weary of working to support the principal international legal instruments of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, including the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.”

Read or download:

The Catholic Church and the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
Catholic Social Thought and War by Fred Kammer, S.J.
Pope Francis’ 2019 Address on Nuclear Weapons
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Backgrounder on Nuclear Disarmament and Challenging Increases in Military Spending (2020)
Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
Treaty on Open Skies
Outer Space Treaty
The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START)
The Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)
African Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty
Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) 
Latin America Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (or Treaty of Tlatelolco)
HALT Act: Legislation outlining a vision for a 21st century nuclear freeze movement.
Planet Act: Legislation that would prohibit the use of funds for an explosive nuclear weapons test.