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Who Has Nuclear Weapons?

February 11, 2005

Five nations are officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons by the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The first country to acquire nuclear capabilities was the United States in 1945, followed by Russia (1949), the United Kingdom (1952), France (1960) and China in 1964.

The Arms Control Association (ACA), a US weapons research organization, estimates the number of strategic warheads held by these countries to be about 6,000 for the US, 5,000 for Russia, 350 for France, 300 for China, and under 200 for the UK. Because information about nuclear arsenals are kept secret, these numbers are only an estimation.

The NPT, was created to prevent other countries from acquiring nuclear capability, to promote cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy and to work towards nuclear disarmament. As of 2005, 187 nations have signed the treaty.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was set up to verify compliance to the treaty through inspections, making sure that nuclear material or activities were not being used for military purposes.

India, Israel and Pakistan - never joined the treaty and are known to possess nuclear weapons.

Claiming its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes, India first tested a nuclear explosive device in 1974. India and Pakistan both demonstrated their nuclear weapons muscle with a round of tit-for-tat tests in May 1998.

While Israel has not publicly conducted a nuclear test and does not admit or deny having nuclear weapons, it is widely believed to possess nuclear arms.

The ACA estimates India to have between 45 and 95 nuclear warheads, Pakistan, 30 and 50, and Israel, 75 and 200.

Also, Iran is generally perceived to be secretly pursuing a nuclear arms program although it maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

The EU is engaged in negotiations with Iran to urge it to suspend its nuclear activities while the US has stated that it will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

North Korea, which only this week announced it was pulling out of multi-lateral talks on its nuclear activities, is believed by the CIA to have one or two nuclear weapons.

The ACA says North Korea also has sufficient spent nuclear fuel that could be reprocessed into fissile material for as many as six nuclear bombs.

With the availability of foreign expertise, the CIA has raised concerns that Syria, which is an NPT member, could be trying to covertly acquire nuclear bombs.

One of the most recent successes in non-proliferation was in 2003 when Libya renounced its secret efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities.