The “Nuclear Club” is a term used informally in geopolitics for the group of nations who possess nuclear weapons. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968 was designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and limit the Nuclear Club to five members. A few countries declined to sign the treaty and have since joined the club.
Though the NPT restricts weapons tech, it does reserve the right of the peaceful uses of nuclear technology for any country, for things like energy production and medical and scientific advancements.
Here are 11 more interesting facts about the world’s most exclusive (and potentially destructive) club.
1. There are eight, maybe nine, members controlling at least 15,600 warheads.
The list of confirmed countries with nuclear weapons includes the United States, Russia, France, China, United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Israel may or may not have nukes, as they have a policy of making their weapons capabilities purposely ambiguous to the rest of the world.
The first five are permanent members of the UN Security Council. The NPT treaty recognizes these states as weapons states. The latter four aren’t signatories to the NPT.
2. Five other countries host foreign nuclear weapons.
Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey host American nukes under NATO agreements. 30 other states use nuclear technology to generate energy under the terms of the NPT.
3. South Africa is the only country to dismantle its nuclear arsenal.
From the 1960s through the 1980’s, apartheid South Africa pursued nuclear weapons. It was able to assemble six weapons with (alleged) help from Israel. Soviet spies discovered their capabilities, which the South Africans denied. When the apartheid government fell and the African National Congress (led by Nelson Mandela) was set to take power, South Africa dismantled its stockpile. It remains the only country ever to destroy its entire WMD program.
4. 59 other nations have the ability to construct nuclear weapons.
Apart from those already in the Nuclear Club, South Africa, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Vietnam, Japan, Uzbekistan, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, and Ukraine all have the technology and material needed for a weapon. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan have all had weapons programs in the past but openly shelved their efforts.
5. Maintaining the worldwide arsenal is a trillion-dollar business.
Even twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the thousands of nuclear weapons cost the world more than $1 trillion per decade in upkeep costs.
6. By 2020, Pakistan will have the world’s third largest stockpile.
An August 2015 report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Stimson Center revealing Pakistan was ramping up production, with numbers as high as 20 per year. The report estimated that by 2020, Pakistan would have 350 warheads. The Pakistanis also tested a ballistic missile in December 2015 with a 560 mile range.
7. Nuclear nonproliferation success far outnumber failures.
India and Pakistan developed nuclear warheads in 1998. In 2003, North Korea withdrew from the NPT and has since tested a number of weapons. At the time of the NPT signing, it was estimated that 20-30 countries would have nuclear weapons by 1985. Despite some proliferation setbacks, only three (maybe four) developed them.
8. Only two countries possess worldwide nuclear capabilities.
Only the United States and Russia have the ability to strike anywhere in the world, either through Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles or from submarine-based weapons. India and Pakistan have regional strike capabilities. The range of Israel’s and North Korea’s weapons are unknown.
9. Three countries actually inherited nuclear weapons.
Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited stockpiles following the fall of the Soviet Union. They returned the weapons to Russia and signed on to the NPT.