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"In my home there are few publications that we actually get hard copies of, but [Arms Control Today] is one and it's the only one my husband and I fight over who gets to read it first."

– Suzanne DiMaggio
Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
April 15, 2019
Fact Sheets & Briefs

Restoring the JCPOA’s Nuclear Limits


A year after former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and reimposed sanctions on Iran in violation of the deal, Iran began to breach limits under the accord.

Iranian officials maintain that Iran will reverse its activities that violate the JCPOA and return to full compliance if the other parties to the deal meet their obligations under the accord. Iran’s violations of the JCPOA are largely reversible and could likely be undone within 3 months with sufficient political will.

However, several of Iran’s escalatory breaches have resulted in its acquisition of new knowledge and expertise that cannot be reversed. Also, Iran’s decision to suspend implementation of the additional protocol and other JCPOA-specific safeguards measures could create gaps in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s monitoring if Tehran chooses to not share recorded data with the agency upon restoration of the accord, even if Iran otherwise returns to full compliance with the JCPOA.

The following is a summary of the steps necessary to rectify Iran’s current breaches of the JCPOA. The steps are listed in the order of Iran’s violations of the JCPOA, beginning with its first breach in May 2019.

  1. Restoring the stockpile limits on enriched uranium and heavy water

    Background: Iran announced in May 2019 that it would no longer observe the JCPOA-imposed stockpile limits of 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas (202 kilograms of uranium by weight) enriched 3.67 percent and 130 metric tons of heavy water. The IAEA confirmed that Iran breached the 300-kilogram limit on July 1, 2019, and the heavy water limit in November 2019. As of November 2021, Iran’s stockpile of uranium gas enriched up to 5 percent was about 2,182 kilograms (measured by uranium weight)—roughly 11 times the cap. According to the IAEA’s November 2021 report, Iran has also produced 113.8 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent, and 17.7 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 60 percent. While Iran’s heavy water stockpile has exceeded the 130 metric ton cap, the IAEA measured the stockpile at 131.4 metric tons in February 2021. The IAEA has not had access to Iran’s heavy water production since February 23, 2021, when Tehran restricted IAEA access under the December 2020 nuclear law. In September 2021, the IAEA noted that there were indications that Iran’s heavy water production plant continued to operate after June 24.

    Restoring Compliance: Iran can reverse its stockpile violations quite quickly. Tehran can either ship out enriched uranium in excess of the 300-kilogram limit of 3.67 percent gas or blend it down to natural levels. Excess heavy water could be used, shipped abroad for storage, or sold, all of which Iran has done in the past to stay below the cap. To help facilitate Iran’s return to compliance, the Biden administration should issue sanctions waivers allowing Tehran to export excess uranium and heavy water. These waivers were revoked by the Trump administration. The United States could also offer to purchase a quantity of heavy water for U.S. applications. The Obama administration did this in the past after deeming Iran’s heavy water of sufficient quality for U.S. purposes.
     
  2. Restoring the limit on uranium enrichment to no more than 3.67 percent uranium-235

    Background: Iran announced in July 2019 that it would begin enriching uranium up to 4.5 percent, which was immediately confirmed by the IAEA. On Jan. 4, 2021, the agency confirmed that Iran began enriching uranium to 20 percent [uranium-235], and to 60 percent in April 2021 (see below for details). Iran enriched to 20 percent, which constitutes about 90 percent of the effort necessary to enrich to weapons-grade levels, prior to negotiations on the JCPOA.

    Restoring Compliance: Iran will need to halt enrichment to levels above 3.67 percent uranium-235 and recalibrate its centrifuges that were being used to enrich above that level. Given that Iran’s enrichment is monitored in real-time using online enrichment monitors (OLEMs), the IAEA will be able to quickly confirm when Iran halts enrichment above the JCPOA limit. As noted above, material produced above the JCPOA’s limits can be blended down or shipped out.

    Iran justifies its enrichment to 20 percent as necessary to produce uranium fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR), which produces medical isotopes. The United States should re-issue sanctions waivers that the Trump administration let lapse to allow Iran to import the necessary fuel for the TRR, removing the justification that 20 percent enrichment is necessary.
     
  3. Returning to compliance with advanced centrifuge limits

    Capping Iran’s Deployment of Centrifuges: Iran is permitted to enrich uranium using 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges for 10 years. This chart does not reflect the advanced-model IR-2m, IR-4, and IR-6 centrifuges Iran has tested, operated, and used for the production of enriched uranium in breach of the accord since 2019. Source: IAEA, JCPOABackground: Iran announced in September 2019 that it would no longer be bound by any research and development limitations on advanced centrifuges imposed by the JCPOA. The deal’s restrictions include a 10-year prohibition on producing enriched uranium using advanced machines and caps on the number and type of advanced centrifuges that Iran can install and operate for testing its designs. Since announcing this breach, Iran has installed full cascades of IR-2, IR-4, and IR-6 machines and is using them to enrich uranium. Iran has also introduced new advanced centrifuges not covered by the JCPOA.

    The nuclear deal does permit Iran to design new centrifuge machines, but  Tehran must receive approval from the Joint Commission before beginning testing.  In what would be a further violation of research limits, a December 2020 nuclear law (see details below) calls for Iranian authorities to install 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges and 1,000 IR-6 centrifuges in 2021. According to the IAEA’s November 2021 report, Iran is operating six cascades of IR- 2m centrifuges (1,044 machines) and two cascades of IR-4s (348 machines) at the main enrichment hall at Natanz. Iran also installed 189 IR-6 machines at Fordow, arranged in two cascades of 166 and 23 machines, and plans to install up to eight total cascades.

    Returning to compliance: To return to compliance with the accord’s limits, Iran will need to dismantle and store under IAEA seal the advanced machines that it installed and is operating outside of the JCPOA’s parameters. It will also need to provide the IAEA with information about the new advanced centrifuges using an agreed-upon template designed by the JCPOA’s Joint Commission. The Joint Commission may also consider when and if Iran will be able to conduct any mechanical testing using those machines, as allowed by the JCPOA.

    While the machines can be dismantled and stored relatively easily, the knowledge Iran has gained about the performance and capacity of its advanced machines is not reversible. This knowledge might have a slight impact on the overall breakout time of 12 months when the deal is fully implemented, but the IAEA would immediately detect any attempt to remove and reinstall the advanced machines. Iran’s testing of so many separate centrifuges design also suggests that the country has not established a designated successor for future enrichment when the JCPOA’s limits on enriching using IR-1s expire. The knowledge gained about advanced centrifuge performance could, however, be taken into account as the U.S. devises its plans for follow-up negotiations on a longer-term nuclear framework.
     
  4. Halting uranium enrichment at Fordow

    Background: In November 2019, Iran announced it would start enriching uranium up to 4.5 percent at Fordow. Iran continues to enrich uranium at Fordow and, in January 2021, resumed enrichment to 20 percent at the facility. A November 2021 IAEA report confirmed that Iran continued to enrich to 20 percent, using  1,045  IR-1  centrifuges and 189 IR-6  centrifuges.  Under the JCPOA,  Iran is permitted to keep 1,044 IR-1 centrifuges at Fordow, but the deal prohibits from any uranium-related activities at the site for 15 years. As a result of Iran’s decision to resume uranium enrichment at Fordow, efforts to convert the facility to a medical isotope research and development facility as required by the JCPOA, stalled.

    Returning to compliance: To reverse this violation, Iran will need to halt production of enriched uranium using centrifuges at Fordow and remove all uranium from the facility. Iran will also need to remove the piping for the interconnected cascades that it is using for 20 percent enrichment, as that design is prohibited by the JCPOA. Iran may also choose to remove and store centrifuges that had been used for enrichment and replace them with excess IR- 1s currently under storage that are not contaminated with uranium for isotope research and production, which is the intended use of Fordow for 15 years under the JCPOA.

Planned and In-Progress Iranian JCPOA Violations

In an effort to put pressure on the United States and other JCPOA parties to deliver on sanctions relief envisioned by the JCPOA and respond to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakrizadeh, the Iranian government enacted a law in late December 2020 requiring the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) to take a number of steps to further breach the accord in 2021.

  • Limits on Uranium Enrichment (in progress and discussed above

    Background: Iran is required to produce 120 kilograms of uranium enriched to 20 percent uranium-235 on an annual basis under the December 2020 law. The IAEA confirmed that Iran began enriching to this level at Fordow on Jan. 4, 2021. Iran notified the IAEA of its intentions to increase enrichment levels at that site prior to doing so.

    Restoring compliance: Iran could either ship out or blend down its uranium enriched above 3.67 percent uranium-235 and reconfigure the centrifuges being used for enrichment to that level.
     
  • Limits on Iran’s Use of Advanced Centrifuges (in progress and discussed above) 

    Background: The nuclear law requires Iran to install and operate 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges within three months of the legislation’s enactment (late March 2021) and install 1,000 IR-6 centrifuges by the end of 2021. The IAEA confirmed that Iran had installed 1,044 IR-2m centrifuges at Natanz as of November 2021. Iran also installed 189 IR-6 centrifuges at Fordow, arranged into two cascades of 166 and 23 machines, and plans to install a total of eight IR-6 cascades.

    Restoring compliance: Iran would need to dismantle and store under IAEA seal the excess advanced centrifuges. While Iran will have gained some knowledge about producing and operating these machines, it does not significantly impact the country’s breakout or proliferation risk, given the relatively small number of centrifuges in question and the IAEA’s ability to immediately detect any attempt to access and install the machines.
     
  • Restrictions on Iran’s Implementation of the Additional Protocol and JCPOA-Specific Verification Measures (planned)

    Background: Iran suspended implementation of the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement and the JCPOA-specific verification mechanisms in February 2021, in accordance with the nuclear law. Iran continues to implement its comprehensive safeguards agreement (CSA), which is required by the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Iran also continues to record and collect necessary monitoring information for the IAEA, per a Feb. 2021 agreement, and will transmit that data to the agency upon restoration of the JCPOA and after sanctions relief is granted. 

    Restoring Compliance: Iran can notify the IAEA of its intention to adhere to the additional protocol and the JCPOA required verification mechanisms to restore full implementation of the deal’s monitoring mechanisms. While more intrusive inspections could resume quickly after Iran notifies the IAEA, the time required to return to full compliance with these obligations may depend on whether, and how quickly, Iran transmits recorded data to the IAEA, and the extent to which the IAEA can re-construct a narrative of Iran’s nuclear activities during that time based on the data provided.

    The reversibility of this violation also depends on the length of time that Iran is in violation of the obligations and Iran’s willingness to take additional steps/provide information to fill in any gaps that may emerge from the breaks in monitoring. If the measures are suspended for too long, or if Iran chooses to cease the recording and collection of data for the IAEA, or chooses not to transmit it to the agency upon restoration of the JCPOA, it may create gaps in knowledge that could complicate the IAEA’s task of determining if Iran’s nuclear materials remain in peaceful purposes and increase speculation about illicit nuclear activities.
     
  • Uranium Metal Production (planned)

    Background: The December 2020 law requires the AEOI to “inaugurate the metallic uranium factory” at the Isfahan Fuel Fabrication Plant within five months, or by late May 2021. Iran notified the IAEA of its intentions to begin installing and designing equipment and its plans for producing a new uranium metal fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor, which produces medical isotopes. The IAEA verified that Iran produced 2.42 kilograms of natural uranium metal on May 18, 2021. From that, Iran used 0.85 kilograms to produce 0.54 kilograms of uranium in the form of uranium silicide. On October 25, the agency verified that Iran had produced two batches of uranium silicide containing 0.43 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent. The Agency’s Nov. 17 report confirmed that Iran had completed the four-stage process to produce new fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor and that it had manufactured two fuel plates using uranium silicide containing 0.25 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 20 percent. Iran has produced 17 fuel assemblies for the Tehran Research Reactor, four of which have already been transferred to the reactor, according to the IAEA.

    Restoring Compliance: Iran may have produced a limited amount of uranium metal in the past as part of its pre-2003 nuclear weapons program, but it does not appear to have significant experience with the process. Evidence from the IAEA’s investigations and the material Israel stole from Iran suggest that Iran conducted experiments on producing metal using surrogate materials and was in the process of constructing a uranium metal production facility, but the decision was made to abandon it. The IAEA also had evidence that Iran received a document on how to produce uranium metal in shapes relevant to weapons development from the AQ Khan network. While Iran could quickly uninstall any equipment put in place for this project and ship out any uranium metal produced, the knowledge gained is irreversible and relevant if Iran decided to pursue nuclear weapons in the future.
     
  • Work on a New Heavy Water Reactor (planned)

    Background: Iran announced plans to build a new heavy-water reactor based on the original design of the unfinished heavy-water reactor at Arak. As originally designed, that reactor would have produced enough plutonium annually that, when separated, would be enough for two nuclear weapons. Iran is prohibited from building new heavy water reactors for 15 years under the JCPOA and from separating plutonium for the same time period.

    Restoring Compliance: While the AEOI has submitted plans for the reactor, construction has not yet begun, making the decision easy to reverse. Even if Iran were to take steps to begin constructing the reactor, it could be dismantled quickly, or the unfinished reactor monitored to ensure Iran does not continue any building activities until the 15-year ban on heavy-water reactors expires.
Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons At A Glance

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107: Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst ext. 113.

The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), negotiated by more than 130 states, is a good faith effort to meet their responsibility as signatories of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) to pursue effective measures on disarmament. The prohibition treaty further reinforces the commitments of these states against the use, threat of use, development, production, manufacture, acquisition, possession, stockpiling, transfer, stationing, or installation of nuclear weapons. It reinforces states' commitments to the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Although the prohibition treaty by itself will not eliminate any nuclear weapons, the treaty can help to further delegitimize nuclear weapons and strengthen the legal and political norm against their use.

As of September 23, 2022, 91 states have signed the treaty and 68 have ratified it.

The Treaty

Preamble

The treaty has a 24-paragraph preamble acknowledging the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use and the value of existing international disarmament agreements including the NPT, the CTBT, and nuclear-weapon-free-zone agreements, as well as the “right” of states-parties to peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Prohibitions (Article 1)

States-parties are prohibited to use, threaten to use, develop, produce, manufacture, acquire, possess, stockpile, transfer, station, or install nuclear weapons or assist with any prohibited activities.

Declarations (Article 2)

A state-party must declare, when joining the treaty, whether it has eliminated a previous nuclear weapons program, currently has nuclear weapons, or holds another country's nuclear weapons on its territory. If a state has another country’s nuclear weapons on its territory when it signs the treaty, it must remove them. If it has its own nuclear weapons, it must eliminate them.

Safeguards (Article 3)

Non-nuclear-weapon states are required to have, at a minimum, a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “without prejudice” to any future additional agreements.

Nuclear-weapon states accession (Article 4)

There are two ways for a nuclear-weapon state to accede to the treaty and eliminate its nuclear weapons: It can join the treaty and then destroy its nuclear weapons or destroy its nuclear weapons and then join the treaty. States that “destroy and join” must cooperate with a “competent international authority” designated by the treaty to verify dismantlement. States that “join and destroy” must immediately remove nuclear weapons from operational status and submit a time-bound plan for their destruction within 60 days of joining the treaty.

The treaty does not specify which “competent international authority” would be suited to verify irreversible disarmament of a nuclear-armed state that decides to join the treaty, but the treaty allows for an appropriate authority to be designated at a later date. The treaty requires any current or former nuclear-weapon state that seeks to join the prohibition treaty to conclude a safeguards agreement with the IAEA to verify that nuclear materials are not diverted from peaceful to weapons purposes.

Positive obligations (Articles 6 and 7)

The treaty obligates states-parties to provide victim assistance and environmental remediation to those affected by nuclear weapon use and testing.

Meetings of states-parties, signature, ratification and entry into force (Articles 8, 13, 14, and 15)

Biennial meetings of states-parties will address implementation and other measures. Review conferences will be held every six years. The treaty, opened for signature on September 20, 2017, entered into force 90 days after the 50th state ratified it (on Jan. 22, 2021).

Background

The initiative to negotiate a "legally binding instrument" to prohibit nuclear weapons is the result of a years-long process that grew out of a renewed recognition of the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use, the rising risk of accidental or intentional nuclear use, and a growing sense of frustration that key nuclear disarmament commitments made by the nuclear-weapon states were not being fulfilled.

The 2010 NPT Review Conference unanimously "expresse[d] its deep concern at the continued risk for humanity represented by the possibility that these weapons could be used and the catastrophic humanitarian consequences that would result from the use of nuclear weapons."

These concerns motivated a group of states—including Norway, Mexico, and Austria—to organize a series of three conferences in 2013 and 2014 on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapon use.

Following the conclusion of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, these and other states agreed to set up an open-ended working group in 2016 on advancing multilateral disarmament negotiations. The working group led to the formulation of a resolution in the UN General Assembly to start negotiations in 2017 on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. The resolution passed the UN General Assembly First Committee by a vote of 123-38 with 16 abstentions in October 2016 and was subsequently adopted by the General Assembly as a whole.

Costa Rica’s UN Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gómez (left), president of the UN conference to negotiate a nuclear-weapons ban treaty, chairs a meeting of the conference March 30, 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

The first negotiating session was held at the UN in New York on March 27-31, 2017, with some 130 governments, and dozens of civil society organizations, participating. The president of the negotiations, Ambassador Elayne Whyte Gomez, compiled states' expressed opinions from the first round of negotiations into a draft convention on the prohibition of nuclear weapons issued on May 22 in Geneva. The second and final round of negotiations took place on June 15-July 7 in New York, with participants adopting the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons by a vote of 122-1-1. The Netherlands voted against adoption, and Singapore abstained.

Reactions from the Nuclear-Armed States

Nuclear-weapon states and many NATO members have opposed the initiative from the beginning. Although the United States and the United Kingdom participated in the 2014 Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna, leaders from Washington and the other nuclear-weapon states boycotted the working group sessions and the 2017 treaty negotiations.

These states contend that the treaty will distract attention from other disarmament and nonproliferation initiatives. They have expressed concern that the nuclear prohibition treaty could undermine the NPT and the extensive safeguard provisions included therein by giving states the option to "forum shop," or choose between the two treaties. Such arguments have been rejected by TPNW states parties, all of whom are also members of the NPT.

Arguments for the Treaty from Proponent States

Supporters of the nuclear prohibition treaty argue that it will close a "legal gap" that exists regarding nuclear weapons, which are not expressly outlawed by the NPT even though their use would be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict. They argue that the prohibition treaty initiative reinforces the NPT and its Article VI requirement for nuclear disarmament and that it can reduce the salience of nuclear weapons and help prompt more urgent action to reduce nuclear risk and promote disarmament.

The joint Vienna Declaration issued at the First Meeting of States Parties June 21-23, 2022 and their 50-point action plan indicate the TPNW states parties' commitment to the treaty's goals and their plan to implement its provisions.

Timeline

2010
May 3-28: The final document of the 2010 Review Conference for the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) acknowledges the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use. 

2013
March 4-5: The first conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use takes place in Oslo, Norway. 

2014
February 13-14: The second conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use takes place in Nayarit, Mexico.  
December 8-9: The final conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons use takes place in Vienna, Austria.  
December 9: 127 states endorse the Humanitarian Pledge, calling on all NPT states parties to renew their commitment to Article VI of the NPT and to take interim steps to reduce the risk of nuclear use.

2015
October 29: The UN General Assembly First Committee votes 135-12 with 33 abstentions on a resolution to create an Open Ended Working Group to take forward multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations. 

2016
February 22-26: The first working group to advance multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations meets in Geneva, Switzerland. 
May 2-4 and 9-13: The second working group to advance multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations meets in Geneva, Switzerland.  
August 16-19: The third working group to advance multilateral nuclear disarmament negotiations meets in Geneva, Switzerland, approving a final report by a vote of 68-22 with 13 abstentions.  
October 27: The First Committee adopts a resolution to begin negotiations in 2017 on a nuclear prohibition treaty by a vote of 123-38 with 16 abstentions.  
December 23: The General Assembly approves the resolution to begin negotiations on a nuclear prohibition treaty adopted by the First Committee by a vote of 113-35 and 13 abstentions.

2017
March 27-31: The first round of negotiations on a treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons takes place at the United Nations in New York.  
May 22: President Elayne Whyte Gómez presents the first draft text of the treaty at the United Nations in Geneva.
June 15-July 7: The second round of negotiations on a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons takes place at the United Nations in New York. 
July 7: The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is adopted by a vote of 122-1-1. The Netherlands voted against the treaty, and Singapore abstained.
September 20: The TPNW opens for signature in New York. Fifty states signed the treaty, and three additional states both signed and ratified it by the day's end.

2020
October 23-24: Jamaica, Nauru, and Honduras become the 48th, 49th, and 50th states to deliver their ratification documents, which triggers the treaty's entry into force 90 days later.

2021
January 22:  The treaty entered into force.

2022

June 20: Fourth Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons is held in Vienna, Austria

June 21-23: First meeting of States Parties is held in Vienna, Austria

See here for a full list of signatories and states-parties.

 

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The U.S. Cold War-Era Chemical Weapons Stockpile

Contact: Leanne Quinn, Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition Program Assistant, (202) 463-8270 x106

In 1990, on the heels of the Cold War, the United States possessed the world's second largest chemical weapons arsenal after Russia, consisting of more than 31,500 U.S. tons (28,577 MT) of lethal chemical agents and munitions.

Following years of bilateral talks with Russia and multilateral negotiations in the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on chemical weapons disarmament, the United States decided in 1986 to take unilateral action to begin the destruction of its chemical weapons stockpile. The demilitarization effort was prompted by Congressional legislation (Public Law 99-145) calling for the safe destruction of the United States’ stockpile of nonbinary lethal chemical agents and related facilities.

Since transport of chemical weapons was highly contentious - and was later outright banned by Congress in 1994 (50 U.S. Code 1512a) -  the U.S. Army's chemical weapons destruction plan relied on destruction facilities located at the nine U.S. chemical weapons depots in Anniston, Alabama; Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Pueblo, Colorado; Newport, Indiana; Richmond, Kentucky; Edgewood, Maryland; Umatilla, Oregon; Tooele, Utah; and Johnston Atoll. Dustruction efforts began at the first destruction facility, Johnston Atoll, in 1990.  

By 1997, when the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on Their Destruction (also known as the Chemical Weapons Convention or the CWC) entered into force, the United States had destroyed only 1,434 MTs of its chemical agents and munitions. As a member state of the CWC, the United States committed to the destruction of its remaining chemical weapons inventory.

The chart below summarizes the types and quanties of chemical weapons that were once in the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, including the agents and munitions that have already been destroyed. To date, all chemical agents and munitions stored at Aberdeen, Anniston, Johnston Atoll, Newport, Pine Bluff, and Tooele have been eliminated; the Pueblo (Colorado) and Blue Grass (Kentucky) destruction facilities are still operational.

The data are drawn from the records published by the Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization and the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency in 1996, 2000, 2011, and 2012.

As of April 15 2022, there are 646.7 U.S. tons of chemical agents and munitions left to be destroyed. Official updates on the effort to complete the destruction process at the Pueblo and Blue Grass destruction facilities are available online here.

Under the provisions of the CWC, the United States must finish destroying its remaining chemical weapons by Sept. 30, 2023.

Agent Type Key:

GA – nerve agent, also known as Tabun
GB – nerve agent, also known as Sarin
HD – blister agent, sulfur mustard (nearly pure)
H – blister agent, sulfur mustard (20%-30% impurities
HT – blister agent, sulfur mustard (60% HD and 40% agent T)
Lewisite – blister agent, the central atom is arsenic
VX – nerve agent

Quantity and Type of Former U.S. Chemical Agents and Munitions by Stockpile Location

Storage Site Agent Type Munitions Quantity
(number of munitions)
Destruction
Start Date
Destruction
End Date
Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland HD ton containers 1,818 Apr 23, 2003 Feb 2006
Anniston Army Depot, Alabama HT 4.2-inch cartridges 183,552 Aug 9, 2003 Sep 22, 2011
HD 4.2-inch cartridges 75,360
HD 105mm cartridges 23,064
HD 155mm projectiles 17,643
HD ton containers 108
GB 105mm cartridges 74,014
GB 105mm projectiles 26
GB 155mm projectiles 9,600
GB 8-inch projectiles 16,026
GB M55 rockets 44,738
GB M56 rocket warheads 260
VX 155mm projectiles 139,581
VX mines 44,131
VX M55 rockets 35,662
Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky HD 155mm projectiles 15,492 Jun 7, 2019 Sept 30, 2023
GB 8-inch projectiles 3,977
GB M55 rockets 51,740
VX 155mm projectiles 12,816
VX M55 rockets 17,739
Johnston Atoll HD 155mm projectiles 5,779 Jun 30, 1990 Nov 29, 2000
HD 105mm projectiles 46
HD M60 projectiles 45,108
HD 4.2-inch mortars 43,600
HD ton containers 68
GB M55 rockets 58,353
GB 155mm projectiles 107,197
GB 105mm projectiles 49,360
GB 8-inch projectiles 13,020
GB MC-1 bombs 3,047
GB MK 94 bombs 2,570
GB ton containers 66
VX M55 rockets 13,889
VX 155mm projectiles 42,682
VX 8-inch projectiles 14,519
VX land mines 13,302
VX ton containers 66
Newport Chemical Depot, Indiana VX ton containers 1,690 May 5, 2005 Aug 8, 2008
Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas HT ton containers 3,591 Mar 28, 2005 Nov 12, 2010
HD ton containers 107
GB M55 rockets 90,231
GB M56 rocket warheads 178
VX M55 rockets 19,582
VX M56 rocket warheads 26
VX mines 9,378
Pueblo Army Depot, Colorado HT 4.2-inch cartridges 20,384 Sep 7, 2016 Sept 30, 2023
HD 4.2-inch cartridges 76,722
HD 105mm cartridges 383,418
HD 155mm projectiles 299,554
Tooele Army Depot, Utah H 155mm projectiles 54,663 Aug 22, 1996 Jan 21, 2012
HT 4.2-inch cartridges 62,590
HD 4.2-inch mortar 976
HD ton container 6,398
GB 105mm projectiles 798,703
GB ton containers 5,709
GB MC-1 bombs 4,463
GB M55 rockets 28,945
GB M56 rocket warheads 1,056
GB 155 mm projectiles 89,142
GB Weteye bomb 888
VX M55 rockets 3,966
VX M56 rocket warheads 3,560
VX ton containers 640
VX 155mm projectiles 53,216
VX 8-inch projectiles 1
VX spray tanks 862
VX landmines 22,690
GA ton containers 4
Lewisite ton containers 10
Umatilla Depot Activity, Oregon H ton containers 2,635 Sep 7, 2004 Oct 25, 2011
GB 155mm projectiles 47,406
GB 8-inch projectiles 14,246
GB M55 rockets 91,442
GB 500-lb bombs 27
GB 750-lb bombs 2,418
VX 155mm projectiles 32,313
VX 8-inch projectiles 3,752
VX mines 11,685
VX M55 rockets 14,519
VX spray tanks 156

The data on this chart was sourced from the archived websites of the Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization (June 24, 1997, Oct. 1, 2000) and the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency (Sept. 22, 2011; Feb. 6, 2012).

Chemical/Biological Arms Control

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Timeline of Chemical and Biological Weapons Developments During Russia's 2022 Invasion of Ukraine

Contact: Leanne Quinn, Program Assistant for the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there have been a number of accusations and concerns regarding chemical and biological weapons. The following is a chronological summary of key events and quotes related to chemical and biological weapons developments during the conflict. The timeline will be updated as necessary. 

2021

December 21: Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, alleged that American military contractors are secretly smuggling “tanks filled with unidentified chemical components” into Ukraine “for the purpose of carrying out acts of provocation.” 

2022

February 17: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken went before the U.N. Security Council to warn that Russia could stage a “false flag” incident as a pretext for an invasion, including a chemical weapons attack.

February 27: Ukraine submitted Note Verbal No. 61219/30-196/50-3 to the OPCW, raising the concern that Russian armed forces might be preparing a “false flag” incident using chemicals, such as the explosion of industrial tanks filled with chemicals (Ukraine: 27 February 2022 – 61219/30-196/50-3). 

March 8: During the 99th Executive Council session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Ukrainian delegation condemned Russian misinformation and re-affirmed Ukraine’s compliance with and support for the Chemical Weapons Convention. Ukrainian Amb. Maksym Kononenko made it clear that, should a chemical incident occur in Ukraine, Ukraine will invoke Article X of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which calls for the delivery of “Assistance and Protection Against Chemical Weapons” by other States Parties to the CWC.  

Forty-nine nations submitted a joint statement to the OPCW condemning Russia’s disinformation campaign, particularly Russian Defense Minister Shoigu’s December 21 statements (see Dec. 21 in timeline). 

March 9: Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that Russia “has documents showing evidence that the US had supported a bioweapons program in Ukraine,” and that “Ukrainian nationalists” were preparing a chemical weapons “provocation” (The Guardian). The State Department and White House categorically denied the claims. 

March 9: White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned that Russia could “possibly use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine, or to create a false flag operation using them.” 

March 10: Russia submitted a “non-paper” to the U.N. Security Council “on several scenarios of false-flag chemical provocations by Ukrainians” and alleged that the U.S. and private military companies are assisting Ukraine in this effort. 

March 10: Russia submitted a National Document to the OPCW entitled “About the possible chemical provocations in Ukraine” repeating its claim that American “special services” have provided Ukraine chemicals for “various types of provocations” (Russian Federation: 10 March 2022 – NV_5). The document outlined several possible ways a chemical attack could take place. 

March 10: Appearing before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on worldwide threats to the U.S., CIA Director William Burns stated: “Whether it’s the potential for the use of chemical weapons either as a false flag operation or against the Ukrainians, this is something that all of you know is very much a part of Russia’s playbook. They’ve used those weapons against their own citizens, they’ve at least encouraged their use in Syria and elsewhere, so it’s something we take very seriously.”

March 11: The Russian Mission to the U.N. called for a U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss its accusations that the United States is funding a network of military biological laboratories. The United States Delegate, Amb. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, responded: “There are no Ukrainian biological weapons laboratories supported by the United States – not near Russia’s border or anywhere.” U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Izumi Nakamitsu, dismissed the claims, saying “the United Nations is not aware of a biological weapons program” in Ukraine.

March 11: Biden warned that “Russia would pay a severe price if they use chemical weapons.” 

March 16: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with General Nikolay Patrushev, Secretary of the Russian Security Council, over the phone. Mr. Sullivan warned “about the consequences and implications of any possible Russian decision to use chemical or biological weapons in Ukraine.” 

March 18: The Russian Mission to the U.N. called for a second U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss its accusations that the United States is funding a network of military biological laboratories. U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu once again stated that the U.N. “is not aware of any such biological weapons programs,” and further stated that “the United Nations currently has neither the mandate nor the technical or operational capacity to investigate this information.” 

March 18: Ukraine submitted a request to the OPCW for “bilateral assistance from States Parties in order to protect against chemical weapons,” invoking Article X of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The letter specifically requested: assistance and detection equipment and alarm systems; protective equipment; decontamination equipment and decontaminants; medical antidotes and treatments; and advice on any of these protective measures. Ukraine also stated concern that the “Russian Federation is going to launch a massive chemical attack on the territory of Ukraine, in the capital of Ukraine city of Kyiv and Kyiv region as well as in temporarily occupied Donetsk using tanks with ammonia and central nervous system acting chemicals.” 

March 21: An ammonia leak occurred at a Sumykhimprom chemical facility in Sumy, Ukraine. The factory produces fertilizers. The Associated Press first reported on the 21st that the cause of the leak was unknown. Sumy regional governor, Dmytro Zhvytsky said that the leak was caused by Russian shelling. Russia has accused Ukraine of staging a “chemical false flag.” 

March 22: Speaking on the condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. defense official commented that the U.S. is closely monitoring intelligence for indications of a Russian chemical or biological weapons attack in Ukraine. He further stated: “There’s no indication that there’s something imminent in that regard right now” (Reuters).

March 21: Speaking at a Business Roundtable, U.S. President Joe Biden stated that Putin’s “back is against the wall. And he’s – now he’s talking about new false flags he’s setting up, including he’s asserting that, we, in America, have biological as well as chemical weapons in Europe – simply not true. I guarantee you.” He followed this statement with: “They’re also suggesting that Ukraine has biological and chemical weapons in Ukraine. That’s a clear sign he is considering using both of those. He’s already used chemical weapons in the past.” 

March 21: In an effort to “demonstrate its commitment to cooperation and transparency,” the United States held a virtual “U.S. Chemical Demilitarization Transparency Event” for OPCW regional officials. Led by Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Bonnie Jenkins, the event “highlighted the progress the U.S. has made in destroying the last of the chemical weapons stockpile” and re-affirmed that the U.S. will finish destroying the final 3% of its stockpile by September 2023. 

March 24: In a joint statement, NATO countries promised to “continue to provide assistance in such areas as cybersecurity and protection against threats of a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear nature” during a meeting of the NATO Heads of State and Government. The statement also warned that “Any use by Russia of a chemical or biological weapons would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences.” 

March 24: While at the NATO summit in Brussels, U.S. President Joe Biden said that if Russia uses chemical weapons, “We would respond.” He added, “The nature of the response would depend on the nature of the use.” 

April 1: White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed that the United States “is providing the government of Ukraine with lifesaving equipment and supplies that could be deployed in the event of Russian use of a chemical or biological weapons against Ukraine.”

April 4: A reporter asked U.S. White House press secretary Jen Psaki about the delivery status of the equipment described during the April 1 press briefing (see above). Psaki replied that U.S. government was trying to deliver the equipment in an “expedited manner” and that she would do a status check to see if the “equipment has been delivered, or is in process.” 

April 4: U.S. announced it has allocated $250,000 of its voluntary OPCW contribution to the OPCW Trust Fund for Implementation of Article X. The money is earmarked for “the provision of assistance and protection to Ukraine in the event of the use or threat of use of chemical weapons.” 

April 4-11: The second session of the Preparatory Committee for the Ninth Review Conference for the Biological Weapons Convention convened in Geneva to prepare for the upcoming Conference, which is scheduled to take place 28 November - 16 December 2022. Russia distributed a note verbale to BWC states regarding its allegations of US-funded facilities in Ukraine. While the document is not yet publicly available, the allegations mentioned in the document were reportedly similar to the allegations expressed by Russia during the March UN meetings (see: March 11, March 18).

April 7: The G7 foreign ministers and the high representative of the European Union issued a joint statement "On Russia's War of Aggression Against Ukraine." The statement included the following: "We warn against any threat or use of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. We recall Russia’s obligations under international treaties of which it is a party, and which protect us all. Any use by Russia of such a weapon would be unacceptable and result in severe consequences. We condemn Russia’s unsubstantiated claims and false allegations against Ukraine, a respected member of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention that is in compliance with its legal obligations under those instruments."

April 8: The humanitarian organization DirectRelief confirmed that it had delivered 220,000 vials of atropine, a drug which can mitigate the effects of sarin and other chemical agents, to Ukraine.

April 11: A message was posted on Telegram by the Azov Regiment, an "ultra-nationalist part of the Ukrainian National Guard," alleging that Russian forces had used "a poisonous substance of unkown origin." (Source: CNBC) There has been no official statement from any government body confirming that a chemical attack took place. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Twitter that the UK is urgently working to verify details of the incident. This story will be updated as more details emerge. 

April 19: Japan’s defense minister, Nobuo Kishi, announced that Japan was sending “anti-chemical-warfare equipment” to Ukraine, including gas masks, hazmat suits, and drones.

April 20: White House spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked for an update on U.S. assessments of the alleged chemical incident in Mariupol (see April 11). Psaki replied that "there's no new assessment." She added that because the U.S. doesn't have a team on the ground, the situation is "difficult to assess," but that the U.S. will continue to work on investigating the incident. 

April 23: According to Russian news agency Tass, Russian military officials are warning that the U.S. could conduct a false-flag "provocation" in order to accuse Moscow of using a weapon of mass destruction (chemical, biological, or nuclear weapon). 

April 26: During a press conference at the Rossiya Segodnya information agency, Russian Permanent Representative to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Alexander Shulgin stated: "When Ukraine joined the chemical convention, it did not declare the presence of chemical weapons on its territory, but I think that, one way or another, the Ukrainians will play this card. I already spoke about encroachments regarding chemical provocations against our country."  

April 29: In a statement marking the 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, "We will also continue our efforts to hold the Kremlin accountable for its noncompliance with the CWC, repeated use of chemical weapons, and ongoing efforts to shield the Assad regime from accountability for its CW use.  Further, we have made very clear that the Russian government would face profound consequences were it to use chemical weapons in Ukraine."

May 13: Russia called a third UN Security Council meeting to discuss its allegations that the United States is carrying out dangerous biological projects in Ukraine-based laboratories.

UN Disarmament Director and Deputy High Representative Thomas Markham briefed the UN Security Council and stated, "I wish to note that Under-Secretary-General Nakamitsu informed the Council in her respective briefings on 11 and 18 March 2022, that the United Nations was not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine. This remains the case." Markham advised any nation that still has compliance concerns to use procedures available under the Biological Weapons Convention to settle those concerns. 

May 16: Sergei Ryabkov, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia, announced that Russia is planning to "move forward with the launching of the official investigation by the UN Security Council" into allegations about biological laboratory activities in Ukraine. 

May 18: Russia submitted a note to the OPCW accusing Ukrainian Security Services of carrying out “the explosive destruction of a pre-planted high-explosive round that was amplified with an overlay of up to one tonne of ammonium nitrate” on May 16 in Mazanovka (see Russian Federation: 18 May 2022 – NV_19 of OPCW document). The note went on to say that the explosion caused the formation of a toxic cloud that moved towards the town of Kramatorsk, and alleged that the goal of this incident was to “accuse the Russian army of using chemical weapons.” 

May 30: Russia submitted another note to the OPCW alleging that, according to information gathered from Ukrainian prisoners of war, Ukrainian nationalists are planning “another provocation involving toxic substances” (see Russian Federation: 30 May 2022 – NV_23 of OPCW document). 

May 30: Ukraine submitted a letter to the OPCW alleging that on May 30, Russian troops shelled an ammonia pipeline “Togliatti – Odesa” in the Bakhmut district, Donetsk region. The letter also claimed that, as a result of the alleged shelling, there was an ammonia leak which caused a toxic cloud that moved over several nearby villages. There were no casualties reported. (See Ukraine: 30 May 2022 – NV_61219/35-196/50-36735 of OPCW document). 

May 31: Russia refuted Ukrainian claims that Russian shelling struck an ammonia pipeline at the Odessa Port Plant in a letter to the OPCW (see Russian Federation: 31 May 2022 – NV_25 of OPCW document). 

May 31: In a note to the OPCW, Ukraine alleged that “on the 31 of May at 06:45 pm the Russian military targeted the large-scale chemical industry complex ‘Azot’ in order to create chemical pollution” (see Ukraine: 31 May 2022 – NV_51219/35-196/50-37431 of OPCW document). The letter also alleged that a railway tank containing nitric acid was damaged, causing the release of a cloud of toxic chemicals. No casualties were reported. 

June 1: The British Embassy in the Netherlands submitted a note to the OPCW condemning Russia’s allegations about chemical weapons provocations being prepared in Ukraine (see United Kingdom: 1 June 2022 – NV_63/2022 of OPCW document). 

June 1: Responding to the Ukrainian allegations regarding the chemical industry complex “Azot” (see May 31), Russia submitted a letter to the OPCW claiming that, “as early as on 6 May 2022, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation warned about the provocation at the ‘Azot’ plant in the city of Severodonetsk, in the People’s Republic of Lugansk, being prepared by Ukrainian nationalists planting bombs on containers holding hazardous chemicals” (see Russian Federation: 1 June 2022 – NV_26 of OPCW document). 

June 6: Russia submitted a note to the OPCW alleging that, “the Kiev authorities, having recognised that it is not possible to continue to resist and hold the industrial zone in the city of Severodonetsk, in the People’s Republic of Lugansk, have instructed a composite task group (the surviving contingent of 2 the 79th detached air assault brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, the 117th and 118th detached battalions, and the 111th detached territorial defence brigade) to plant explosives on containers of the Severodonetsk enterprise “Azot” holding nitrate and nitric acid, the total amount of which exceeds 100 tonnes” (see Russian Federation: 6 June 2022 – NV_27 in OPCW document). 

June 9: Russia submitted another note to the OPCW accusing Ukraine of preparing a chemical false flag incident (see Russian Federation: 9 June 2022 – NV-29 of OPCW document). Russia went on to allege that, should a provocation take place, the OPCW will use the provocation to accuse Russia of using chemical weapons. 

June 10: The OPCW responded to Russia’s accusations (see June 9) by stating the Technical Secretariat for the OPCW “works impartially for the 193 States Parties to the Convention” and that the Secretariat is “composed of international civil servants who originate from more than 80 countries from all regions of the world, who perform their duties in the most independent way” (see Technical Secretariat: 10 June 2022 – NV/ODG-290/22 of OPCW document). 

June 12: In an interview with TASS, Russian Foreign Ministry representative Maria Zakharova indicated that Russia plans to invoke Article V of the Biological Weapons Convention. This move would trigger a meeting of the BWC States Parties for consultation about Russia’s allegations against the United States and Ukraine. “In the near future, we intend to activate mechanisms under Article V and VI of the Convention, which provide for consultations between the States Parties to the BTWC in resolving any issues regarding the purpose of the Convention or in connection with the implementation of its provisions, as well as cooperation in conducting any investigations into possible violations of obligations under the BTWC,” she said.

29 June: In a note verbale to the OPCW, Russia accused the Ukrainian Security Service (USS) of preparing a chemical provocation in order to blame Russia. The note verbale alleged that members of the USS arrived at a health resort in the Ukrainian town of Kurortny, Odessa Region, and “worked with the facility’s management on matters concerning the intake and placement of, and administration of medical aid to, victims of chemical exposure.” No additional evidence to support this accusation was provided. (See: Russian Federation: 25 July 2022 – NV_33).

June 29: Russia formally triggered the Article V mechanism of the Biological Weapons Convention. The treaty’s member states will now have to convene for a special summer session to hear Russia’s bio-lab allegations against the United States and Ukraine. 

July 5: In a note verbale submitted to the OPCW, Russia alleged that it had “reliable information” indicating that Ukrainian individuals were planning a chemical provocation in Nikolayevka, Donetsk, and further alleged that Ukrainians had already “brought containers of liquid chlorine into the water pumping and filtration unit of the Slavyansk thermal power plant and are planning to detonate them as Russian troops and units from the People’s Republic of Donetsk approach.” No evidence to back up this claim was provided in the note verbale. Russia also accused Ukraine of “creating the preconditions for the onset of manmade disaster” by using industrial facilities to house their troops and military equipment. Russia called on the member states of the OPCW to “exert influence” on Ukraine to prevent the use of chemical facilities by armed forces. (See: Russian Federation: 5 July 2022 – NV-34). Russia is currently facing international pressure to not use nuclear energy facilities to house troops and military equipment.

July 25: In a note verbale submitted to the OPCW, Russia alleged that “in the city of Konstantinovka, in the People’s Republic of Donetsk, Ukrainian nationalists have planted explosives on storage units holding radioactive and chemical waste from a metallurgy enterprise that produces lead,” and that “they plan to detonate these upon their retreat from the city.” The note verbale provided no evidence to back up this claim. (See: Russian Federation: 25 July 2022 – NV-37).

July 25: In another note verbale submitted to the OPCW on July 25, Russia alleged that, “at a fats and oils industrial complex in the city of Slavyansk, in the People’s Republic of Donetsk, personnel from the Ukrainian Security Service are planning to carry out the explosive destruction in the near future of containers holding a total of over 120 tonnes of hexane, a chemically hazardous substance.” The note verbale provided no evidence to back up the claim. (See: Russian Federation: 25 July – NV-38). 

28 July: Ukraine submitted a note verbale to the OPCW raising concerns about the shelling of chemical facilities and the risk of serious consequences if a civilian chemical facility is hit. (See: Ukraine: 28 July 2022 – NV_61219/35-196/50-55446). 

August 3: The United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs announced that a consultative meeting to discuss Russia’s allegations against the United States and Ukraine will be held on August 26, continuing on September 5, 6, 7, and 9. 

August 20: Russia’s defense ministry accused Ukraine of “chemical terrorism” after an undisclosed number of Russian soldiers in the Zaporizhzhia region were taken to a hospital and tests showed botulinum toxin type B in their bodies. Ukraine denied the accusation and countered that the illness could have been caused by expired canned meat.

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Missile Defense Systems at a Glance

An overview of the basics of missile defense systems, as well as a brief history of U.S. missile defense systems. 

Contact: Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy, 202-463-8270 x104


Introduction

For nearly as long as there have been offensive weapons systems, there have also been anti-weapons systems. For years, one of the most dangerous threats to a state was ballistic missiles given the blinding speed with which they could deliver some of the world’s most dangerous weapons: nuclear-armed warheads. As such, some states have made a concentrated effort to build defenses against such weapons, known as ballistic missile defenses. However, during the Cold War, as the United States and Soviet Union experimented with and fielded missile defenses, both sides worried such defenses could prompt an uncontrollable arms race.

These concerns led to the conclusion of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which limited each side to 100 strategic missile defense interceptors at one site. The agreement helped to stabilize relations between the two nuclear superpowers and provided a foundation for further agreements limiting strategic offensive forces. However, the abrogation of the ABM treaty in 2002 by the George W. Bush administration—and the development of more advanced cruise and hypersonic missiles—have led to an uptick in funding to attempt to defend against missiles beyond just ballistic missiles and from countries beyond just Russia.


What are missile defense systems specifically trying to defend against?

The main missile threats that missile defense systems have aimed to defend against have been ballistic missiles, but more recently, greater emphasis has been placed on defending against other types of missiles as well.

Ballistic Missile Basics
(Adapted from “Worldwide Ballistic Missile Inventories”)

Ballistic missiles are powered by rockets initially but then follow an unpowered, parabolic, free-falling trajectory toward their targets. They are classified by the maximum distance that they can travel, which is a function of how powerful the missile’s engines (rockets) are and the weight of the missile’s payload, or warhead. To add more distance to a missile’s range, rockets are stacked on top of each other in a configuration referred to as staging.

There are four general classifications of ballistic missiles:

  • Short-range ballistic missiles, traveling less than 1,000 kilometers (approximately 620 miles);
  • Medium-range ballistic missiles, traveling between 1,000–3,000 kilometers (approximately 620-1,860 miles);
  • Intermediate-range ballistic missiles, traveling between 3,000–5,500 kilometers (approximately 1,860-3,410 miles); and
  • Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), traveling more than 5,500 kilometers.

Short- and medium-range ballistic missiles are referred to as “theatre” ballistic missiles, whereas ICBMs or long-range ballistic missiles are described as “strategic” ballistic missiles.

Missiles are often classified by fuel-type: liquid or solid propellants. Missiles with solid fuel require less maintenance and preparation time than missiles with liquid fuel because solid-propellants have the fuel and oxidizer together, whereas liquid-fueled missiles must keep the two separated until right before deployment.

Thirty-one countries possess ballistic missiles. Of those, only 9 (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are known to possess or suspected of possessing nuclear weapons. These 9 states plus Iran have produced or flight-tested missiles with ranges exceeding 1,000 kilometers. China and Russia are the only two states that are not U.S. allies that have a proven capability to launch ballistic missiles from their territories that can strike the continental United States.

Three stages of flight for a ballistic missile:

  1. Boost phase:
    • The boost phase begins at launch and lasts until the rocket engines stop firing and pushing the missile away from Earth.
    • Depending on the missile, it lasts between three and five minutes.
    • Generally, the missile is traveling relatively slowly, although towards the end of this stage, an ICBM can reach speeds of more than 24,000 kilometers per hour. Most of this phase takes place in the atmosphere (endoatmospheric).
  2. Midcourse phase:
    • The midcourse phase begins after the rockets finish firing and when the missile is on a ballistic course toward its target.
    • This is the longest stage of a missile’s flight, lasting up to 20 minutes for ICBMs.
    • During the early part of the midcourse stage, the missile is still ascending toward its apogee, while during the latter part, it is descending toward Earth.
    • During this stage, the missile’s warhead(s), as well as any decoys, separate from the delivery platform, or “bus.” This phase takes place in space (exoatmospheric). The warhead is now called/is on a reentry vehicle (RV).
  3. Terminal phase:
    • The terminal phase begins when the missile’s warhead, or RV, reenters the Earth’s atmosphere (endoatmospheric), and it continues until impact or detonation.
    • This stage takes less than a minute for a strategic warhead, which can be traveling at speeds greater than 3,200 kilometers per hour.

Other Types of Missiles

Generally, U.S. missile defense systems have been designed to defend against ballistic missiles. However, the Trump administration’s 2019 Missile Defense Review most clearly noted that the United States will be looking for ways to defend against non-ballistic missiles.

Cruise missiles and hypersonic missiles are two additional categories of missiles. Unlike ballistic missiles, cruise missiles remain within the atmosphere for the duration of their flight. Cruise missiles are propelled by jet engines and can be launched from land-, air-, or sea-based platforms. Due to their constant propellants, they are more maneuverable than ballistic missiles, though they are also slower than their ballistic counterparts.

Two types of hypersonic missiles are currently under development. A hypersonic boost-glide vehicle (HGV) is fired by rockets into space and then released to fly to its target along the upper atmosphere. Unlike ballistic missiles, a boost-glide vehicle flies at a lower altitude and can change its intended target and trajectory repeatedly during its flight. The second type, a hypersonic cruise missile, is powered through its entire flight by advanced rockets or high-speed jet engines. It is a faster version of existing cruise missiles.


What makes up a missile defense system?

Satellite Sensors and Ground- or Sea-based Radars

Together, space-based satellites and ground- or sea-based radars create a monitoring system that contribute to offensive missile detection (detecting a missile after it has been launched), discrimination (what is a threat versus a decoy or other countermeasures), and tracking (keeping the missile “in sight” so that an interceptor can find it and eliminate the threat).

Interceptors

Interceptors are the missiles used once a threat has been detected. Missiles carry “kill vehicles,” which detach from the missile (also called the boosters or rockets) and then go to try to eliminate the threat. Today’s kill vehicles are “hit-to-kill,” meaning that they aim to eliminate the threat by actually running into it, or “kinetically” (also called a “kinetic kill”). Due to the speed at which the incoming rival missile and interceptors and kill vehicles are traveling, this has metaphorically been compared to “a bullet hitting another bullet.”

Some interceptors are single pieces (which means that they do not separate from their kill vehicles), such as the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3).

In addition, interceptors need launchers. Some interceptors are launched from in-ground silos, road-mobile trucks, or ships. There currently exist no interceptors in space, though the idea has been proposed. These launchers and interceptors can be carried in a “battery,” which can carry up to a cluster of launchers, interceptors with their kill vehicles, radars, and fire control.

Command and Control

All the data that is being processed by the sensors and radars and then sent to the interceptors and kill vehicles are linked through another network of command and control centers. The centers are located around the entire world and involve several different U.S. military branches and commands working together. Command and control centers also tend to utilize “fire control.”

Working Together

The information from the sensors and interceptors routed through command and control work together similar to the image below, laid out by the Union of Concerned Scientists in order to demonstrate the workings of the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system.


Other FAQs

Are all missile defense systems currently only for ballistic missile defense?

Not exclusively. While most missile defense systems are developed to focus on the blindingly fast speed and specific trajectory of ballistic missiles, some systems could conceivably counter cruise missiles or other shorter-range targets.

Can a missile defense system intercept a threat on any part of the trajectory?

Not yet. Currently, missile defense systems are only developed and designed to carry out an interception at the mid-course (middle) or terminal (final) stage of a missile’s trajectory, even though a missile is slowest during its boost (beginning) phase. The 2019 Missile Defense Review and Congress have both called for further study of “boost-phase intercept” capabilities, proposing the controversial development of interceptors in space or other emerging capabilities, such as drones or lasers. “Left of launch” capabilities have also been proposed, which would aim to counter a missile threat before it is even launched.

What is the difference between a missile defense system (anti-missile system) and other forms of air defense systems?

Generally, missile defense systems are specifically designed to target very fast and very specific threats. However, some forward-based missile defense systems may be able to carry out missions against air-launched cruise missiles and rival aircraft. However, because other forms of air defense systems, mainly anti-aircraft systems, have such smaller areas of defense, they would be unlikely to counter a threat with the speed of a hypersonic or ballistic missile.

What are some criticisms of missile defense systems?

The U.S. pursuit of effective missile defenses has been accompanied by intense debate about the technical capabilities of the system and realism of testing, the scope of the ballistic missile threat, the deterrence and assurance benefits of the defenses, the cost-effectiveness of shooting down relatively inexpensive offensive missiles with expensive defensive ones, and the repercussions for U.S. strategic stability with Russia and China.

According to the Defense Department’s independent testing office, existing U.S. missile defenses have “demonstrated capability” to defend the U.S. homeland against a small number of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) threats that employ “simple countermeasures.” The testing office assesses that defenses to protect allies and U.S. troops abroad possess only a “limited capability” to defend against small numbers of intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). The capability of defenses against short-range ballistic missiles is labeled as “fair.” Apart from the point-defense Patriot system, no systems in the U.S. BMD arsenal have been used in combat.

Leaders of the U.S. missile defense enterprise have increasingly voiced concerns that the current U.S. approach to national and regional missile defense is unsustainable and that existing defenses must be augmented with emerging capabilities to reduce the cost of missile defense and keep pace with advancing adversary missile threats.


Current and Under Development U.S. Missile Defense Components and Equipment

Homeland “Strategic” Defense Systems

  • Ground-based Midcourse Defense System

Regional “Theater/Tactical” Defense Systems

  • Aegis BMD system
    • Aegis BMD System (Part of the Aegis Combat System, aka Aegis Afloat; Sea-Based BMD)
    • Aegis Ashore (Land-based variant of Afloat)
  • Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD)
    • (Emerging) THAAD Extended Range
  • PAC-3

For more detail on current day programs and next generation efforts, visit: “Current U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance.”

Each system has a combination of the previously mentioned sensors, radars, interceptors, kill vehicles, and largely use the networked command and control. The above systems rely on the below equipment and components:

Radars:

Air- and Space-Based Sensors Used:

  • Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) and Space Tracking and Surveillance System-Demonstrators (STSS-D) constellation operated by the Missile Defense Agency
  • Space-based Kill Assessment (SKA) hosted on commercial satellites
  • Near Field Infrared Experiment (NFIRE) technology project, operated by the Missile Defense Agency
  • Defense Support Program (DSP), constellation of satellites operated by the U.S. Air Force Space Command
  • (Under Development) Space-based Infrared System (SBIRS), constellation of integrated satellites operated by the U.S. Air Force Space Command
    • SBIRS-LEO (Low Earth Orbit), incorporated into the STSS program in 2001 with the Missile Defense Agency
    • (Under Development) SBIRS-GEO (Geosynchronous orbit), intended to replace Defense Support Program (DSP)
    • (Under Development) SBIRS-HEO (High Elliptical orbit), intended to replace DSP

Interceptors:

  • Ground-Based Interceptors (GBI), for the GMD System
  • SM-2
  • SM-3 (RIM-161 Standard Missile-3)
    • 3 variations: Block IA, Block IB, Block IIA
  • SM-6 (RIM 174 Standard Missile-6)
  • (Under Development) Boost Phase Laser Defenses
  • Evolved Seasparrow Missile (ESSM), NATO Interceptor
  • Space-Based Intercept (SBI) Layer

Kill Vehicles:

  • Exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV)
  • (Terminated August 2019) Redesigned kill vehicle (RKV)
  • (Under Development) Multi-Object Kill Vehicle (MOKV)

Command and Control Centers:

For more detail on how the above components fit together in each separate missile defense program and next generation efforts, visit: “Current U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance.”


History of U.S. Missile Defense Systems

Brief History of U.S. Missile Defense Systems

After the end of World War II, U.S. military planners began to weigh the need to be able counter ballistic missile threats before they reached their targets. During the war, German V-2s were particularly concerning, and in 1946, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) embarked on the Projects Wizard and Thumper study programs to develop an anti-ballistic missile (ABM).

Recognizing the complexities of what would be a multi-year study, the Air Force focused on Project Wizard as a long-term study. In 1949, the Army began to develop its own Project Plato, the services’ first effort to develop a theatre ABM system. As the Cold War began to ramp up during the 1950s and the Soviet Union continued their ICBM development, the Army and Air Force began to compete for a role in strategic missile defense, which led to the 1957 initiation of the Army’s nuclear-capable Nike Zeus ABM interceptor. The program's high costs and shortcomings spurred criticism of the ABM system concept. Meanwhile, to settle the Air Force and Army dispute over who should pursue the strategic missile defense initiative, then Defense Secretary Neil H. McElroy assigned the mission to the Army and established the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA).

After the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, using the justification that the crisis caused the Soviets to aggressively ramp up their ICBM program, the U.S. military also reoriented its ABM efforts to create an improved system called Nike-X. News also reached the U.S. military that the Soviets were developing their own ABM capabilities. U.S. leaders felt that in order to overcome the Soviet ABM system, they would either need an overwhelming offensive force or arms control agreements—so they resisted calls to deploy the Nike-X ABM system until China conducted its first nuclear test. The Chinese test meant that proponents of the Nike-X ABM system could now argue that a limited ABM deployment which could counter China would be better than a heavy ABM deployment to counter the Soviets. The United States deployed the Nike-X ABM in 1967 and renamed the ABM system the Sentinel. The Navy and Air Force also began to develop their own ABM system concepts.

In 1968, the Johnson administration began to shift the limited mission of the Sentinel system from against China towards a heavier defense mission against a large-scale Soviet attack. Though this may have been done in part to use the system as a “bargaining chip” as the Soviets had just agreed to begin long-sought arms control negotiations, the shift caused debate, confusion, and criticism over the purpose of the controversial Sentinel system.

In 1969, the Nixon administration re-oriented the U.S. ABM system again so that instead of protecting urban areas, it would now be used to protect the nation’s strategic deterrent: the silo-based Minuteman ICBMs. President Nixon renamed the system “Safeguard.” The system was still used as a bargaining chip as the United States and Russia continued with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, which eventually led to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The ABM Treaty initially limited each side’s ABM deployments to only two locations with no more than 100 interceptors total. After a 1974 protocol was negotiated, each side was allowed only one site. The Safeguard site was closed in 1976 because it could be easily overwhelmed by a Soviet attack and because detonation of its nuclear-armed warheads would blind its own radars.

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan launched the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to revisit the issue of the feasibility of missile defense. The day after his announcement, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called the president’s speech “reckless Star Wars Schemes”—a phrase that had previously been used to also reference exotic Pentagon space weaponry projects, but now was the new nickname of SDI. Around this time, the Army had begun working on developing a nonnuclear hit-to-kill interceptor and, in 1984, was able to intercept a dummy warhead outside of the atmosphere in space.

Meanwhile, ARPA’s successor, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), began developing laser and particle beam technologies for application that included ballistic missile defense and space defense. The Reagan administration highlighted that SDI would not jeopardize U.S. compliance with the ABM Treaty because of SDI’s focus at the time was as a research- and development-based project, not deployment. The Department of Defense then chartered the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) in 1984.

Toward the end of the 1980s, SDI—which had developed a broad and costly space- and ground-based defense concept—reoriented its focus to the “Brilliant Pebbles” (BP) program, which used autonomous, small-scale, space-launched interceptors. In 1990, BP was introduced as an affordable hit-to-kill system that skirted concerns about the exposure of large-scale space systems. However, in light of the fall of the Soviet Union, under the directive of the George H. W. Bush administration, SDI was overhauled to address limited nuclear strikes in 1991. Bush announced a new system, the Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS).

When President Bill Clinton entered office, he shifted focus on theatre missile defense instead of national missile defense. To reflect this, he canceled the BP program and changed the name of SDIO to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO). He also broke up the Bush GPALS program into several Army, Navy, and Air Force programs, introducing what is now the PATRIOT Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) program, the Theatre High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, the ship-borne Aegis air defense system and Standard Missile (SM) interceptor, and the Air Force’s Airborne Laser Project. However, during his administration, President Clinton was pressured by Congress to pursue national missile defense that would have consequences for U.S. obligations towards the ABM Treaty. President Clinton signed the 1999 National Missile Defense Act, which made it “the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense (NMD) system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.” However, in 2000, President Clinton announced that he would leave the final decision of pursing a national missile defense system to his successor.

In 2001, the new George W. Bush administration announced that it was giving its six-month notice of its withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, which took effect in 2002. Also in 2002, President Bush changed the name of BMDO to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). The military began to reorient the missile defense program to be an integrated, layered, and nationwide defense system.

The Obama Administration

Upon taking office in 2009, the Obama administration took steps to curtail the Bush administration’s rush to expand the U.S. homeland missile defense footprint and instead place greater emphasis on regional defense, particularly in Europe. The Obama administration decided to alter its predecessor’s plans for missile defense in Europe, announcing Sept. 17, 2009, that the United States would adopt a European “Phased Adaptive Approach” (EPAA) to missile defense. This approach primarily uses the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system to address the threat posed by short- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles from Iran. The Aegis system uses the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors, which are deployed on Arleigh-Burke class destroyers in the Baltic Sea (Aegis Afloat), as well as on land in Romania and Poland (Aegis Ashore).

President Obama's first Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, also canceled a number of next generation programs, including two designed to intercept missiles during their boost phase, due to “escalating costs, operational problems, and technical challenges.”

However, while continuing to invest in regional defense, the Obama administration also made substantial investments in homeland defense largely in response to North Korea. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system comprises missile fields in Ft. Greely, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and is designed to protect the United States against limited, long-range missile strikes from North Korea and Iran. Despite concerns about the system’s technical viability, from 2013 to 2017, the Obama administration expanded the number of ground-based interceptors (GBIs) in these fields from 30 to 44.

The Obama administration also oversaw the deployment of additional regional missile interceptor and sensor capabilities to allies in Northeast Asia in response to North Korea, including the deployment of the THAAD system to Guam and South Korea and two advanced radars to Japan.

To view the history in a timeline form, visit the Union of Concerned Scientists.

For current day programs since the beginning of the Trump administration, visit: “Current U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance.”

Recently Canceled Programs

A number of high-profile missile defense efforts that began during the George W. Bush administration were canceled by President Bush’s last Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, under President Barack Obama. Below is a summary of some of these programs, the reason they were canceled, and the amount of money that was spent to develop them.

PRECISION TRACKING SPACE SYSTEM (PTSS)
[Previously known as Space-based Infrared System-low (SBIRS-low)]

Program Elements

The program was a planned network of 9-12 satellites which were expected to support U.S. missile defense systems by providing tracking data from space on missiles during their entire flight.

Dates of Program

October 2009 – April 2013

Money Spent

More than $230 million

Major Issues

As reported by the LA Times, outside experts found that the satellites would not have been able to detect warheads flying over the arctic. In order to provide continuous tracking of the missiles, MDA would have actually needed at least 24 satellites. An independent cost assessment projected the total cost of the system to be $24 billion over 20 years instead of the $10 billion MDA projected.

AIRBORNE LASER (ABL)

Program Elements

The original program included a modified Boeing 747 plane equipped with a chemical oxygen-iodine laser (COIL) and two tracking lasers. The laser beam would be produced by a chemical reaction. The objective was to shoot down ballistic missiles during their boost phase right after launch, but the system could also be used for other missions.

Dates of Program

November 1996 – February 2012

Money Spent

$5.3 billion

Major Issues

The laser would have had a limited range, which meant the 747 would have been vulnerable to anti-aircraft missiles. To increase the range, the laser would have needed to be 20-30 times more powerful than planned.

KINETIC ENERGY INTERCEPTOR (KEI)

Program Elements

KEI was to be comprised of three powerful boosters and a separating kill vehicle. The booster was expected to travel at least six kilometers per second, which is comparable to an ICBM. The kill vehicle was not designed to carry an explosive warhead but to destroy its target through the force of a collision.

Dates of Program

March 2003 – June 2009

Money Spent

$1.7 billion

Major Issues

In order to carry the KEI, Navy ships would have needed to be retrofitted. The range was not great enough to be land-based.

MULTIPLE KILL VEHICLE (MKV)

Program Elements

The program was designed to launch multiple kill vehicles from a single booster in order to increase the odds of destroying an incoming missile. It was designed to destroy both missiles and decoys.

Dates of Program

January 2004 – April 2009

Money Spent

~$700 million

Major Issues

The program was canceled by the Obama administration in order to focus on “proven, near-term missile defense programs that can provide more immediate defenses of the United States.”

Missile Defense

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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United States

April 2020

According to the Federation of Scientists, as of May 2022, the United States possesses a stockpile of 3,708 warheads. Of these, 1,744 warheads are deployed and 1,964 are in reserve. In addition, about 1,720 warheads are awaiting dismantlement, for a total of 5,424 nuclear warheads.

On Feb. 2, 2018, the Trump administration released its Nuclear Posture Review, detailing its strategy for the role of U.S. nuclear forces. The United States has destroyed about 97.15 percent of its chemical weapons arsenal as of 2022 is due to complete destruction by September 2023. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) and has destroyed its biological weapons arsenal, although Russia alleges that U.S. biodefense research violates the BWC.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
  • New START
  • Nuclear Reductions Beyond New START
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons

 

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

- - -

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1982

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

- - -

2015

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2015

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 1998, entered into force January, 2009.

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with Russia

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Founder

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

The United States has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states.

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

According to the Federation of the American Scientists, as of April 2019, the United States possesses 3,800 stockpiled strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads and an additional 2,385 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total arsenal of 6,185 warheads. In April 2019, the Defense Department stated it would no longer declassify the number of U.S. nuclear warheads.

Under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the United States can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable strategic warheads on 700 deployed delivery systems until February 2021 when the treaty expires. According to the March 2019 New START data exchange, the United States deploys 1,365 strategic nuclear warheads on 656 strategic delivery systems.

The United States also deploys an additional 150 tactical (non-strategic) nuclear warheads based in Europe. While the United States and Russia maintain similarly sized total arsenals, the United States possesses a much larger number of strategic warheads and delivery systems while Russia possesses a much larger number of non-strategic (or tactical) nuclear warheads.

The United States is the only nation to have used nuclear weapons against another country, dropping two bombs (one apiece) on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Delivery Systems

(For a detailed overview of current and planned U.S. nuclear modernization programs, see our fact sheet here.)

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  •  As of April 2019, the United States Air Force deploys 400 LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBMs.
    • The Minuteman III has a range of over 6,000 miles (9,650-13,000 km).
    • Each missile is equipped with either one 300 kt W87 warhead or one 335 kt W78 warhead.
  • Under New START, the United States reduced the number of deployed ICBMs from 450 to 400. 50 excess silos have not been destroyed but have been kept in a “warm” operational status and can be loaded with missiles relatively quickly if necessary.
  • In 2015, the United States concluded a multibillion dollar, decade-long modernization program that will extend the service life of the Minuteman III to beyond 2030.  
  • The U.S. Air Force is also developing a new ICBM, known as the ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD), which is intended to replace the Minuteman III between 2029 and 2035.

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • The U.S. Navy operates 14 Ohio-class SSBNs submarines, two of which are undergoing overhaul of their nuclear reactors at any given time. The remaining 12 are available for deployment. However, since some operational SSBNs also undergo minor repairs at any given time the actual number of SSBNs at sea usually numbers at around 10.
  • 7 submarines are based out of Bangor, Washington and 5 submarines are based out of Kings Bay, Georgia.
  • The submarines originally had 24 missile tubes for Trident II D5 SLBMs, but under New START, the Navy deactivated 4 tubes on each submarine, finishing this process in 2017.
  • The Ohio-class submarines have a life-span of 42 years.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs):

  • The Trident II D5 was first deployed in 1990 and has an operational range of 7,400-12,000 km.
  • The Trident II D5 missile can hold up to eight warheads (but usually holds an average of four to five) and carries 3 variants:
    • the W88—a 475 kt Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) warhead.
    • the W76-0—a 100 kt MIRV warhead.
    • the W76-1—a 100 kt MIRV warhead.
  • To comply with New START, the Navy will not deploy more than 240 missiles. As of February 2018, 203 submarine-launched ballistic missiles were deployed. 
  • An ongoing life extension program is expected to keep the Trident II D5 in service until  2042.
  • The Trident II D5 is the only MIRV’ed (multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle) strategic missile remaining in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Bombers

  • As of April 2019, the Air Force deploys 46 nuclear-capable B-52H Stratofortress bombers and 20 nuclear-capable B-2A Spirit bombers.
  • The Air Force plans to deploy no more than 60 nuclear-capable strategic bombers under New START.
  • An estimated 850 nuclear warheads are assigned to the strategic bombers, but only about 300 are typically deployed at bomber bases.
    • B-52H Stratofortress bombers: dual-capable; can carry 20 AGM-86B cruise missiles. The AGM-86B has a range of 2,500 km and is equipped with a 5-150 kt W80-1 warhead
    • B-2A Spirit bombers: dual capable; can carry 16 B61-7, B61-11, or B83-1 gravity bombs.
  • The United States also maintains several fighter-aircraft that serve in a dual-capable role. The F-15E and F-16C have been the cornerstone of this aspect of nuclear deterrence, carrying the B61 gravity bomb. The new stealth F-35 Lightning II, also known as the Joint Strike Fighter, will replace the F-16 as the U.S. Air Force’s primary nuclear capable fighter-aircraft.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

The United States develops and deploys several ballistic missile defense systems around the world. To learn more, see: "U.S. Missile Defense Programs at a Glance." 

Fissile Material

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The United States has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material for weapons purposes. It stopped production of HEU in 1992.
  • In March 2016, the United States announced the declassification of its national inventory of highly enriched uranium (HEU) of 585.6 tons, as of September 30, 2013.
  • The United States halted the production of HEU for weapons in 1964 and ceased plutonium separation for weapons in 1992.
  • Estimates from 2016 place the U.S. HEU stockpile at around 600 metric tons, including 253 metric tons of military HEU and 264 metric tons of fresh and spent naval HEU.
  • According to the 2015 Global Fissile Material Report, the United States has about 40 metric tons of HEU remaining to be downblended of the 187 metric tons it declared as excess to defense requirements and has committed to dispose.

Plutonium

  • The United States ended production of separated plutonium in 1988.
  • At the end of 2014, U.S. military plutonium stockpiles amounted to a total of 87.6 declared metric tons (49.3 metric tons of which are declared as excess military plutonium).
  • In October 2016, citing U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, Russia suspended its own implementation of the deal. Russia refuses to resume the agreement’s implementation until U.S. sanctions against Russia are lifted and NATO forces in Europe are reorganized along lines favorable to Russia. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into MOX fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because doing so would fail to change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor grade. 
  • The United States possesses no separated civilian plutonium but at the end of 2014, an estimated 625 metric tons of plutonium were contained in spent fuel stored at civilian reactor sites.
  • Under the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA), finalized with Russia in 2000, the United States committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess weapons-grade plutonium beginning in 2018. The agreement was amended in 2010 to change the agreed disposition methods in which Russia abandoned using mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in light-water reactors in favor or irradiating plutonium in its fast-neutron reactors. The amendment also expressed renewed U.S. commitment to provide $400 million towards the Russian disposition program. Russia suspended cooperation with the agreement in November 2016.

 Proliferation Record

  • A close relationship exists between U.S. and British nuclear weapons programs. The United States supplies the United Kingdom with the Trident II D5 SLBM.
  • Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey all host U.S. tactical nuclear gravity bombs as part of NATO nuclear sharing agreements. The estimated 180 weapons remain under U.S. custody during peacetime, but some may be released to U.S. allies for delivery in times of war.
  • Beginning with President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1953 “Atoms for Peace” initiative, the United States has engaged in extensive worldwide trading and exchanging of fissile materials and technical information for nuclear science research and the peaceful use of nuclear technology. In 1954, an amendment to the Atomic Energy Act allowed bilateral nuclear agreements with U.S. allies to proceed, with the intent of exporting only low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel; however, this soon expanded to include HEU.
  • Under the “Atoms for Peace” program a number of former, aspiring, and current nuclear-weapon states such as South Africa, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Israel all received, directly or indirectly, training and technology transfers utilized in their nuclear weapons programs. For example, in 1967, the United States supplied Iran with a 5 megawatt nuclear research reactor along with HEU fuel. Iran admitted to using the reactor in the early 1990s for the production of small amounts of Polonium-210, a radioactive substance capable of starting a chain reaction inside a nuclear weapon.
  • Since the end of the Cold War the United States has tried to mitigate the adverse effects of the “Atoms for Peace” initiative and returned exported HEU and plutonium to the United States.

Nuclear Doctrine

Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, in a Feb. 2, 2018 press briefing, claimed that the 2018 NPR “reaffirms that the fundamental role of U.S. nuclear policy is deterrence.” Critics of the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) argue that the NPR reverses previous policy to reduce the role and number of U.S. nuclear weapons.

Declaratory Policy

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.” For more on declaratory policy, see: Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances.

Negative Security Assurance

The NPR also includes a negative security assurance that the United States will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapons states that are “party to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and are in compliance with their nuclear nonproliferation obligations.” The review caveats this negative security assurance by retaining “the right to make any adjustment in the assurance that may be warranted by the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies and U.S. capabilities to counter that threat.” For more on negative security assurances, see: U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

Testing
 
The United States has conducted 1,030 nuclear weapons tests. The first test was conducted on July 16, 1945 and the last test occurred on Sept. 23, 1992. The United States was the first country to conduct a nuclear test. 

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Biological Weapons

  • In the early 1970s, the United States destroyed its entire stockpile of biological weapons, which had been developed between 1943 and 1969.
  • The United States ratified the Biological Weapons Convention in 1975.  However, in 2001, the Bush administration opposed and killed an effort dating back to 1995 to augment the Biological Weapons Convention with a legally binding verification protocol. U.S. officials said the protocol would be too burdensome on legitimate governments and private biodefense programs, while at the same time failing to deter cheaters.
  • According to a 2016 State Department report, “In December 2015 at the annual Meeting of States Parties to the BWC, the delegation of the Russian Federation asserted that the United States had knowingly transferred live anthrax spores to a foreign country for use in open-air testing, and that this constituted a ‘grave violation’ of Articles III and IV of the BWC [Biological Weapons Convention].”
  • The United States maintains that these transfers were a blunder. The report also notes that, “All U.S. activities during the reporting period were consistent with the obligations set forth in the BWC. The United States continues to work toward enhancing transparency of biological defense work using the BWC confidence-building measures.”

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Chemical Weapons

  • Second only to Russia, the United States had one of the largest declared stockpiles of chemical agents at the time of the Chemical Weapons Convention’s (CWC) 1997 entry into force.
  • As of 2018, the United States had destroyed about 25,402 metric tons, or about 91.5 percent, of its declared chemical weapons stockpile. The United States continues work on the destruction of its Category 1 chemical agents. All of the United States’ Category 2 and 3 chemical weapons have been destroyed.
  • Destruction of the United States’ remaining stockpile of chemical weapons began in 2015 at Colorado’s Pueblo Chemical Depot and in 2019 at Kentucky’s Blue Grass plant. Over half of the chemical agents once stored at the Pueblo facility and nearly 7 percent of those stored at the Blue Grass facility have been destroyed. As of March 2020, the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile consists of 1,731.8 metric tons of Category 1 agents.
  • The United States received several extensions on its initial deadline for chemical weapons destruction under the CWC, and it now projects that destruction of its chemical weapons arsenal will be completed by September 2023.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities  

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.
 
However, in July 2014 the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In February 2019 the United States announced its intention to suspend its obligations and withdraw from the treaty, beginning a six-month withdrawal period that will end in August.  For more information on the INF Treaty visit our "INF Treaty at a Glance" fact sheet.
 

New START
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor agreement to the original Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) accord. The 2010 agreement, known as New START, commenced on Feb. 5, 2011. It requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICBMs, SLMBs, and bombers by Feb. 5, 2018 and both sides met the limits by the deadline. In addition, it contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement. President Donald Trump has repeatedly questioned the value of New START, calling it a “one-sided” agreement.

New START allows for a five-year extension subject to the agreement of both parties. The Trump administration has begun an interagency review on whether to extend the treaty and is weighing several factors, including the lack of China’s participation in the agreement, Russia’s new and developing strategic systems, and Russian tactical delivery systems currently not covered by the treaty. Though no official decision has been made yet regarding the Trump administration’s decision to extend, National Security Advisor John Bolton called it “unlikely” in June 2019.

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions. In the spring of 2019, the White House told reporters that the administration is seeking a new trilateral arms control agreement that limits all types of nuclear weapons and includes China in addition to the United States and Russia. 

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
The Conference on Disarmament was established in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum by the international community. At the 65-member CD, the United States has expressed support for continuing discussions on the CD's core issues: nuclear disarmament, a fissile material cut-off treaty (FMCT), prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS), and negative security assurances. The United States has been a prominent supporter of a proposed FMCT.

In March 1995, the CD took up The Shannon Mandate which established an ad hoc committee directed to negotiate an FMCT by the end of the 1995 session. A lack of consensus over verification provisions, as well as desires to hold parallel negotiations on outer space arms control issues, prevented negotiations from getting underway. Later, in May 2006, the United States introduced a draft FMCT along with a draft mandate for its negotiations. However, following an impasse in negotiations on a FMCT in 2010, the United States (and others) signaled its desire to look at alternative approaches outside the CD and called for negotiations to be moved to the United Nations General Assembly where the agreement could be endorsed by a majority vote. However, the United States no longer makes comments to this effect.

The United States does not support negotiations on PAROS, deeming it unnecessary because there are no weapons yet deployed in outer space. China and Russia continue to articulate a desire to hold parallel negotiations, a point which has further stalled efforts to begin FMCT negotiations.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The United States has ratified a protocol to the Latin America and the Caribbean Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) treaty pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the contracting parties. The U.S. has declined to ratify similar additional protocols to any of the remaining NWFZ treaties for Africa, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. 

Nuclear Security Summits
In April 2010, the United States hosted the first Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC. Participants included 47 countries, 38 of which were represented at the head of state or head of government level, and the heads of the United Nations, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the European Union. At the summit, the participants unanimously adopted the goal of securing all vulnerable nuclear material in the next four years. The United States also attended the NSS in Seoul, South Korea, on March 26-27, 2012 and the third NSS on Mar. 24-25, 2014. Washington hosted a fourth summit in the Spring of 2016 where attendees developed action plans for five global organizations to continue the work of the summits.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
Under the Obama administration the United States played the central role in the brokering of the July 2015 JCPOA, better known as the “Iran deal,” which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Congress in September 2015 debated a resolution that would have blocked implementation of the accord, but it failed to receive enough votes to pass the Senate. In January 2016, sanctions on Iran, including those targeting the financial and oil sectors, were lifted and $100 billion worth of frozen Iranian assets were released after international inspectors confirmed that Iran had rolled back large sections of its nuclear program and met more intrusive monitoring requirements.

On May 8, 2018 President Trump violated the JCPOA by reimposing sanctions on Iran that were lifted by the agreement, despite the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Iran was adhering to its commitments under the deal and over objections from the remaining parties to the agreement. Since the U.S. decision to withdraw, the remaining parties to the deal have reiterated their commitment to the JCPOA and taken steps to bypass U.S. sanctions and preserve legitimate trade with Iran.
 

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, United States reached an agreement with Russia to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. Before the deal was reached, the United States was planning to use airstrikes to punish the perpetrators of the attack, which the United States blamed on the Syrian government. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, the United States has raised concerns about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to suggest that the Assad regime was the likely perpetrator of the chlorine gas attacks; Russia, however, was hesitant to assign blame. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. U.S. President Donald Trump responded by immediately blaming the regime of Bashar Assad and launching 59 Tomahawk missiles targeting the airfield that had allegedly launched the attack. Following the launches, Trump stated that “It is in this vital national security of the United States to prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.” As a justification for the U.S. response, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stated that “If you violate international agreements, if you fail to live up to commitments, if you become a threat to others, at some point a response is likely to be undertaken.”  

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

 

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Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance

January 2022

Contact: Kelsey Davenport, Director for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 463-8270 x102; Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107.

At the dawn of the nuclear age, the United States hoped to maintain a monopoly on its new weapon, but the secrets and the technology for building the atomic bomb soon spread. The United States conducted its first nuclear test explosion in July 1945 and dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in August 1945. Just four years later, the Soviet Union conducted its first nuclear test explosion. The United Kingdom (1952), France (1960), and China (1964) followed. Seeking to prevent the nuclear weapon ranks from expanding further, the United States and other like-minded countries negotiated the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in 1996.

India, Israel, and Pakistan never signed the NPT and possess nuclear arsenals. Iraq initiated a secret nuclear program under Saddam Hussein before the 1991 Persian Gulf War. North Korea announced its withdrawal from the NPT in January 2003 and has successfully tested advanced nuclear devices since that time. Iran and Libya have pursued secret nuclear activities in violation of the treaty’s terms, and Syria is suspected of having done the same. Still, nuclear nonproliferation successes outnumber failures, and dire decades-old forecasts that the world would soon be home to dozens of nuclear-armed have not come to pass.

At the time the NPT was concluded, the nuclear stockpiles of both the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia numbered in the tens of thousands. Beginning in the 1970s, U.S. and Soviet/Russian leaders negotiated a series of bilateral arms control agreements and initiatives that limited, and later helped to reduce, the size of their nuclear arsenals.

Today, the United States deploys 1,357 and Russia deploys 1,456 strategic warheads on several hundred bombers and missiles, and are modernizing their nuclear delivery systems. Warheads are counted using the provisions of the New START agreement, which was extended for 5 years in January 2021.

New START caps each country at 1,550 strategic deployed warheads and attributes one deployed warhead per deployed heavy bomber, no matter how many warheads each bomber carries. Warheads on deployed ICBMs and SLBMs are counted by the number of re-entry vehicles on the missile. Each re-entry vehicle can carry one warhead.

Both Russia and China also possess smaller numbers of non-strategic (a.k.a. tactical) nuclear warheads, which are not subject to any treaty limits.

China, India, and Pakistan are all pursuing new ballistic missile, cruise missile, and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. In addition, Pakistan has lowered the threshold for nuclear weapons use by developing tactical nuclear weapons capabilities to counter perceived Indian conventional military threats. North Korea continues its nuclear pursuits in violation of its earlier denuclearization pledges.

The world's nuclear-armed states possess a combined total of about 13,080 nuclear warheads. North Korea, the ninth nuclear-weapon state, is estimated to have produced enough fissile material for 40-50 warheads, although the actual size of its stockpile remains unknown.

Nuclear-Weapon States:

The nuclear-weapon states (NWS) are the five states—China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States—officially recognized as possessing nuclear weapons by the NPT. The treaty recognizes these states’ nuclear arsenals, but under Article VI of the NPT they are not supposed to build and maintain such weapons in perpetuity. In 2000, the NWS committed themselves to an “unequivocal undertaking…to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals.” Because of the secretive nature with which most governments treat information about their nuclear arsenals, most of the figures below are best estimates of each nuclear-weapon state’s nuclear holdings, including both strategic warheads and shorter-range and lower-yield nuclear bombs, generally referred to as tactical nuclear weapons.

China

  • About 350 total warheads.
  • In 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense estimated that China had an operational nuclear warhead stockpile in the low-200s but projected that number could double over the next decade. China has since accelerated its nuclear development, and the Defense Department estimates, as of 2021, that China may have up to 700 deliverable nuclear warheads by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030.

France

  • About 290 warheads.

Russia

  • September 2021 New START declaration: 1,458 strategic warheads deployed on 527 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers.

  • The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) estimates that Russia's military stockpile consists of approximately 4,497 nuclear warheads, with 1,760 additional retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, as of January 2021.

United Kingdom

  • About 225 strategic warheads, of which an estimated 120 are deployed and 105 are in storage. The United Kingdom possesses a total of four Vanguard-class Trident nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, which together form its exclusively sea-based nuclear deterrent.

United States:

  • September 2021 New START declaration: 1,389 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on 665 intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and strategic bombers.

  • The United States also has an estimated 100 B-61 nuclear gravity bombs that are forward-deployed at six NATO bases in five European countries: Aviano and Ghedi in Italy; Büchel in Germany; Incirlik in Turkey; Kleine Brogel in Belgium; and Volkel in the Netherlands. The total estimated U.S. B-61 stockpile amounts to 230.

  • On October 5, 2021, the U.S. State department issued a declassification announcement indicating that the total number of U.S.  “active” and “inactive” warheads is 3,750 as of September 2020. The stockpile figures do not include retired warheads and those awaiting dismantlement. FAS estimates there are 1,750 retired warheads awaiting dismantlement, for a total of 5,550 warheads as of early 2021.


Non-NPT Nuclear Weapons Possessors:

  • India, Israel, and Pakistan never joined the NPT and are known to possess nuclear weapons.
  • India first tested a nuclear explosive device in 1974. That test spurred Pakistan to ramp up work on its secret nuclear weapons program.
  • India and Pakistan both publicly demonstrated their nuclear weapon capabilities with a round of tit-for-tat nuclear tests in May 1998.
  • Israel has not publicly conducted a nuclear test, does not admit or deny having nuclear weapons, and states that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East. Nevertheless, Israel is universally believed to possess nuclear arms, although it is unclear exactly how many.

The following arsenal estimates are based on the amount of fissile material—highly enriched uranium and plutonium—that each of the states is estimated to have produced. Fissile material is the key element for making nuclear weapons. India and Israel are believed to use plutonium in their weapons, while Pakistan is thought to use highly enriched uranium.

India Approximately 156 nuclear warheads.
Israel: An estimated 90 nuclear warheads, with fissile material for up to 200.
Pakistan Approximately 165 nuclear warheads.


States that Declared Their Withdrawal from the NPT:

North Korea joined the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state but announced its withdrawal from the NPT in 2003 --a move that has not been legally recognized by the other NPT member states. North Korea has tested nuclear devices and nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Uncertainty persists about how many nuclear devices North Korea has assembled.

North Korea:

  • Estimated as of January 2021 to have approximately 40-50 warheads.
  • While there is a high degree of uncertainty surrounding North Korea's fissile material stockpile and production, particularly on the uranium enrichment side, North Korea is estimated to have 20-40 kilograms of plutonium and 250-500 kilograms of highly enriched uranium. The estimated annual production of fissile material is enough for 6-7 weapons.
  • North Korea operates its 5-megawatt heavy-water graphite-moderated reactor to extract plutonium for its nuclear warheads and has done so on an intermittent basis since August 2013. There has also been intermittent activity at North Korea's reprocessing facility since 2016, indicating that Pyongyang has likely separated plutonium from the reactor's spent fuel.
  • North Korea unveiled a centrifuge facility in 2010. It is likely that Pyongyang is using that facility to produce highly enriched uranium for weapons. U.S. intelligence suggests that there are several additional centrifuge facilities in North Korea.

States of Immediate Proliferation Concern:

Prior to the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran pursued a uranium enrichment program and other projects that provided it with the capability to produce bomb-grade fissile material and develop nuclear weapons, if it chose to do so. Iran’s uranium enrichment program continues, but it is restricted by the nuclear deal. Iran has taken steps to breach those limits in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and reimposition of sanctions but maintains that it does not intend to pursue nuclear weapons. Iran’s nuclear program remains subjected to safeguards by the IAEA, including continuous surveillance at certain facilities, put in place by the JCPOA.

In 2007, Israel bombed a site in Syria that was widely assessed to be a nuclear reactor being constructed with North Korea's assistance. Syria has refused to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency's attempts to investigate.

Iran:

  • No known weapons or sufficient fissile material stockpiles to build weapons.
  • The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the institution charged with verifying that states are not illicitly building nuclear weapons, concluded in 2003 that Iran had undertaken covert nuclear activities to establish the capacity to indigenously produce fissile material.
  • July 2015: Iran and six world powers negotiated a long-term agreement to verify and significantly reduce Iran's capacity to produce material for nuclear weapons.
  • As part of this agreement, the IAEA and Iran concluded an investigation into Iran’s past nuclear weapons-related activities. The agency concluded that Iran had an organized program to pursue nuclear weapons prior to 2003. Some of these activities continued through 2009, but there were no indications of weaponization activities taking place after that date.
  • In 2020, the IAEA launched a new investigation into Iran’s possible undeclared nuclear activities. While the investigation concerns materials and activities from the pre-2003 period, the Agency remains tasked with determining what, if any, materials or activities were omitted from Iran’s initial declarations to the IAEA. At the June 2020 Board of Governors meeting, IAEA member states passed a resolution calling on Iran to comply fully with the ongoing investigation into its past nuclear activities. As of January 2022, the IAEA's investigation into Iran's past nuclear activities is ongoing. 

Syria:

  • September 2007: Israel conducted an airstrike on what U.S. officials alleged was the construction site of a nuclear research reactor similar to North Korea’s Yongbyon reactor.
  • The extent of Syrian-North Korean nuclear cooperation is unclear but is believed to have begun in 1997.
  • Investigations into the U.S. claims uncovered traces of undeclared man-made uranium particles at both the site of the destroyed facility and Syria’s declared research reactor.
  • Syria has not adequately cooperated with the IAEA to clarify the nature of the destroyed facility and procurement efforts that could be related to a nuclear program.


States That Had Nuclear Weapons or Nuclear Weapons Programs at One Time:

  • Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine inherited nuclear weapons following the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse, but returned them to Russia and joined the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states.
  • South Africa secretly developed but subsequently dismantled its small number of nuclear warheads and also joined the NPT in 1991.
  • Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War but was forced to verifiably dismantle it under the supervision of UN inspectors. The U.S.-led March 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent capture of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein definitively ended his regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
  • Libya voluntarily renounced its secret nuclear weapons efforts in December 2003.
  • Argentina, Brazil, South Korea, and Taiwan also shelved nuclear weapons programs.

Sources: Arms Control Association, Federation of American Scientists, International Panel on Fissile Materials, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: The United Kingdom

July 2019

The United Kingdom maintains an arsenal of 215 nuclear weapons and has reduced its deployed strategic warheads to 120, which are fielded solely by its Vanguard-class submarines under its maritime-only deterrence strategy. The UK is actively reducing its nuclear stockpile and plans to reach 180 nuclear weapons by the mid-2020s, which will represent a 65 percent reduction since the height of the Cold War. The British government’s standard practice is to have one submarine on deterrent patrol at any given time, though it claims the missiles are not on alert and would take several days of preparation before launching.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

 


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1968

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

1998

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1981

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

---

2010

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1996

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2009

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signatory, entered into force in 2004

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

The United Kingdom has filed the requested reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

The United Kingdom (UK), as of July 2019, maintains a military stockpile of 200 nuclear weapons for its sea-only deterrent, with 120 of those warheads deployed, of which no more than 40 are at sea on Vanguard-class submarines at any given time.
 
The UK has the smallest deployed arsenal of the nuclear weapons states and has committed to reducing its nuclear stockpile. In October 2010, the UK government announced plans to reduce its total nuclear weapons stockpile to 180 weapons by the mid-2020s. It reaffirmed this commitment in its 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which outlines the UK’s strategy through 2025, and is currently iterated on the UK government nuclear deterrence fact sheet which was last updated in February 2018. 
 
Upon successful reduction down to 180 nuclear warheads, the UK will have achieved a 65 percent reduction in the size of its overall nuclear stockpiles since the height of the Cold War. The UK is currently undergoing a nuclear arsenal modernization program, primarily to replace its Vanguard-class submarines with the Dreadnought-class submarines by the early 2030s
 

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • The United Kingdom does not possess ICBMs.


Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • The British military currently operates four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Each submarine is capable of carrying 16 Trident D5 missiles and each of these missiles carry up to three 100 kiloton warheads. As of 2019, each submarine carries a maximum of eight Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
  • One submarine is always out at sea on deterrent patrol. The missiles aboard the Vanguard, however, are not on alert and require several days of preparation prior to launching.
  • The Vanguard SSBNs are housed at Her Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB) Clyde off the shore of Gare Loch in Scotland.
  • At the cornerstone of the UK’s nuclear weapons modernization ambitions, the British government is to replace the Vanguard-class submarines with what was formerly known as the Successor submarine program. This new submarine was named the Dreadnought-class in October 2016, and is expected to have a lifespan of at least 30 years. According to a November 2018 report by BASIC Institute, the UK government has estimated that the Dreadnought program will cost £31 billion with an additional £10 billion contingency. Over the 30-year lifetime of a new system that emerges into service in 2031, the total in-service costs could range between £71.4 billion and £140.5 billion. 
  • In June 2012, the British government awarded a contract to Rolls-Royce to build two new nuclear submarine reactor cores. The second of these cores is for the first Successor class vessel.
  • In October 2016, construction of the first new submarine began under BAE Systems and has been named the HMS Dreadnought. The Dreadnought will be the Royal Navy’s largest-ever submarine at 17,200 metric tons, 1,300 metric tonnes heavier than the Vanguard. It will be only be fitted with 12 missile tubes for the Trident D5 instead of 16.
  • The British Royal Navy has announced that the Dreadnought-class ballistic missile submarines will be named: HMS King George VI, HMS Dreadnought, HMS Valiant, and HMS Warspite.
  • There exists debate over whether or not to carry out this program. Opposition to modernization plans are chiefly due to its high cost (it is slated to be the largest British military project in history), time commitment, prevailing pro-disarmament sentiments, and safety concerns.
  • Scottish, Welsh, and Irish nationalist parties are also generally pro-disarmament. In addition, the future of the UK’s nuclear weapons could have been jeopardized by the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 as its nuclear submarines are housed at HMNB Clyde in Scotland and the Scottish Nationalist Party vowed to scrap the Vanguard-class submarines if Scotland obtained independence.
Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs):
 
  • British nuclear warheads are only deployed on submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
  • The United Kingdom maintains one type of ballistic missile system in its arsenal for delivering nuclear warheads: the U.S.-leased Trident II (D5) SLBM, which has an estimated range of roughly 7,400-12,000 kilometers. The UK’s Trident D5 missiles are equipped with British warheads similar to the United States’ W76 100 kilotons warheads.
  • The Trident D5 is planned to remain in service until the early 2040s following a life extension program. Decisions for a replacement warhead have been deferred until later this decade and the current warhead is expected to last into the late 2030s.

Strategic Bombers

  • The United Kingdom does not possess nuclear capable aircraft.
  • Britain’s dismantlement of the Royal Air Force’s gravity based nuclear bombs in 1998 marked the beginning of its maritime-only deterrence strategy.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

The United Kingdom is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), a collective missile defense system operated by NATO allies. To learn more, see: "The European Phased Adaptive Approach at a Glance."

Fissile Material

  • In April 1995, the UK ceased production of separated plutonium and the British government declared that it no longer produces fissile material for weapons.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The UK halted the production of highly enriched uranium (HEU) in 1963. As of January 2019, the British government is estimated to maintain a military stockpile of approximately 3.2 metric tons of plutonium and 21.2 metric tons of HEU.
  • The UK's civilan stockpile of HEU is roughly 1.4 metric tons.

Plutonium

  • The United Kingdom possesses the world’s largest stockpile of civilian plutonium, with over 110.3 metric tons designated for this purpose, as of February 2018.
  • As of 2018, the UK has two reprocessing plants. The B205 plutonium reprocessing plant, which reprocesses fuel from the Magnox reactors in Sellafield, England, is expected to be fully decommissioned by 2020. The Thermal Oxide Reprocessing plant (THORP) which reprocesses mixed oxide fuel is on track to be shut down, as announced by the UK government in November 2018. 
  • According to the Houses of Parliament 2016 report, “Managing the UK Plutonium Stockpile,” the country stores approximately 23 metric tons of foreign-owned plutonium, the majority of which belongs to Japan.

Proliferation Record

  • The UK is not known to have deliberately or significantly contributed to the spread of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons to other states.
  • The UK is, officially, an active promoter of nonproliferation and is a leading member in the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Australia Group, the Missile Technology Control Regime, and the Zangger Committee as well as the Proliferation Security Initiative.
  • The UK has been involved in both Iranian and Libyan nonproliferation processes and continues to support the creation of an effective and verifiable chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.   

Nuclear Doctrine
In its 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the British government reaffirmed a commitment not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) subject to certain conditions regarding their behavior and alliances. Nevertheless, this 2015 document notes that the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.” The document also states that “We will continue to keep our nuclear posture under constant review in the light of the international security environment and the actions of potential adversaries.” London refuses to rule out the first use of nuclear weapons, but has stated that it would only employ such arms in self-defense and “even then only in extreme circumstances.”

The 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review also states that “we will remain deliberately ambiguous about precisely when, how and at what scale we would contemplate their use, in order to not simplify the calculations of any potential aggressor.”

The British government’s standard practice is to have one submarine on deterrent patrol at any given time. The government claims the missiles aboard the submarine are not on alert and that launching a missile would take several days of preparation.

TestingThe United Kingdom has conducted 45 nuclear weapon tests. The first test occurred on October 3, 1952, and the last took place November 26, 1991. The United Kingdom was the third country to conduct a nuclear test. 

Biological Weapons

  • The United Kingdom had an active biological warfare program from 1934 to 1956.
  • As part of that program, the United Kingdom weaponized anthrax and researched plague, typhoid fever, and botulinum toxin.
  • The United Kingdom ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC) in March 1975 and has reaffirmed its support for the BWC in 2005.
  • Today, the British government operates an extensive and sophisticated defensive program that includes research on potentially offensive pathogens.

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Chemical Weapons

  • During World War I, the United Kingdom produced an arsenal of chlorine and mustard gases.
  • In 1957 the UK abandoned its chemical weapons program and has since eradicated its stockpiles.
  • The UK ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1996 and has provided financial assistance to countries such as Russia, in 2001, to destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
The United Kingdom regularly participates in the CD, established in 1979 by the international community as a multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. In July 2009, the British government announced its report on nuclear nonproliferation entitled “The Road to 2010” at the CD. In 2010, the UK called for negotiations on an Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) to be moved to the United Nations General Assembly where it could be endorsed by a majority vote.  

In 2016, the UK proposed the creation of a working group and program of work to discuss effective disarmament measures. In 2019, at the first CD session in February the United Kingdom was the president of the Conference, the first time since 2008. Following the conclusion of its presidency, the UK Ambassador to the CD noted in a blog that the proposal to adopt “Subsidiary Bodies” for each of the ‘core items’ of CD business failed due to six nations who refused to endorse it. He lamented that, “A third of the way through the 2019 session, there’s no plan in place for conducting detailed discussions on the core issues.”
 

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The United Kingdom has ratified protocols to the Latin American and the Caribbean, South Pacific, African, and Central Asian nuclear weapons free zone treaties pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the treaty's member states. However, the UK maintains reservations to each of these protocols. It has not ratified the Southeast Asia nuclear weapons free zone treaty.  At a March 19 event, Ambassador David Hall stressed the UK’s continued commitment towards the establishment of the zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction (WMDFZ) in the Middle East as well as its readiness to engage in a “renewed, inclusive, balanced, and results-oriented dialogue,” highlighting a option to reconvene a regional conference based on the 2010 NPT mandate, while emphasizing that the UK would not support initiatives which excluded “any states in the region.”

Nuclear Security Summits
British participation in the Nuclear Security Summits includes the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS in Seoul, the 2014 NSS in The Hague, and the 2016 NSS held again in Washington, DC.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

London has engaged in a series of nonproliferation negotiations with Iran, including the most recent rounds of the P5+1 talks over Iran’s nuclear activities. The British government supported ratcheting up sanctions on Iran to persuade it to halt certain activities, particularly uranium enrichment. This included a European Union-wide ban on importing Iranian oil that went into effect July 1, 2012. The UK participated in negotiations on the JCPOA in July 2015 which both limits Iran’s nuclear program and puts in place more intrusive monitoring mechanisms in exchange for sanctions relief. Then Prime Minister David Cameron said that the deal would "make our world a safer place." Despite the Trump Administration’s decision to withdraw from the JCPOA, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the deal “should stay in place.”
 
In January 2019, France and Germany and the United Kingdom established the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) to facilitate trade with Iran. INSTEX was designed to create a financial channel to Iran immune from U.S. sanctions reimposed when the Trump administration withdrew from the deal.

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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: Russia

August 2019

As of early 2019, Russia’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to comprise 6,490 warheads, including approximately 2,000 that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. As of the March 2019, New START data exchange, Russia had 1,461 strategic deployed warheads and 524 deployed ICBMs, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation has declined since 2013, though some bilateral efforts to secure nuclear material still continue. The number of Russian entities under U.S. nonproliferation sanctions has increased since 2014, which marks the start of a decline in U.S.-Russian relations. Beginning in June 2014, the State Department has alleged that Russia produced and tested a missile in violation of the 1987 INF Treaty, and Russia has responded with its own allegations of U.S. violations. Russia completed destruction of its chemical weapons, as obligated by the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2017. It is party to the Biological Weapons Convention, but the United States maintained as recently as 2016 that it cannot be certain that Russia is complying with the treaty.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
  • New START
  • Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  • Syrian Chemical Weapons

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

1968

1970

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

2000

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1983

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

---

2008

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1997

Biological Weapons Convention

1972

1975

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

2007

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Not a member, but Russia claims to adhere to the group’s rules and control list

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signed in 2000, entered into force in 2007

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Co-founder with the United States

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

Russia has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

As of early 2019, the Federation of American Scientists estimated that Russia possesses a nuclear arsenal consisting of a total of 6,490 warheads, including approximately 1,070 strategic and 1,820 non-strategic warheads in storage, and approximately 2,000 warheads that have been retired and are awaiting dismantlement. Under New START, Russia can deploy no more than 1,550 treaty accountable warheads until February 2021 when the treaty expires. As of March 2019, Russia had 1,461 strategic deployed warheads and 524 deployed strategic delivery systems.

According to the Pentagon, Russia has an active stockpile of up to 2,000 tactical (non-strategic) nuclear warheads, a much larger number than the United States' 150 tactical nuclear weapons, which are deployed in Europe. The United States and Russia have a comparable number of strategic nuclear weapons.

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • As of 2019, Russia’s estimated 318 ICBMs, which carry approximately 1,165 warheads, include the:
    • RS-12M (three variants)
      • RS-12M (Topol [SS-25 Sickle])
      • RS-12M1 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]) (mobile)
      • RS-12M2 (Topol-M [SS-27 Mod 1]) (silo)
      • Each variant carries a single 800 kt warhead, 10,500-11,000 km range.
    • RS-24 Yars (SS-27 Mod 2)
      • Mobile and silo versions.
      • Each carries four 100kt MIRV warheads, 10,500 km range.
    • RS-18 (SS-19 Stiletto)
      • Each carries six 400 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), 10,000 km range.
    • RS-20V (SS-18 Satan) 
      • Each carries ten 500-800 kt MIRV warheads, 10,200-16,000 km range.
    • RS-26 Rubezh
      • Development in progress. A successful May 2012 test displayed an operational range of 5,800 km.
      • It is unknown whether the Rubezh will carry a single warhead or MIRVs.
      • Final development and deployment appeared to be postponed until 2027.
    • RS-28 (SS-30 Sarmat)
      • Also known as the “Son of Satan” or “Satan 2.”
      • Russia is currently developing the RS-28 to replace the RS-20V by the end of the decade, with deployment expected to occur in the early 2020s.
      • It is reportedly being developed by the Makeyev Rocket Design Bureau, also known as the State Rocket Center (SRC) Makayev.
      • The Sarmat is expected to be equipped with 10 MIRVs, though some sources list an exaggerated 15 MIRVs.
    • Barguzin (rail-based version of SS-27 Mod 2)
      • Russian defense officials have indicated that it is intended to revive and upstage the former Soviet nuclear trains and is in the early stages of design development.
      • Russia successfully completed an ejection test in November 2016 and expects to that nuclear trains will enter into service between 2018 and 2020 and that they will remain in service until 2040.  
      • Final development and deployment appeared to be postponed until 2027.
  • All of Russia’s ICBMs were developed and entered service from the 1980’s to the 1990’s with the exception of the RS-24 which entered service in 2010 and RS-26 and Rs-28 which are still under development.
  • While the number of Russian ICBMs is set to fall below 300 by the early 2020s, Russia is currently modernizing its land-based missiles and plans to increase the share of missiles equipped with multiple warheads.  

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • Russia is capable of delivering up to 720 warheads through Delta IV submarines, Delta III submarines and the new Borey-class submarines (to replace aging Delta III and IV submarines).
    • Delta IV
      • Part of Russia’s Northern Fleet.
      • Armed with 16 RSM-54 Sineva (SS-N-23 Skiff) missiles. 
      • Reportedly upgraded to carry the new R-29RMU2 Layner missiles (a modified Sineva missile).
    • Delta III
      • Part of Russia’s Pacific Fleet.
      • Armed with 16 RSM-50 Volna (SS-N-18 Stingray) missiles.
    • Borey class and Borey-A class
      • Armed with 16 RSM-56 Bulava missiles.
      • Russia is developing five upgraded Borey-A class submarines to be delivered by the mid-2020s.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBM):

  • Russia’s submarine-launched ballistic missiles include the RSM-50, RSM-54, RSM-56, and reportedly the R-29RMU2 and include a total of 176 missile launchers on all SSBNs.
    • RSM-50 (SS-N-18 M1 Stingray)
      • Deployed in 1978.
      • Equipped with three 50kt MIRVs, 6,500-8,000 km range
    • RSM-54 (SS-N-23 M1 Sineva)
      • Deployed in 2007.
      • Equipped with four 100 kt MIRVs, 8,300 km range. 
    • RSM-56 (SS-N-32 Bulava)
      • Deployed in 2014.
      • Equipped with six 100 kt MIRVs, 8,000+ km range.
      • Since its inaugural test in 2004, the Bulava missile has a long record of failed launches, the most recent being in 2016.  
    • R-29RMU2
      • Several sources claim it entered service in 2014, some have speculated that the missile can be equipped with up to 10 warheads, however, other estimates put the number at 4 warheads.

Strategic Bombers

  • As of 2019, the Russian Air Force operates 68 long-range bombers which can carry a total of 786 warheads.
    • Tu-95 MS6
      • Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles. 
    • Tu-95 MS16
      • Capable of carrying nuclear Kh-55 (AS-15A) strategic cruise missiles.
    • Tu-160
      • Capable of carrying Kh-55 (AS-15B) cruise missiles or 12 Kh-15 (AS-16) short range attack missiles. 
  • All three aircraft are categorized as strategic heavy bombers and are limited by New START. 
  • All three bombers can be equipped with gravity bombs.
  • The Russian Air Force also operates a multipurpose medium-range supersonic bomber, the Tu-22M, which is considered a tactical nuclear delivery platform for various types of cruise missiles and is not limited by New START.
  • Russia has begun studying designs for a next-generation of strategic bombers meant to replace the entire fleet of Tu-95’s, Tu-160’s, and Tu-22M’s. The new bomber program is expected to develop a prototype by the early 2020’s.
New Strategic Systems
 
Russia is also working on the development of a range of new strategic-range weapons:
 
  • Avangard, a hypersonic boost-glide warhead, which can be carried by the Sarmat “super-heavy” ICBM
  • Kinzhal, a hypersonic ballistic missile which can perform evasive maneuvers
  • Peresvet, a high-energy laser weapon
  • Burevestnik, a nuclear-powered cruise missile “of unlimited range”
  • Poseidon, a nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle “of unlimited range”

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

Despite Moscow’s fierce criticisms of the U.S. missile defense program, Russia is expanding and upgrading its air and missile defense systems. Russia exports many of these systems abroad. The A-135 ballistic missile defense system has been operational around Moscow since 1995, after replacing the 1970s-era A-35 Galosh system. Russia operates several families of air defense systems, each consisting of multiple variants and upgrades. These include the S-300P, S-300V, and S-400 systems. The S-500 system is in development. More information can be found here
 

Fissile Material

Russia has publicly declared that it no longer produces fissile material (highly enriched uranium [HEU] and plutonium) for weapons purposes.

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • The Kremlin announced a halt to HEU production for weapons in 1989 and the cessation of plutonium production for weapons in 1994.
  • At the end of 2016, Russia’s HEU stockpile was estimated at 679 metric tons, with a margin of error of 120 metric tons (making it, absent the margin of error, the largest HEU stockpile). Approximately 20 metric tons are designated for civilian use, the second largest stockpile of civilian HEU after the United States.
  • Russia concluded a joint program in 2013, the U.S.-Russia Highly Enriched Uranium Purchase Agreement, in which Moscow downblended 500 metric tons of its excess weapons grade HEU into a reactor fuel unsuitable for bombs that it then sold to the United States as light water reactor fuel.
  • A second U.S. funded program, the Material Conversion and Consolidation project (MCC), blended down 16.8 metric tons of HEU by the end of 2014.

Plutonium

  • In April 2010, Russia closed its last plutonium production facility, although it has not discounted a return to producing separated plutonium for fast-breeder reactors in the future.
  • In 2012, the last weapon-grade plutonium reprocessing plant Zheleznogorsk was shut down.
  • Its total plutonium stockpile is, as of the end of 2016, estimated at 185.2 metric tons, with an 8 metric ton margin of error.
    • The weapons-grade stockpile is estimated at 128 ± 8 metric tons.
    • 57.2 metric tons of separated reactor-grade plutonium are declared for civilian use.
  • Russia committed to disposing of 34 metric tons of excess plutonium, beginning in 2018, under a 2000 agreement with the United States entitled the Plutonium Management and Disposition Agreement (PMDA).
    • However, in October 2016, Russia, citing the U.S. failure to meet its obligations under the agreement, suspended its implementation of the deal and conditioned the resumption of implementation on the lifting of all U.S. sanctions against Russia and a restructuring of NATO’s forces. Russia contends that U.S. plans to abandon the conversion of plutonium into mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel in favor of a cheaper and faster downblending method does not meet the terms of the deal because this alternative method would not change the composition of the plutonium from weapons-grade to reactor-grade.  

Proliferation Record

  • The United States and independent analysts have long cited Russia as a key supplier of nuclear and missile-related goods and technology to a variety of countries, including states of proliferation concern such as Iran and Syria.
    • In response, the United States has often levied sanctions on Russian entities believed to be involved in such proliferation activities.
    • Beginning in the mid-2000s, the number and frequency of Russian entities placed under U.S. proliferation sanctions declined, possibly as a result of an increasing Russian commitment to controlling sensitive exports; however, that number has greatly increased since 2014.
  • Russia remains a source of illicit sensitive technology pertaining to missile proliferation.
  • The vast former Soviet biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons complexes, including their former scientists, have also been seen as a potential source of arms, materials, and knowledge for other regimes or non-state actors.
    • The United States and other countries have pursued programs dedicated to mitigating this potential threat by helping Russia and other former Soviet states secure or destroy facilities, materials, and weapon systems, and gainfully employ former scientists in non-arms related work.
    • However, there has been a significant decline in U.S.-Russian nonproliferation cooperation since 2013, despite continued cooperation in cleaning out weapon-grade material from third countries such as Poland in 2016.
  • After suspending the PMDA, Russia likewise suspended its participation in a 2013 cooperative agreement on nuclear and energy related research and terminated a third agreement from 2010 on exploring options for converting research reactors from weapons-usable fuel.

Nuclear Doctrine

Under Russia’s military doctrine, most recently updated in December 2014, Russia “reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and (or) its allies, as well as in response to aggression against the Russian Federation that utilizes conventional weapons that threatens the very existence of the state.”

U.S. Defense Department officials have said that Russian doctrine includes a so-called “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, which envisions the limited first use of nuclear weapons to attempt to end a large-scale conventional conflict on terms favorable to Russia. However, some experts have called into question whether “escalate to de-escalate” is part of Russian doctrine. 

Testing

Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) has conducted 715 nuclear weapon tests. The first test occurred Aug. 29,1949 and the last test occurred Oct. 24, 1990. Russia was the second country to conduct a nuclear test, after the United States. 

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Biological Weapons

  • The Soviet Union maintained an extensive offensive germ weapons program, including research into plague, anthrax, smallpox, tularemia, glanders, and hemorrhagic fever.
  • The United States has repeatedly voiced concern over the status of Russia’s inherited Soviet germ warfare program. However, in 2011, Russia maintained that it is in compliance with the BWC.
  • Nonetheless, the State Department in April 2016 maintained that Russia’s annual BWC confidence-building measures submissions since 1992 have “not satisfactorily documented whether this program [the inherited Soviet offensive biological research and development program] was completely destroyed or diverted to peaceful purposes in accordance with Article II of the BWC.” 
  • The lack of transparency surrounding this program prevents the United States from reaching more concrete conclusions.

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Chemical Weapons

  • Upon entry into force of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) on Dec. 5, 1997, Russia declared that it possessed approximately 40,000 metric tons of chemical agents, the largest amount in the world at the time. A dispute lingers over whether Russia has fully declared all of its chemical weapons-related facilities and past production.
  • On Sept. 27, 2017, the OPCW announced that Russia had completed the destruction of its full chemical weapons arsenal.
  • The State Department stated in 2016 that it “cannot certify that Russia has met its obligations under the Convention: for declaration of its CWPFs [chemical weapons production facilities]; its CW development facilities; or its CW stockpiles.”
  • The UK accused Russia of assassinating a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter Yulia, in the UK using the chemical agent Novichok on March 4, 2018.

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
The 1987 INF Treaty between the United States and the Soviet Union requires the United States and Russia to eliminate and permanently forswear all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. The treaty resulted in the United States and the Soviet Union destroying a total of 2,692 short-, medium-, and intermediate-range missiles by the treaty’s implementation deadline of June 1, 1991.

However, in July 2014, the U.S. State Department officially assessed Russia to be in violation of the agreement citing Russian production and testing of an illegal ground-launched cruise missile. The State Department reiterated this conclusion in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018. In February 2019, the United States announced its intention to suspend its obligations and withdraw from the treaty in six months if Russia did not return to compliance. At that time, Russia raised concerns about U.S. compliance and announced its intention to suspend its obligations under the treaty, as well. On Aug. 2, the United States formally withdrew from the INF Treaty.

For more information on the INF Treaty, visit the "INF Treaty at a Glance" fact sheet.

New START
In April 2010, the United States and Russia signed a successor to the original START accord. The new treaty, known as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011 and requires that both sides reduce their arsenals to 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear weapons on no more than 700 ICMBs, SLBMs, and bombers by 2018. Both sides met the limits by the Feb. 5, 2018 deadline, and the limits will hold until the treaty's expiration in February 2021. In addition, the treaty contains rigorous monitoring and verification provisions to ensure compliance with the agreement.

Russia has repeatedly expressed interest in extending the treaty by five years as allowed by the agreements provisions, but has raised concerns about U.S. procedures to remove submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and some B-52 bombers from treaty accountability. Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters June 6, 2019, that while Russia has said “a hundred times” that it is ready to extend New START, they are willing to let the treaty lapse if the Trump administration is uninterested in extending the agreement.
 

Nuclear Reduction Beyond New START
In February 2013, President Obama announced that the United States intended to engage with Russia to further reduce deployed strategic warheads by one-third below the New START limit to around 1,100 to 1,000 deployed warheads. However, there has been little progress toward achieving such reductions due to the deterioration of U.S.-Russia relations in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Russia’s insistence that other issues, such as limits on U.S. missile defenses, be part of negotiations on further reductions.

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
Russia, along with China, has attached significant priority in the CD to negotiating an agreement on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). However, the United States and other countries have opposed this initiative. In keeping with its official stance in support of a ban on the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, Russia submitted a draft program of work to the CD in March 2016 calling for the establishment of a working group to recommend “effective measures to ban the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons and other nuclear explosive devices.” In 2016, Russia also proposed that the CD should negotiate a new convention, the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism, in order to fill several gaps it claims exist in the CWC.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
The Russian government has signed and ratified protocols stating its intent to respect and not threaten the use of nuclear weapons against states-parties to the Latin America and South Pacific nuclear-weapon-free zone treaties. In 2011 Russia signed and ratified Protocol I and II for the African zone. In 2014, it ratified the protocols for the Central Asian zone but has yet to ratify the protocols for the Southeast Asian zone.

Nuclear Security Summits
Russian participation in Nuclear Security Summits includes the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS in Seoul, and the 2014 NSS in The Hague. Russia did not participate in the most recent NSS, held in Washington, DC in 2016. The Russian boycott of the 2016 NSS came amid continued souring of U.S.-Russian relations. At the time, Moscow declared, “We do not see added value coming out of these meetings.”

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Russia took part in the negotiation of the July 2015 JCPOA, which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the accord "will favorably affect the general situation in the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf." Russia backed the JCPOA on the grounds of supporting nonproliferation. Furthermore, Russia stands to accrue significant economic gains in Iran with the lifting of nuclear sanctions. For example, in 2016, Russia concluded the delivery of an S-300 air defense missile system worth $800 million to Iran in a deal that had been suspended since 2010. Russia has continued to support the JCPOA following the Trump administration's violation and withdrawal from the deal in May 2018.

Syrian Chemical Weapons
In September 2013, in the aftermath of the large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, Russia reached an agreement with the United States to account, inspect, control, and eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons. By July 2014, Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been successfully removed from the country and flagged for destruction following a broad multilateral operation. However, concerns have been raised about the accuracy of Syria’s declaration.

In September 2014, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed that chlorine gas was being used in Syria. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Mar. 6, 2015 condemning the use of chlorine gas in Syria. Russia has officially supported the UN resolution but maintained that only the OPCW can determine violations of the CWC and that it did not accept the use of sanctions under Chapter VII of the charter against Syria without confirming the use of chemical weapons. In August 2016, the third report of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was released, finding that the Syrian government was responsible for chemical weapons attacks.  

In April 2017, another chemical weapon attack was carried out in the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun where Syrian government warplanes were accused of spreading a nerve agent via bombs, killing dozens. Russia stood by the Assad regime, claiming that the airstrike had hit an opposition depot housing chemical weapons. In November 2017, Russia blocked investigations into identifying who has used chemical weapons in Syria from continuing.

(For a detailed timeline on Syrian chemical weapons, see our fact sheet here.)

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Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: France

July 2019

As a nuclear-weapons state under the NPT, France maintains the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal, estimated to include 300 nuclear warheads. Since it eliminated its land-based ICBMs beginning in 1996, 80 percent of these warheads are designed for delivery through SLBMs, with the remainder affixed to ALCMs carried by strategic bombers. France has taken significant steps toward disarmament—including halving its warhead total since its Cold War peak, no longer deploying nuclear weapons on its aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, and extending the time it takes to launch nuclear weapons to several days—and it adheres to a principle of “strict sufficiency” whereby it keeps its nuclear arsenal at the lowest possible level in accordance with the strategic context.

Contents

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Ballistic Missile Defense Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

 

Signed

Ratified

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty

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1992

Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty

1996

1998

Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)

1980

1991

CPPNM 2005 Amendment

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2013

Chemical Weapons Convention

1993

1995

Biological Weapons Convention

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1984

International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism

2005

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Group

Status

Australia Group

Member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Member

Nuclear Suppliers Group

Member

Wassenaar Arrangement

Member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signatory, entered into force in April 2004

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism

Participant

Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

France has filed reports on its activities to fulfill the resolutions and volunteered to provide assistance to other states

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview

France maintains the third largest nuclear weapons force in the world. As of January 2019, France possesses approximately 300 nuclear warheads, most of which are designed for delivery by submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) with the remainder affixed to air-launched cruise missiles (ALCMs) carried by strategic bombers.
 
Former French President François Hollande publicly affirmed the size of the arsenal in February of 2015 when he said that France’s stockpile included 300 warheads for 48 SLBMs and 54 cruise missiles. Estimates place France’s deployed strategic warhead numbers at around 290, with a remaining 10 in reserve. Although France has reduced the size of its nuclear arsenal by half since the Cold War, the current stockpile has remained relatively stable over the last few decades. In 2008, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy stated that France’s arsenal would be reduced below 300 warheads but also reaffirmed France’s commitment to its nuclear deterrent, declaring it as a “life-insurance policy.” This goal was reaffirmed by former President Francois Hollande in 2015 and current President Emmanuel Macron in 2017.
 
Although France’s aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, does not have nuclear-capable ASMPA missiles permanently onboard, there are reserve missiles that can be “rapidly deployed” on the carrier in the case of nuclear operations. France continues to modernize its nuclear arsenal and develop new missiles. According to the French Ministry of Defense (MoD), the nuclear deterrence budget in 2016 was 3.6 billion euros. In 2018, the French government announced it would allocate 25 Billion Euros to its nuclear forces between 2019 and 2023.
 

Delivery Systems

Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • In 1996, France decided to eliminate its nuclear-armed land-based ballistic missiles.


Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

Submarines:

  • As of January 2019, France’s nuclear submarine force consists of 4 Triomphant- class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs): Le Triomphant, Le Téméraire, Le Vigilant, and Le Terrible, which are under the command of FOST (La Force Océanique Stratégique or Strategic Ocrean Force).
  • This fleet forms the backbone of the France’s nuclear deterrent and carries approximately 80 percent of the nuclear arsenal. It is based at the Île Longue peninsula, south of Brest in the Brittany region of France.
  • At least one submarine remains on deterrence patrol, one is preparing for patrol, and one is returning to port. The fourth submarine, as per the Triomphant-class’ extensive maintenance cycle, will be undergoing overhaul at any given time. 
  • A third generation submarine class, the SNLE-3G, is expected to enter development between the 2019-2025 planning period and replace the Triomphant-class, which will reach the end of their service life by 2035.

Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs)

  • France fields the following submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs):
    • M51.1 – The French reportedly have 32 M51.1 missiles carrying, carrying a total of 160 TN75 warheads. Each missile can carry up to six 100 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), with a range of 6,000+ km.
    • M51.2 – The French reportedly have 16 M51.2 missiles, carrying a total of 80 TNO warheads. The TNO (tête nucléaire océanique) warheads are a reportedly stealthier warhead than the TN75. The M51.2 was flight tested in July 2016 and then declared operational in December 2017. Each missile can carry up to six new 150 kt TN MIRVs, with a range of 6,000+ km. All boats are to be upgraded to teh 51.2 by 2020.
    • M51.3 – In a joint venture, Airbus and Safran are developing the M51.3, which is scheduled for completion by 2025.
  • In 2006, former President Jacques Chirac stated that "The number of nuclear warheads has been reduced in certain of the missiles in our submarines," implying that French SLBMs do not carry the maximum number of nuclear warheads. This decision was supposedly made to improve targeting flexibility against regional powers, as well as the range and precision of the missile.

Strategic Bombers

  • As of January 2019, the French Air Force operates 40 Rafale aircraft which are capable of carrying and delivering nuclear payloads.
  • France’s Naval Force also operates a nuclear-capable squadron of Rafale MF3 aircraft that are stationed onboard the Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier and the only surface ship equipped for carrying nuclear weapons in NATO.
  • Rafale aircraft carry a 300 kt warhead on an Air-Sol Moyenne Portée -Amelioreor Plus (ASMPA) ALCM. The ASMPA has a range of around 500 km.
  • In April 2019, France and Germany jointly announced a joint effort to develop a sixth-generation combat aircraft with potential nuclear capabilities.

Ballistic Missile Defense Systems

France is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA), a collective missile defense system operated by NATO allies. To learn more, see: "The European Phased Adaptive Approach at a Glance."

Fissile Material

Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU)

  • After ending its production of HEU in June 1996, President Jacques Chirac announced in February 1996 that France no longer produced fissile material for weapons purposes and that would it would dismantle its fissile material production facilities.
  • As of February 2018, France is believed to possess an HEU stockpile of around 31± 6 metric tons.
  • As of February 2018, it is estimated that France holds approximately 26 ± 6 metric tons of military HEU. There exists significant uncertainty over this figure due to a lack of public information about French HEU production.
  • In December 2014, France declared a 4.8 metric ton stockpile of civilian HEU to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A large percentage of this civilian stock is believed to be of U.S. and Russian origin for use in research-reactor fuel. This amount is believed to be stable.

Plutonium

  • France ceased its production of separated plutonium in 1992.
  • As of February 2018, France is estimated to possess a military plutonium stockpile of 6±1 metric tons.
  • As of October 2017, France reported holding 81.7 tons of domestic unirradiated plutonium, the second largest stockpile globally, and 16.3 metric tons of reprocessed foreign unirradiated plutonium, of which 16.2 meric tons belongs to Japan.
  • France is one of the few countries that continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, and it accepts fuel from foreign countries for that purpose. Its AREVA La Hague plant has a commercial reprocessing capacity of about 1,700 tons of used nuclear fuel per annum (around half of the world’s light water reactor fuel reprocessing capacity as of 2009), as of 2018.  France uses separated plutonium to fabricate mixed oxide (MOX) fuel that is used in light water reactors.

 Proliferation Record

  • France officially maintains a long-standing position in support of nonproliferation activities.
  • In 1957, France signed a major nuclear cooperation agreement with Israel even though it was generally understood that Israel was interested in potentially developing a nuclear arsenal. France halted the agreement in 1960.
  • France built the Osirak reactor in Iraq despite warnings from other governments that the reactor might be used to support a secret Iraqi nuclear weapons program. Paris declined to rebuild the reactor after Israel bombed the plant in 1981.
  • France remains among the world’s top suppliers of peaceful nuclear facilities and expertise.

Nuclear Doctrine

French nuclear policy is one of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons.  France adheres to its principle of “strict sufficiency” whereby it keeps its nuclear arsenal at the lowest possible level in accordance with the strategic context. In its 2013 White Paper on Defence and National Security, France claims that its deterrence strategy is strictly defensive and that “The use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defense” and that nuclear deterrence “protects France from any State-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form” including terrorism. French Presidents Hollande and Macron both reiterated this nuclear doctrine. In May 2015, France reaffirmed the 1995 negative security assurance to the UN (Resolution 984) not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states-parties to the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) unless it is facing an invasion or sustained attack against its territories, armed forces, or states with which it has security agreement and the attack is in alliance with a nuclear-weapon state.

Paris declared that it took steps in 1992 and 1996 to extend the time it takes to launch nuclear weapons. It is believed that France needs several days in order to launch nuclear weapons.

Testing:

France conducted 210 nuclear tests. The first test occurred Feb.13, 1960, and the last test took place Jan. 27, 1996. France was the fourth country to conduct a nuclear weapon test.

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Biological Weapons

  • Little is known about past French biological weapons activities, which reportedly included research on anthrax, botulinum toxin, cholera, ricin, rinderpest, and salmonella over two periods: 1921 to 1926, and 1935 to 1940.
  • France is not suspected of having a current offensive biological weapons program, and under France’s 1972 Law on the Prohibition of Biological Weapons, it is illegal to produce or stockpile these weapons. They are believed to have stopped their program after WWII.
  • France continues to uphold its 2004 Code of Defense states that “The development, production, possession, stockpiling, acquisition, and transfer of microbiological agents, other biological agents and biological toxins, whatever their origin and mode of production, which are of a kind and quantity not suited for prophylactic, protection or other pacific purposes, are prohibited.”
  • France acceded to the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) on Sep. 27, 1984, and is also member of the Australia Group.
  • France annually submits reports as confidence-building measures under the BWC and encourages other states to follow suit. It also hosts the annual plenary meeting of the Australia Group.
  • France maintains a biodefense program that it claims is in strict compliance with the BWC.

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Chemical Weapons

  • During World War I, France produced and used mustard gas and phosgene. France maintained stockpiles of these weapons at the beginning of World War II but did not use them.
  • After World War II, France resumed offensive chemical weapons research and testing, and in the 1960s they manufactured Sarin and VX nerve agents.
  • France destroyed its stockpiles of chemical weapons prior to 1988. President François Mitterrand claimed, in a 1988 speech to the United Nations, that France no longer had any chemical weapons and ended production.
  • France signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in Paris in 1993 and ratified it in 1995. It also holds that it displays “exemplary” cooperation with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Conference on Disarmament (CD)      
The CD was formed in 1979 as a multilateral disarmament negotiation forum for the international community. France has regularly participated in its meetings. On April 9th, 2015, France formally deposited a draft fissile material cutoff treaty at the CD. 

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
France has signed and ratified additional protocols pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any of the contracting parties to the African, Central Asian, Latin American and Caribbean, and South Pacific nuclear weapons free zone treaties. However, France maintains reservations to each of these protocols. No states have signed or ratified the Southeast Asian nuclear weapons free zone treaty protocol.

Nuclear Security Summits
In keeping with its official stance in support of securing nuclear material around the world, France has  participated in the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) held in Washington, DC, the 2012 NSS held in Seoul, the 2014 NSS Held in The Hague, and the 2016 NSS held again in Washington, DC.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Since its initiation of nuclear talks with Iran in 2003, France has engaged in several rounds of multilateral diplomacy with Tehran over its nuclear program, including P5+1 talks with Iran that resulted in the 2015 JCPOA. After its conclusion, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the deal would be sufficiently “robust” for another 10 years.
 
Following American withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, President Macron said “I regret the decision of the American president. I think it’s an error.” In January 2019, France and Germany and the United Kingdom established the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX) to facilitate trade with Iran. INSTEX was designed to create a financial channel to Iran immune from U.S. sanctions reimposed when the Trump administration withdrew from the deal.

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