Luxembourg is next to go
And (who knows?) maybe Monaco.
, the UK
, and China
all have nuclear weapons and get to deal with all the attendant politics thereof. Since their development, nuclear weapons have been used in warfare by one nation only two times: the United States against Japan in the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima on August 6, and Nagasaki on August 9. The sheer destructive effectiveness of these weapons shocked the entire world, including the US, and since then the only nuclear detonations have been tests or demonstrations.
In theory, only the Permanent Five (P5) members of the United Nations
Security Council—i.e. the US, Russia, the UK, France, and China—are even allowed
to have nuclear weapons, per the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). That said, international law being what it is—i.e., highly voluntary—several states currently have, previously had, or may have or be developing nuclear weapons. For the most part, the non-P5 states that have/had nuclear weapons either did not sign the Treaty in the first place (India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa) or withdrew from it (North Korea).Important note
The states that are suspected of developing weapons are generally parties to the NPT, and the shadiness about them is caused by their attempts to circumvent the controls they agreed to under the terms of the NPT.
Israel - The Samson Option
Israel must be like a mad dog - too dangerous to bother.
It is entirely within the realm of possibility that Israel may or may not have weapons that could be described as being of a nuclear nature, but it is also entirely within the realm of possibility that they do not have weapons that could be described as being of a nuclear nature, but all that really counts is that the State of Israel, in a very real sense, would like to remind you of the fact that it may or may not have nuclear weapons.
: Israel has nukes. Unofficially.
Israel being a nuclear power is frequently referred to as "the worst kept secret
in nuclear politics". While the Israeli government refuses to officially admit that they have nuclear weapons, multiple leaks have confirmed to anyone interested that hell yes, they do. These leaks come from... the Israeli government (the arsenal's primary purpose is after all to intimidate the other side not to attack—secret doomsday devices aren't too good at that
). That includes the Prime Minister (Ehud Olmert having once let slip in a speech that Israel has the Bomb before hastily retracting his statement). Basically, Israel wants you to know they've got the bomb. They just don't want to deal with the politics of being a nuclear power. While Israel refuses to comment on its nuclear capability (using the vague statement that they will not the first to "introduce" nuclear weapons, which seems to mean they won't admit to having nukes unless and until one of their regional rivals develops them), 80-400 warheads is the estimate, deployable via Jericho ballistic missiles, submarine based cruise missiles, and a wide range of fighter aircraft, giving Israel a full nuclear triad. Their nuclear program was first exposed by the The Timesnote
by way of Mordechai Vanunu, a whistleblower who worked on it. He was abducted in Rome by Mossad and faced nearly two decades of solitary confinement in Israel.
- Israel's nuclear ambiguity serves a much more complex purpose then simply being a way to avoid it having to "deal with the politics of being a nuclear power". Israel's suspected nuclear arsenal serves as both a deterrent against those who wish to attack it, and as a convenient justification to those who don't want to, but who need an excuse for avoiding it. It also serves as a way to ensure that no one would consider using weapons of mass destruction against Israeli citizens, for fear of the retaliation that would follow (Saddam used chemical weapons in the past against Iran and the Kurds, but never used them against Israel during Desert Storm). Meanwhile, by not going public with its being a nuclear power, Israel prevents a nuclear arms race, as most of the other Middle Eastern states don't feel a pressing requirement to acquire nuclear weapons. Thus, allowing the Middle East to remain a non-nuclear area on paper. It's taken as read that should Israel ever go public with its nuclear arsenal, several of the Arab countries and Iran would withdraw from the NPT agreement—which would be considered legitimate, as they could cite a direct threat to their physical security—and seek nuclear weapons themselves (the Middle East is just funny like that).
India - The Smiling Buddha
Detonated its first nuke in 1974 in what was termed a "peaceful nuclear explosion" entitled "Smiling Buddha" (one wonders if the actual Buddha
would smile, but it's funny anyway; the name comes from the fact that the test happened to fall on a holiday marking the Buddha's birthday). Interesting because it's the first nuclear explosion to be ordered by a woman; Indira Gandhi
was Prime Minister at the time. The main weapons are the Agni medium-range ballistic missiles, with an ICBM in development. The Su-30MKI "Flanker" is being adapted for nuclear use and its first missile sub has just been launched.
Pakistan - Mutually Assured Destruction: The Remix
Pakistan tested its first nukes in 1998, developing them in response to India's test, although it is believed to have had them for many years previously
. The country has an unknown number of nuclear weapons, but current estimates
put it ahead of India in both weapons and delivery systems. Unlike India it has successfully developed a triad of systems which can be launched from land (medium- and intermediate-range missiles), aircraft, and submarines, making this a much more sophisticated arsenal then the Indians; although this is at the cost of accepting Indian superiority in conventional weapons (the earlier doctrine called for approximate parity). Are currently making a nuclear submarine.
While diplomats hardly advocated
for a nuclear India and a nuclear Pakistan, it's arguably the best of all possible outcomes. The two states seem to be locked into a pattern of conflict escalation and reduction without reaching actual war. Conventional war would have been catastrophic for both parties, but now that both nations have nuclear weapons, it's impossible. The Cold War logic of Mutually Assured Destruction means that while India and Pakistan continue to fight on a number of issues, neither is willing to take out the other party if it means total death.
Furthermore, while the Pakistani nuclear project started in response to India's test, the deployment
, was as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets had been threatening Pakistan with nuclear attack since the whole Gary Powers incident note
and after the Pakistanis started helping anti-Soviet militia's in Afghanistan this kinda got increased. Pakistan was no longer under a nuclear umbrella note
. As a result not only were many western leaders prepared to turn a blind eye to Pakistani nuclear ambitions but there were many in the West who were sympathetic to such a aims.
However, Pakistan's nuclear arsenal remains subject to quite a bit of scrutiny and a major security concern for the international community due to domestic instability . While states
are rational actors (i.e., it would be irrational for Pakistan to begin a nuclear attack), the fear of non-state agents acquiring nuclear technology is rooted in Pakistan. Domestic instability and factional politics are another worry, as it's not clear who would maintain control of the nation's nuclear weapons in the event of an emergency. Unsurprisingly, Pakistani's find this rather annoying to say the least. It should be pointed out that there have
been examples of nuclear weapons being in countries undergoing massive social upheaval, such as China in the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution and in countries undergoing State Collapse like the Soviet Union or both (apartheid South Africa) and in no cases have nuclear weapons been lost or given to rouge actors, indeed in the case of the Soviet Union, the new states who were at war, could not get rid of the weapons fast enough.
North Korea - The Hooves of Chollima
-Korea Central News Agency
North Korean Songun
("military first") policy calls for the development of nuclear weapons as a possible defense against the West. The country recently conducted two nuclear tests. The first one, conducted in 2006, was a fizzle, but a WC-135.
confirmed that the test was nuclear. The second test was conducted in 2009 and was much more succesful, and confirmed North Korea's status as a full fleged nuclear power, albeit one with the world's smallest arsenal, somewhere in the single digits. They yield
was somewhere between 1 to 20 kilotons, probably in the single digits, from 2 to 6 kilotons, which is comparable to India and Pakistan's first nuclear tests.
Has conducted a good number of missile tests recently, including an indigenous ICBM, which has had two tests. This ICBM looks like it may be using the old Soviet R-27/SS-N-6 as its second stage (with some bought in the 1990s). Most of a nuclear capability, though, would be based on the large variety of "Scud" derivatives the DPRK has built. Many of the North Korean missile tests have been even less successful than their nuclear tests (which, after all, did
produce nuclear blasts, albeit probably smaller than were intended). Although the recent satellite launch in December 2012 has now shown that the North Koreans are making progress with their missiles.
With the ascendency of Kim Jong-un, there were hints that North Korea was seriously considering ending its experiments, in exchange for badly needed donations of food and infrastructure. However, several factors suggest that the regime's priorities remain firmly nuclear: Firstly, in late 2012, it tested its Unha-3 rocket, succeeding in placing a satellite in orbit. Secondly, it signed an agreement in Tehran for "scientific and political cooperation" with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is widely considered to be attempting to enrich uranium. Thirdly, it announced in early 2013 that it is preparing for a third nuclear test at its Pungyye-Ri test site, this time possibly using properly enriched uranium. Fourthly, reports from inside the DPRK suggest that food shortages in some provinces are so bad people are resorting to cannibalism
, indicating that "feed citizens" is rather low on Kim Jong-Un's to do list. Finally, atmospheric data suggests that it may have performed low-key tests as early as 2010, which went unnoticed in the West.
However, North Korea still faces serious challenges. For one thing, it doesn't have a lot of cash - South Korea's military budget is more than the North's entire GDP. Secondly, whilst it has developed nuclear fission devices, it still needs to increase the yield to create a thermonuclear device. Similarly, whilst its rockets can put satellites in space, it needs to find a way of guiding them to targets, and miniaturizing any warhead enough to deliver it via an ICBM. Furthermore, though it has developed intermediate range missiles, such as the BM 25
Musudan, it is an open question whether or not they can develop a warhead small enough to mount on the misssile. Some have estimated, however, that it may be able to create simple artillery, SCUD, or air-delivered fission bombs in fairly large quantities within the next ten years.
South Africa - The Next Mfecane
Why do they need them anyway?
During The Apartheid Era
South Africa developed a small number of nuclear weapons, probably no more than 10. The very isolation that drove them to develop the weapons also limited their means of delivery, the aging English Electric Canberra. It also limited their design options—all South African nukes were of the inefficient and dangerous but simple and dirt-cheap (for a nuke) gun-type
, rather than the implosion-type all other nuclear powers use for most of their weapons. In 1979 an American satellite detected what may have been South African nuclear test. Rumours of collaboration with Israel's nuclear program abound (which is unsurprising given that Israel and South Africa were both "pariahs of the West"—anticommunist but also somewhat distasteful to the US and Europe—known to cooperate on conventional weapons development), but have never been proven. All weapons were dismantled shortly before the end of apartheid and South Africa helped establish the African nuclear-weapon-free zone.
Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan - Regifting
25,000 nuclear warheads. One is missing.
Between them inherited thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons after the fall of the USSR. They were all sent to Russia, and Kazakhstan has since became part of the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapons-Free-Zone. Several Neorealist
international-relations scholars—most notably John Mearsheimer—have advocated rearming Ukraine as a deterrent to war in Europe. However, given that their analyses were made in the late '80s and early '90s and assumed that the reunited Germany
would be tempted to flex its muscles militarily, this theory is not given much credence these days. (As it turns out, the Germans hate war viscerally*
, and prefer to flex their muscles economically
The decision by the former Soviet Socialist Republics to disarm marks the first time since the invention of nuclear weapons that a nation has declined
Developing Hell/Development Hell
Iran - The Fist of God
The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons.
The very big maybe. Though much of the world (including the International Atomic Energy Agency) is inclined to put Iran in the "trying to get" category, Iran's government maintains that it is only pursuing peaceful nuclear energy, which the NPT explicitly allows all nations to do. The country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i issued a fatwa (Islamic judicial opinion) condemning nukes, but Khamene'i isn't the most trustworthy man around by a long shot. The Iranian government may or may not be distanced from the populace, as there exist large numbers of pro- and anti-government Iranians. That said, the country's nuclear program is a national point of pride; regardless of their politics, most Iranians will defend Iran's right
to nuclear technology, and (to a lesser extent) even nuclear weapons, although they might have differences with the government over whether or not it's a good idea.
The United States helped start Iran's nuclear program in the 1950s as part of the Atoms For Peace program. The United Kingdom's push for Operation Ajax didn't help either.
Has recently conducted tests of medium-range missiles, with the range to hit Cyprus and Bulgaria. Could be collaborating with North Korea to build missiles. North Korea certainly needs the help in that area.
Syria - A Great Big Hole in the Desert
All the Israelis have done is dig a hole in the desert!
Suspected to be developing nuclear weapons by many. Israel destroyed a suspected nuclear reactor (or at least a site where Syria seems to have been gathering materials to build a reactor) in an airstrike in 2007. Any further attempts have probably been utterly derailed by the ongoing civil war.
Taiwan - Trying Again?
Everyone knows we had the plan before. Perhaps we should try again.
Refuses to confirm or deny rumors, but it has six
operational nuclear reactors (for power generation, sure, but it's trivially easy to convert one into creating weapons-grade nuclear fuel) with two more in construction; additionally, back when the United States still had official diplomatic relations with Taiwan a lot of advanced physicists were sent there for an unspecified reason and there was that one time during George W. Bush's presidency that a ship full of warheads and other stuff got "accidentally" shipped to Taiwan...
Note that, for political reasons, Taiwan is officially regarded by almost all governments as a province of China rather than an independent nation. As a result, by definition they are not a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact, since most nations and the UN consider them part of China, it could be argued that the NPT technically allows
Taiwan to possess nuclear weapons.
- It is most certainly not "trivially easy" to convert a nuclear power plant into a facility that would create weapons-grade nuclear fuel. The amount of plutonium-239 (the main ingredient in weapons-grade nuclear material) produced by a nuclear power plant is trivially small compared to the cost and effort that would be required to separate it from all the plutonium-240 that it it also produces. Fuel for a nuclear power plant contains 18%+ of Pu-240, whereas weapons-grade material contains <7%. You need a special type of reactor to specifically produce Pu-239. Basically, it's actually less of a pain in the butt to just build a reactor specifically to create Pu-239 than it is to try to separate it out from spent nuclear fuel rods.
- Actually, you can create a bomb with reactor-grade plutonium; the US did that in 1962. It just doesn't have a really big yield (<20 kilotonnes).
- To wit, Taiwan's nuclear reactors are either boiling water reactors (BWR) or pressurized water reactors (PWR), both of which are light water reactors. In contrast to heavy water reactors (which use deuterium oxide rather than "regular" water), light water reactors do not produce nearly as much plutonium or thorium waste, and require pre-enriched rather than standard uranium as fuel, which is more strictly regulated than the stuff you can just dig up and refine. If they were secretly attempting to build a nuclear arms program, they would have either argued the fuel standpoint in order to adopt the use of at least one heavy water reactor in the first place like India or Pakistan. It's just impractical to do it otherwise.
Had programs, but no longer
Developed a short lived, secret program during its military dictatorship, but it never got very far and all such work stopped completely when civilian government took power again. This was probably, in part, due to its rivalry with Brazil. How far they got is unknown, though there are persistent rumors that the British were worried enough about to deploy an SSBN to the South Atlantic during the Falklands War
Virtually the same as Argentina, including the rivalry part. The military dictatorship pursued a nuclear weapons program covertly, but never got very far and since the restoration of democracy, the program has been completely disbanded. Note: the Brazilian government is very touchy about its refinement technology, leading to a bit of a spat with the IAEA monitoring a plant, but this isn't because anyone seriously suspects of an illegal program; it's just that the government (rightly or wrongly) believed that inspections would be tantamount to industrial spying on their secret centrifugal axis technology, based on electromagnetism. And it was all sorted out in the end, to everyone's satisfaction.
Egypt flirted with nuclear weapons in The Sixties
wasn't entirely joking), but the project was always halfhearted and was completely abandoned by 1980. Egypt does have a peaceful civilian nuclear program, which has been gathering steam of late and has drawn some extra attention after the Revolution of 2011, but as long as Israel doesn't officially declare its weapons, Egypt will almost certainly make no attempt to weaponize its program.
During World War II
, the Third Reich commissioned a heavy water production scheme for potential nuclear weapons use. That is, until the Norwegian resistance
movement successfully sabotaged it in 1943. Even without the sabotage, the Third Reich would still have been a long way off producing any warheads. According to Luft46
, which has deleted the article in the meantime, they might or they might not have had a quasi-gun-type nuclear device (stacked plates of uranium separated by hydrogen-rich kerosene, to be compacted together in a critical mass upon impact instead of being fired at each other) in construction stage by the early months of 1945.
Similar to Germany, Imperial Japan
during World War II attempted to develop a nuclear weapon.
Also similar to Germany, the program was pretty much doomed from the start, and didn't get very far. Today, Japan does
theoretically have the resources to produce nuclear weapons (see below) in a matter of months (or even less, according to some estimates) given its resources and status as an economic juggernaut, but they've never pursued the idea for two reasons. One, they're under the protection of the most powerful military in the world already.
Two, as the only country ever to have nuclear weapons used against them, the idea of a nuclear weapons program is widely viewed as taboo.
There is occasionally some speculation that if North Korea's nuclear and missile programs reach the point of a truly viable weapon, Japan would be forced to field its own nuclear deterrent, but even then they'd likely consider their alliance with the United States to be sufficient.
In the 1980's, the Iraqis did have a nuclear program which went through two phases. The first 'phase' began some time in the 1970s was based around the Osirak Reactor, which was thoroughly dismantled by the Israeli Air Force before it could get very far. From here, the second phase was a somewhat more distributed project based around uranium enrichment. Then the Gulf War
happened and the program was utterly demolished by American air strikes. After that war, the program never amounted to anything more then, in the words of one military analyst, "a bunch of papers buried in a physicist's backyard."
Admitted to by Colonel Gaddafi when he was briefly on the West's good side. Doesn't seem to have got much further than a feasibility study and some lab experiments before being abandoned as more trouble than it was worth.
Despite the country not having been at war since 1814, Sweden started a covert nuclear weapons program after WWII that was only abandoned in 1972 (in favor of development of the Saab 37 Viggen
). The reasoning behind Sweden's program was maintenance of its neutrality: since Sweden declined to join NATO, it could not expect to fall under the American military and nuclear umbrella. A Swedish Bomb would have probably been an effective deterrent to the Soviet Union trying to involve Stockholm in the Cold War.
Yugoslavia started a nuclear weapons program in The Fifties
, but abandoned it after the thawing of Soviet-Yugoslav relations in The Sixties
, and became a firm proponent of non-proliferation. However, after India detonated its first bomb (see above), the program was revived. The program was again abandoned in 1987 due to the country's financial troubles, impending breakup
, and the Chernobyl disaster.
Several non-nuclear members of NATO
participate in nuclear weapons sharing with the US: in the event of World War III
, some or all of the American bombs stationed in their territory would be turned over to the their governments to dispose of as they deemed necessary. Germany
, Belgium, the Netherlands
, and Turkey
participate in the program, while Canada
used to participate but have since withdrawn from the program (Canada in 1984, Greece in 2001).
Nuclear breakout capacity
This is a technical term referring to the ability to quickly build
a nuclear weapon: it generally means that the country in question has all of the know-how needed to build a weapon and most if not all of the infrastructure, but have not for whatever reason actually built a weapon.
Fortunately or unfortunately building a bomb is not easy and is in fact almost literally rocket science (delivery systems, my dear boy!). Experience has shown that a country needs:
- Technical know-how. How to convert the theoretical knowledge into a working programme. It is quite difficult to obtain that without rousing suspicion.
- A large industrial base. A nuclear weapons programme cover so many fields that just setting up a reactor is not enough, you need hundreds of process to convert that weapons material into a deliverable device. If your domestic industry cannot manufacture them, you are out of luck. The Manhattan Project had to develop an industrial infrastructure larger than the car industry.
- Money, and lots of it. The Manhattan Project cost more than the American space programme did.
- Good management. As we've learned over time, these projects cannot be subject to political timetables or coercion. Scientists and engineers need to be given the freedom to make mistakes in the lab, if you want avoid mistakes while actually building the things. Best case, the device won't work; worst case, you kill a lot of people by accident.
These four are the inherent limits. How they affected our current powers:
- Of the nuclear club, the P-5 already had them and that was that. Bear in mind, however, that the Soviet Union and China did suffer somewhat from the politicization of their programs, and the effect of that on management may have negatively affected the design (we obviously can't know, seeing as the plans are all top-secret—and obviously any flaws aren't that bad, since the bombs work).
- It is important to note that the Soviets were definitely affected in the related area of the space program:note Soviet designers, afraid of failure and the fallout that might cause, tended to use large numbers of small engines rather than a small number of large ones (which is what NASA did/does)—if one engine of twenty fails, it's not as likely to cause catastrophic failure as one of four (or so they thought, anyway). In general, this still led to good results, but when it came time to build the super-heavy-lift N1 rocket for the Soviet Moonshot, it was far too heavy and complex to compete with its American rival, the Saturn V.
- Israel lucked out that they got information from Jewish scientists who had worked on the Manhattan project (many of whom remember had escaped Hitler's Germany and then Europe — this is the source of the Herr Doktor stereotype.) They also had assistance from France, who was their main military supplier and a close ally in the 1950s and 1960s.note Finally, Israeli industrial infrastructure and management techniques were well-developed pre-independence. Being a democracy and the strategic situation helped, as well; the propaganda value of having a bomb was lessened by the fact that Israel's leaders were/are elected politicians, not megalomaniac autocrats, and their situation required that the bombs be an open secret rather than something to boast about.
- Both India and Pakistan had scientists who had worked on the Manhattan Project (see a pattern?) as part of British India, and also the later British effort to develop an independent nuclear deterrent. The both had by the 1970's the industrial base and the monies to fund it. Relatively good administration was inherited from Britain as well.
So how does that leave the aspiring/failed powers?
- Iran has number three; the funds. They possibly have the industrial infrastructure, though the jury is still out on that. It is in the technical know-how most people feel that it will be decided, although the management issue might pose problems (since it's a highly politicized project, and Iran's government is highly factionalized).
For those who have the basis, depending on how you define it, breakout capability could refer to anything from "could build a bomb in six months" to "could build a bomb in six months once they built the infrastructure, which would take at most a year or two more." Japan, Germany, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Canada, and the Netherlands all have the infrastructure in place (although Germany is seriously considering dismantling it, and Japan would of course have to be in really dire straits before it even thought about building a bomb
), while Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, and Australia would need a few years to build up the infrastructure and collect enough U-235 or plutonium and they probably lack the know how, something which they could (probably) rectify. Saudi Arabia barely has the infrastructure or know-how at all, but with its money, it could possibly buy its way into the breakout-capacity club, and the House of Saud is well aware that science is not something to meddle in lest they anger their Islamists even more. With that being said, there are fears that an Iranian bomb could provide the impetus for a Saudi nuclear program.
Breakout capacity has come to the fore in recent years on account of the aforementioned Iran thing. The most important one is probably the positions of the US and Israel on the right moment to attack Iran: while the US has frequently reiterated that it would be willing to make a military strike if Iran developed
a nuclear weapon (i.e. built the damn thing), Israel has just as frequently reiterated that it is unwilling to let Iran get into a situation where it had the ability to develop
a nuclear weapon (i.e. developed breakout capacity). This is what Benjamin Netanyahu's cartoon-bomb poster
speech at the United Nations
General Assembly in October 2012 was about, although he explained it rather poorly.