In a more peaceful universe, the fact that the United States possesses almost 4,000 weapons that can destroy entire cities would be horrifying.
But in our universe, it is actually an encouraging sign of how much America’s nuclear arsenal has declined since the Cold War.
As of 2017, the U.S. had 3,822 nuclear weapons, according to data just declassified by the Department of Energy. That’s down from 4,018 in 2016. That number does not include weapons that have been retired but have yet to be dismantled by the Department of Energy.
The figures show just how deep America’s nuclear arsenal has been cut since the height of the Cold War. In 1962, the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the United States had 25,540 nuclear weapons. That number grew to a peak of 31,255 nuclear weapons in 1967.
From 1967 on, that number gradually declines. In the 1970s, the stockpile ranged from 24,000 to 28,000 weapons. In the 1980s, it hovered around 23,000.
It wasn’t until the fall of the Soviet Union that the nuclear arsenal noticeably shrank. From 19,008 weapons in 1991, the number dropped to 13,708 in 1992 and 10,685 by 1999.
The Federation of American Scientists put the total number of U.S. nuclear weapons as of January 2017 at about 6,800, of which about 4,000 are active. The active stockpile included 1,367 deployed strategic warheads, 2,471 nondeployed warheads and around 200 deployed tactical warheads.
The Department of Energy also reported dismantling 10,972 nuclear weapons from 1994 to 2017, with the largest numbers occurring in the 1990s. From 648 weapons dismantled in 2008, the number plummeted to 109 in 2015, before rising to 354 in 2017.
As a footnote, there are an estimated 14,200 nuclear weapons in the world, according to the Federation of American Scientists. Russia has the largest number at 6,600 active and retired warheads, just slightly larger than the American total. The rest of the world (France, China, Britain, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea) have a little over a thousand.
As Winston Churchill said, “If you go on with this nuclear arms race, all you are going to do is make the rubble bounce.
Image: U.S. Air Force.