The Nuclear Armed UN Security Council

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The UN Security Council discuss nuclear disarmament at this April 19, 2012 meeting (UN Photo)

May 3, 2012 – The current composition of the U.N. Security Council includes seven states who together possess 18,900 of the 19,000 nuclear weapons in existence today.

The vast majority of those weapons belong to two of the five permanent UNSC members, Russia (10,000) and the U.S. (8,000), according to a new report from Ploughshares.

The three other permanent members of the council – Britain, China and France – possess 775 nuclear weapons between them. (One of the arguments in support of the P5 veto power is that it prevented those states with a nuclear arsenal from attacking each other, though this is increasingly obsolete in a post-Cold War context.)

The two remaining countries on the council with nuclear stockpiles are non-permanent members India, (elected to UNSC for 2011-12) said to have 60-80 nuclear weapons, and neighbor Pakistan (2012-13), estimated to have a slightly higher number. 

North Korea, less than ten, and Israel, around 70, round out the countries that hold nuclear weapons. Neither is likely in the near future to garner enough support in the UN General Assembly to get elected to temporary membership of the council. 

While the P5 are among the 190 countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty - India, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan have not (Pyongyang withdrew from the treaty in 2003).

South Africa, also a non-permanent member of the council, in 1989 became the first and only state to voluntarily give up its nuclear arms program – which at the time consisted of six weapons.

- Denis Fitzgerald