- The third aspect is the large portion of global nuclear arms held by the United States and Russia. Currently, the US has approximately 4,480 warheads, and Russia has 4,500. These figures include both strategic warheads (which are meant to strike sites located far from any hypothetical battlefield) and nonstrategic, or tactical, warheads (which are intended to be used near a battlefield, and as a result, are usually less powerful). The size of these arsenals, however, pales in comparison to each country’s peak inventory during the Cold War: The US had 31,255 in 1967, and the Soviet Union had 40,159 in 1986.
Throughout the Cold War, the doctrine of mutually assured destruction required a sufficiently large force that would allow for a massive retaliation even if a first strike eliminated a large portion of a country’s nuclear arsenal. Additionally, during most of the Cold War, delivery systems were not particularly accurate, which required that nuclear weapons have very large yields to reliably strike a target that might be located miles away from the point of detonation (many hydrogen bombs were in the several megaton range). As the accuracy of delivery systems improved, fewer nuclear warheads were required to maintain a credible deterrence threat, leading to a decline in both countries’ arsenals.