#see power tuesdays: mapping nuclear weapons


Source: The Economist

What can we learn about nuclear weapons by looking at a map? Two examples, one by The Economist, the other by Visionscarto.net after the jump.

The Economist maps the number of operational nuclear warheads in 2015, as well as the “perceived proximity to global catastrophe.” This graph has me a bit puzzled. The threat level is high in the 1950s and -60s, Cuban Missile Crisis oblige, then a bit of relative peace and quiet until another peak in the 1980s (Reagan, SDI, confrontational rhetoric), to be followed by detente and major arms control treaties (to almost audible global sighs of relief).

Not surprisingly, the collapse of the Soviet Union brings the lowest doomsday feeling since the existence of nuclear weapons (interestingly, in 1995, there was a major crisis between Russia and the West that almost led to nuclear confrontation, the Norwegian rocket incident). But why is the threat level moving steadily up until today?

I suppose this accounts for India and Pakistan acquiring and testing nuclear weapons, as well as the ongoing North Korean nuclear show, the spectre of Iraq building nuclear weapons at the beginning of the new century and, lest not forget, the long-running Iran feuilleton. Let alone the fears that terrorist groups might get their hands on nuclear material.

But still, are we in that bad a shape as during the height of confrontation between the Eastern and Western Bloc? It is true that some regional politics look like an accident waiting to happen. China is building and grabbing islands. North and South Korea, as well as India and Pakistan indulge in the occasional sabre-rattling. And Russia is scaring neighbouring countries by holding snap exercises that involve getting ready for nuclear war.

Well, let’s hope that all parties concerned keep their emergency telephone lines open, just in case.


The excellent Visionscarto.net has concocted a nuclear world for us, which makes the link between military and civilian use of nuclear energy, historically (excellent overview by Matthew Bunn, Harvard University) and currently (an expose about contemporary links between American civilian and military nuclear industry) an important one.

It maps not only operational nuclear weapons, but also the nuclear weapons stock. Countries that are official nuclear powers according to the Non-Proliferation Treaty are marked with a little triangle. What could perhaps be added are past and present nuclear weapons testing sites.

On the civilian side, you can see nuclear accidents that have occurred (there have also been quite a number of military ones, of nuclear submarines, for example). You can also see where nuclear fuel and radioactive material for nuclear weapons is produced. For a higher resolution, in English, click here.

Johanna M

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