26 Countries' WMD Programs; A Global History of WMD Use

WMD hazard symbols for nuclear,
biological, and chemical weapons, respectively

"In security and foreign policy analyses, 'weapons of mass destruction' is a term that generally encompasses nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, with radiological weapons occasionally included. Contemporary international legal analysis generally follows this conventional definition of WMD, even though neither treaty law nor customary international law contains an authoritative definition of WMD [including the UN]. The reason such a definition does not exist is that states have historically used international law to address each category of weapons within the WMD rubric."

David P. Fidler "Weapons of Mass Destruction and International Law," ASIL Insights, www.asil.org, Feb. 2003

For more on WMDs, read our question What is a weapon of mass destruction (WMD)?

  1. 26 Countries' Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Programs
  1. A Global History of WMD Use
I. 26 Countries' Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Programs
Country Has Nuclear Weapons? Has Biological Weapons? Has Chemical Weapons?
1. Algeria Noa Maybe - Research? Maybe - Suspected
2. China Yes - NWS Maybe - Likelyb Maybe - Suspectedb
4. Egypt No - Ended Maybe - Known R&DC Maybe - Likely
5. France Yes - NWS No - Ended No - Ended
6. India Yes - Stockpiled No Maybe - Has Hade
7. Indonesia No No Maybe - Sought
8. Iran Maybe - Seekingf Maybe - Likely Maybe - Has Hadg
9. Iraq No - Ended No - Endedh No - Endedh
10. Israel Yes - Stockpilei Maybe - Likely R&D Maybe - Likely
11. Kazakhstan No - Ended (Soviet) No Maybe - Suspectedj
12. Libya No - Ended No No - Endedk
13. Myanmar No No Maybe - Suspected
14. North Korea Yes - Stockpilel Maybe - Likely Yes - Known
15. Pakistan Yes - Stockpilem Non Maybe - Likely
16. Russia Yes - NWS Maybe - Suspectedo Yes - Known
17. Saudi Arabia Nop No Maybe - Suspectedq
18. Serbia No No No - Ended
19. South Africa No - Ended No - Ended Maybe - Suspected
20. South Korea No - Ended No Maybe - Suspected
21. Sudan No No Maybe - Suspectedr
22. Syria No Maybe - Seeking Yes - Known
23. Taiwan No - Ended Nos Maybe - Likely
24. United Kingdom Yes - NWS No - Ended No - Ended
25. United States Yes - NWS No - Ended Yes - Known
26. Vietnam No No Maybe - Likely
Country Has Nuclear Weapons? Has Biological Weapons? Has Chemical Weapons?
Totals 9 Known to Have
(China, France, India, Israel, N. Korea, Pakistan, Russia, UK, US)

1 May Have
0 Known to Have

8 May Have
(Algeria, China, Egypt, Iran, Israel, N. Korea, Russia, Syria)
4 Known to Have
(N. Korea, Russia, Syria, US)

16 May Have
(Algeria, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, S. Africa, S. Korea, Sudan, Taiwan, Vietnam)

Source and notes: Paul K. Kerr "Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical Weapons and Missiles: Status and Trends" Congressional Research Service (CRS), Feb. 20, 2008. ProCon.org has modified the existing CRS chart, titled "Table 1. State of Proliferation," by adding the words "Yes," "No," and "Maybe" to clarify each country's WMD capability. Whenever CRS used "--" as an entry for a country, ProCon.org interpreted the absence of data to mean that the country listed does not have the WMD in question and entered "No" for that entry. We emailed Mr. Kerr on May 22, 2009 to seek explicit clarification. The notes below are quoted verbatim from Mr. Kerr's CRS report.

"Notes: NWS=declared nuclear weapon state...

a. In the early 1990s, press accounts created suspicions that Algeria was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. However, the Department of State told Senator Joseph Biden in 1991 that 'we have no evidence that Algeria seeks to develop a nuclear weapons capability.' Additionally, a 1991 National Security Council document stated that an 'IAEA safeguarded reactor…would not pose a significant proliferation risk,' adding that an Algerian nuclear weapons program 'would probably require significant foreign assistance.' For more information, see David Albright and Corey Hinderstein, 'Algeria: Big Deal in the Desert?' Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; May/Jun 2001; 57, 3; Research Library pg. 45. For an account of recently-released U.S. documents on the matter, see William Burr, Ed. 'The Algerian Nuclear Problem, 1991: Controversy over the Es Salam Nuclear Reactor,' National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 228, September 10, 2007. [http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nukevault/ebb228/index.htm]

b. The State Department, in its 2005 report to Congress Adherence to and Compliance with Arms Control, Nonproliferation, and Disarmament Agreements and Commitments (hereafter, Compliance 2005), noted that China previously had a biological weapon program and that it was highly probable that China remained noncompliant with obligations under the BW Convention. DoD stated that '...China may retain elements of its biological warfare program.' Department of Defense, Proliferation: Threat and Response, January 2001, p. 15 (hereafter PTR 2001). Regarding CW, Compliance 2005 reported that China retained the capacity to mobilize production, though information is insufficient to determine if it has a current R&D program.

c. According to a 1998 Arms Control and Disarmament Agency compliance report, 'The United States believes that Egypt had developed BW agents by 1972. There is no evidence to indicate that Egypt has eliminated this capability and it remains likely that the Egyptian capability to conduct BW continues to exist.' These concerns are not expressed in similar reports issued in 2001 and 2005.

d. India detonated a nuclear device in 1974 and claimed to detonate 5 nuclear devices in 1998 with varying yields. Estimates of its nuclear weapons stockpile vary widely, from 36 to 100.

e. When it became a state party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, India admitted that it had produced a chemical weapons stockpile, but has since hosted all required CWC inspections. It retains the capability to produce CW. PRT 2001, p. 25.

f. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), released in December 2007, states that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in the past, but halted it in fall 2003. The NIE also states that the intelligence community assesses 'with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007,' but adds that Iran 'at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.'

g. Iran used chemical weapons in 1987 during the Iran-Iraq War and also supplied Libya with chemical weapons which were later used in Chad. PTR 1997, pp. 15-16. 'It is also believed to be conducting research on nerve agents.' PTR 2001, p. 36.

h. Iraq destroyed its CW and BW stockpiles during the 1990s. Iraq used CW against Iran and against its own Kurdish population in the 1980s.

i. Although press reports and the academic community generally report that Israel has between 75 and 200 nuclear weapons (including thermonuclear weapons), many of which could be deployed with its missile force, the Israeli government has not officially acknowledged the weapons’ existence.

j. Kazakhstan reportedly retained some Soviet-era CW stockpiles.

k. Libya used Iranian-supplied chemical weapons in Chad. Libya declared to the OPCW on March 5, 2004 that it had produced 23 tons of mustard gas at Rabat between 1980 and 1990 and stored those materials at 2 sites. Libya also declared thousands of unfilled munitions.

l. In total, it is estimated that North Korea has up to 50 kilograms of separated plutonium, enough for at least half a dozen nuclear weapons..."

[North Korea admitted to having stockpiles of nuclear weapons in June 2005 and conducted underground nuclear tests on Oct. 9, 2006 and May 25, 2009. Sources: Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) "North Korea's Nuclear Program," Online NewsHour, www.pbs.org, Oct. 19, 2006; Hyung-Jin Kim "Report: North Korea Test-fires 2 More Missiles," Associated Press (AP) website, May 26, 2009]

"m. Pakistan detonated several nuclear devices in May 1998. Its stockpile is estimated to be approximately 60 nuclear weapons.

n. 'Pakistan is believed to have the resources and capabilities to support a limited biological warfare research and development effort,' PTR 2001, p. 28.

o. Russia acknowledged it had a clandestine BW program and claims to have stopped production. However, the U.S. is not assured that Russia is in compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention.

p. There are reports of Saudi interest in funding the Pakistani nuclear programs and reports of visits by Saudis to Pakistani nuclear facilities. See Shahram Chubin, 'Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction: The Persian Gulf Case,' The Henry L. Stimson Center, March 1997, p. 20; 'Saudi Arabia: Weapons of Mass Destruction Capabilities and Programs,' Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies; New York Times, July 10, 1999; Reuters, August 3, 1999; New York Times, August 7, 1994.

q. There are unconfirmed reports that Saudi Arabia may have developed chemical warheads for its CSS-2 missiles. NBC Capabilities, Saudi Arabia, Jane’s NBC Defense Systems 1998-1999. Also, Defense and Foreign Affairs Weekly, April 1991, reported Chinese assistance to Saudi Arabia in developing chemical warheads. Also, in the Arms Control Reporter as of March 13, 1991 and May 1992, 704.E-0.10.

r. Sudan 'may be interested in a biological weapons program as well.' 'Sudan, a party to the CWC, has been developing the capability to produce chemical weapons for many years. It historically has obtained help from foreign entities, principally in Iraq.' Director of Central Intelligence, WMD/ACM Dec 2001.

s. A 1998 Arms Control and Disarmament Agency compliance report states that the United States 'believes that Taiwan has been upgrading its biotechnology capabilities,' but adds that '[t]he evidence indicating a BW program is not sufficient to determine if Taiwan is engaged in activities prohibited by the BWC.' This concern is not mentioned in similar reports issued in 2001 and 2005."

II. A Global History of WMD Use
Date Country Weapon of Mass Destruction Event
429 BC Spartan Toxic fumes are created from burnt pitch and sulphur (chemical) Peloponnesian War
256 AD Persia Sulphur crystals and bitumen are used against the Romans (chemical) Persian Invasion of Roman Empire
960-1279 AD China Arsenic smoke is used in battle (chemical) Battle during China's Sung Dynasty
1346-1347 Mongol Corpses contaminated with plague are catapulted over walls forcing beseiged Genoans to flee (biological) Siege of Caffa
1456 Serbia Rags are dipped into poison are ignited to create a toxic cloud (biological) Turk Invasion of Belgrade
1710 Russia Plague-infected corpses are hurled over the walls of Reval (now Tallinn, Estonia) where Swedish forces were barricaded (biological) The Great Northern War
1754-1767 Britain Blankets used to wrap British smallpox victims are given to hostile Indian tribes (biological) French-Indian Wars
1914 France, Germany France first uses tear gas in grenades and Germany retaliates with tear gas in artillery shells (chemical) World War I
1915-1918 England, France, Germany Use of chlorine gas in battle (chemical) World War I
1918 Germany Anthrax and equine disease (glanders) are used to infect livestock and feed for export to Allied forces (biological); Phosgene and chloropicrin shells are used against American forces (chemical) World War I
1919 Britain Use of Adamsite against the Bolsheviks (chemical) Russian Civil War
1922-1927 Spain Chemical weapons are used against Rif rebels in Spanish Morocco (chemical) Rif War
1936 Italy Mustard gas is used against Abyssinians (chemical) Italian-Abyssinia War
1937 Japan An offensive biological weapons program uses prisoners in human experiments (biological) Inception of Biological Warfare "Unit 731"
1939 Japan Soviet water supply is poisoned with intestinal typhoid bacteria at the former Mongolian border (biological) Nomonhan Incident
1940 Japan Rice and wheat mixed with plague carrying fleas are dropped over China and Manchuria (biological) World War II
1942 Germany Nazis begin using Zyklon B (hydrogen cyanide) in gas chambers for the mass murder of concentration camp prisoners (chemical) World War II
1945 Germany A large reservoir in Bohemia is poisoned with sewage (biological) World War II
1945 United States Two atomic bombs are dropped on Japan, one on Hiroshima and one on Nagasaki (nuclear) World War II
1962-1970 United States Tear gas and four types of defoliant, including Agent Orange, are used in Vietnam (chemical) Vietnam War
1963-1967 Egypt Chemical weapons are used against Yemen (chemical) Yemen War
1970s South Africa Anthrax and cholera are provided to Rhodesian troops for use against guerrilla rebels (biological) Rhodesian Bush War
1975-1983 Soviet Union Alleged use of Yellow Rain (trichothecene mycotoxins) by Soviet-backed forces in Laos and Kampuchea (chemical) Cold War
1983-1988 Iraq Mustard gas, hydrogen cyanide, and nerve agent tabun are used against Iran and the Kurds (chemical) Iran-Iraq War

Sources: James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) "Chronology of State Use and Biological and Chemical Weapons Control," cns.miis.edu, Oct. 2001; Office of the Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters (ODATSD NM) "Nuclear Chronology," www.acqosd.mil (accessed May 14, 2009); BBC "Century of Biological and Chemical Weapons," news.bbc.co.uk, Sep. 25, 2001; Public Broadcasting System (PBS) "Plague War: What Happened in South Africa?," www.pbs.org, Oct. 13, 1998; Daily Mail "Chemical Weapons First Used by Persians Against Roman Army Almost 2,000 Years Ago," www.dailymail.co.uk, Jan. 15, 2009; Encyclopedia Britannica , "Biological Weapons in History: Pre-20th-century Use of Biological Weapons," www.britannica.com, 2009.