The world’s nuclear arsenal is expected to increase in the coming years for the first time since the end of the Cold War at a time when the risk of such weapons being used is the greatest in decades, a leading conflict and weapons think tank has said.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute recently released its annual overview of international security and global arms production, warning that the post-Cold War decline in nuclear arsenals appeared to be ending.
The world’s nine nuclear-armed states, the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea, continue to modernize and expand their nuclear arsenals at a rate that will likely increase over the next decade.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found in its newly released Yearbook 2022 that all of the nuclear-armed states are expanding or upgrading their arsenals and their role in their military strategies, According to Wan, who is the director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme, these countries are also sharpening their nuclear rhetoric.
Russia with 5,977 warheads and the U.S., with 5,428, altogether still possess about 90 percent of all nuclear warheads in the world, according to the report. In 2021, the number of nuclear warheads in both countries declined further, but this was mainly due to the dismantling of discarded warheads, which the military had already abandoned years ago.
Their usable military stockpiles remained relatively stable and within the limits set by a nuclear arms reduction treaty, SIPRI said. There was a slight reduction in the total number of nuclear warheads to an estimated 12,705 worldwide, this number will probably grow again in the course of the coming decade.
The growing threat of nukes
According to SIPRI, Russia and the US together possess over 90% of all nuclear weapons, while the other seven countries are either developing or deploying new weapons systems. China, particularly, is in the course of substantially expanding its nuclear arsenal, with satellite images indicating the construction of over 300 new missile silos, asserted the institute.
Accordingly, it added, several additional nuclear warheads are thought to have been assigned to operational forces of the Chinese military last year, following the delivery of new mobile launchers and a submarine.
The UK currently has about 195 nuclear warheads, of which 120 are operational, according to an estimate by researchers at the Federation of American Scientists. In early 2021, France officially launched a program to develop a third-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) while India and Pakistan appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals, and both countries introduced and continued to develop new types of nuclear delivery systems in 2021.
‘A very worrying trend’
Also the remaining other nuclear weapon states, India, Israel, North Korea, and Pakistan have all recently developed or deployed new weapon systems or at least announced this, the think-tank said. Israel has never publicly acknowledged having such weapons.
It added that China is in the middle of a “substantial expansion” of its nuclear weapon arsenal, which includes the construction of more than 300 new missile silos. Britain announced last year that it will increase the upper limit for its total stockpile of warheads.