Global nuclear arsenal on the rise – Report
In spite of the pledge of the world super powers’ commitment to work toward a world without nuclear weapons, global stockpiles are expected to rise over the coming decade, a new report has said.
A report released on Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) stated that “There are clear indications that the reductions that have characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the cold war have ended.”
The report comes amid growing Western concerns over efforts by both China and North Korea to expand their nuclear capabilities.
The US suspects North Korea is preparing to conduct its seventh nuclear test imminently, while China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told the Shangri-La Dialogue summit at the weekend that his country had made “impressive progress” in developing new nuclear weapons.
However, while SIPRI reports that China is “in the middle of a substantial expansion of its nuclear weapon arsenal,” it makes clear that China and North Korea are not the only culprits.
“All of the nuclear-armed states are increasing or upgrading their arsenals and most are sharpening nuclear rhetoric and the role nuclear weapons play in their military strategies – this is a very worrying trend,” it said.
On SIPRI estimates, the United States and Russia remain by far the world’s largest nuclear powers, with 3,708 and 4,477 nukes respectively, while China has 350, France 290 and Britain 180. But China’s warhead count has increased in recent years, up from 145 warheads in 2006 according to the institute. The Pentagon predicts the Chinese stockpile to “at least double in size” over the next decade.
While the stockpiles of both the US and Russia declined in 2021, SIPRI believes an “alarming” longer-term trend will see both countries increase their stockpiles and develop more powerful weapons.
North Korea’s secrecy means it is hard to gauge its nuclear abilities. Some estimates put its current stockpile at around 20 nuclear warheads, though the US and other countries believe it is working to increase this number and its ability to deliver them.
Pyongyang has conducted a record number of ballistic missile launches this year and on Saturday appointed top nuclear negotiator Choe Son Hui as its first female foreign minister.
“North Korea continues to prioritize its military nuclear program as a central element of its national security strategy,” SIPRI said, adding that “the country’s inventory of fissile material is believed to have grown in 2021.”
The think tank, which included figures for the country in its annual report for the first time this year, said it believed North Korea now had enough fissile material to produce up to 55 warheads.
But its ability to deliver these weapons remains unknown. In May, North Korea tested what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile — though the range of the weapon or its ability to deliver a nuclear warhead was unclear.
“There is no publicly available evidence that North Korea has produced an operational nuclear warhead for delivery by an intercontinental range ballistic missile, but it might have a small number of warheads for medium-range ballistic missiles,” SIPRI said.
SIPRI also said India and Pakistan were making efforts to expand their nuclear arsenals. It said Israel — which does not publicly acknowledge possessing nuclear weapons – was trying modernize its arsenal. Stockpile estimates for India and Pakistan stood at 160 and 165, and for Israel, 90.