According to researchers, the nuclear arsenals of various countries, particularly China, witnessed growth in the previous year, while other nuclear powers continued to modernize their stockpiles amid escalating geopolitical tensions.
As per the annual report on the arsenals of the world’s nine nuclear-armed nations, Israel, which does not officially acknowledge possessing nuclear weapons, was among the four countries that refrained from expanding their stockpiles. The United States, United Kingdom, and France were the other three countries mentioned in this category.
Dan Smith, the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), stated, “We are approaching, or maybe have already reached, the end of a long period of the number of nuclear weapons worldwide declining,” during an interview with AFP.
According to SIPRI, the total number of nuclear warheads possessed by the nine nuclear powers, namely Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the US, decreased to 12,512 at the beginning of 2023, compared to 12,710 at the start of 2022.
Out of these warheads, 9,576 were classified as “military stockpiles for potential use,” marking an increase of 86 from the previous year. The number of deployed warheads also rose to 3,844, up from 3,732 reported by SIPRI in the preceding year.
SIPRI differentiates between stockpiles available for immediate use and the overall inventory, which includes older warheads scheduled for dismantlement. The institute also keeps track of the number of warheads deployed versus those stored for certain countries.
While noting that the figures are still far from the levels observed during the 1980s, Smith pointed out that the usable nuclear warheads, known as the stockpile, are beginning to increase. China contributed significantly to this growth, expanding its stockpile from 350 to 410 warheads.
India, Pakistan, and North Korea also increased their stockpiles, while Russia witnessed a relatively smaller growth from 4,477 to 4,489 warheads. The remaining nuclear powers maintained the size of their arsenals.
Regarding Israel, SIPRI estimated that its nuclear stockpile remained steady at 90 warheads, but emphasized the significant uncertainty due to the lack of transparency surrounding Israel’s nuclear program.
The report found that Russia and the United States still possess nearly 90 per cent of all nuclear weapons.
Smith stated, “The big picture is we’ve had over 30 years of the number of nuclear warheads coming down, and we see that process coming to an end now.”
SIPRI researchers also highlighted the setbacks faced by diplomatic efforts in nuclear arms control and disarmament following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
For example, the United States suspended its “bilateral strategic stability dialogue” with Russia in response to the invasion. Moreover, Moscow announced the suspension of its participation in the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START).
SIPRI acknowledged that this treaty was the last remaining nuclear arms control agreement that limited the strategic nuclear forces of both Russia and the US.
However, Smith pointed out that the increase in new warheads cannot be solely attributed to the recent events in Ukraine since the development of warheads requires time. He highlighted that the majority of the increase occurred in countries unaffected by direct involvement, such as China.
As China’s economy and influence have expanded, the nation has significantly invested in all branches of its military. Smith remarked, “What we’re seeing is China stepping up as a world power, and that is the reality of our time.”