China, India, North Korea and Pakistan expanding their nuclear arsenals
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China, India, North Korea and Pakistan expanding their nuclear arsenals

Watchdog group finds slight fall in number of nukes worldwide, from 15,395 to 14,935; Israel one of 9 named nuclear powers, with 80 warheads

Illustrative: B61 nuclear bombs on a rack. (Courtesy US Department of Defense)
Illustrative: B61 nuclear bombs on a rack. (Courtesy US Department of Defense)

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — The global number of nuclear warheads dropped last year, but it seems China, India, North Korea and Pakistan are expanding the size of their atomic arsenals, a Swedish arms watchdog said Thursday.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said developments in North Korea’s nuclear program “contributed to international political instability with potentially serious knock-on effects.”

SIPRI said that as of January 2017, nine countries — the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — together had about 14,935 nuclear weapons, down from 15,395 a year earlier.

In this Sept. 3, 2017, file photo, a man watches a TV news program on a public screen showing an image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un while reporting North Korea’s possible nuclear test in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

SIPRI, in its latest yearbook, listed North Korea as not having any deployed warheads but with 10 to 20 “other warheads” which include “operational warheads held in storage and retired warheads awaiting dismantlement.” The watchdog said the North Korean figures were uncertain. “North Korea continues to prioritize its military nuclear program as a central element of its national security strategy,” it said.

It said Israel has 80 warheads — the same number as the previous year — and noted that “Israel has a policy of not commenting on its nuclear arsenal.”

“Recent steps in the nuclear disarmament field are encouraging,” said Shannon Kile, head of SIPRI’s Nuclear Weapons Project. “The groundwork laid in 2016 has been built on in 2017, with 122 states approving the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons at the U.N. in July 2017.”

“The so-called ban treaty is potentially an important milestone on a long-term path toward nuclear disarmament,” he added.

More generally on global security issues, SIPRI noted positive developments such as the entry into force of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal and a United Nations General Assembly resolution to start negotiations in 2017 on eliminating nuclear weapons.

However, one issue remains a major challenge to human security: forced displacement.

The institute said Africa and the Middle East “together currently host over two-thirds of the world’s displaced population,” adding the number of people displaced last year has “increased significantly” to more than 60 million.

Armed conflicts were the main reason for the displacement crises, SIPRI said in its 48th edition of its annual yearbook.

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