Nuclear powers shrinking, modernizing arsenals – watchdog

Nuclear powers shrinking, modernizing arsenals – watchdog

Despite fewer warheads, none of world’s 9 nuclear powers show signs of surrendering their atomic weapons, study finds

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

A Swedish arms watchdog says the global number of nuclear warheads dropped last year, though none of the nine nuclear powers showed any signs of giving up their atomic weapons.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said Monday the United States, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea together had about 15,395 nuclear weapons on January 1 this year, down from 15,850 a year earlier.

Of those, 4,120 were deployed warheads, meaning warheads placed on missiles or on bases with operational forces.

The institute said the global nuclear arsenals have been shrinking since their Cold War peak of nearly 70,000 warheads in the mid-1980s. SIPRI said despite cuts in Russian and US nuclear forces, “both Russia and the USA have extensive and expensive nuclear modernization programs under way.”

SIPRI listed Israel, believed to be the Middle East’s sole nuclear power, as having a total of 80 operationally deployed nuclear weapons.

Israel maintains a policy of nuclear ambiguity, neither openly admitting nor denying that it possesses a nuclear program. It is also not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Outside estimates in recent years have put the number of its nuclear weapons anywhere between 80 and 200. In 2015, the US-based Institute for Science and International Security estimated that Israel had 115 nuclear warheads.

This photo taken on September 8, 2002 shows a partial view of the Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Israeli Negev desert. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
This photo taken on September 8, 2002 shows a partial view of the Dimona nuclear power plant in the southern Israeli Negev desert. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

Israel’s nuclear activities came into sharp focus in 1986 when Mordechai Vanunu — a technician during the period 1976-1985 at Israel’s nuclear facility at Dimona — revealed overwhelming evidence of the country’s nuclear program to Britain’s The Sunday Times, including dozens of photographs, enabling nuclear experts to conclude at the time that Israel had produced at least 100 nuclear warheads.

Charged with treason, Vanunu spent 18 years in jail and was released under very strict conditions in 2004.

Also Monday, senior international officials in Vienna marked the 20th anniversary of the UN treaty banning nuclear testing with calls for holdout nations to bring the pact into force by ratifying it.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization already polices the world for any sign of nuclear tests. But it still cannot go on site to inspect for tests.

That can happen only if the treaty enters into force. And that will happen only if the holdouts among the 44 countries that are designated “nuclear capable” — the United States, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea and Pakistan — ratify.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon were among those urging the international community Monday to push for full ratification.

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