STOCKHOLM — A Swedish arms watchdog says the world’s stockpiles of nuclear weapons are expected to increase in coming years, reversing a decline seen since the end of the Cold War.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, said Monday that all nine nuclear-armed countries are increasing or upgrading their arsenals.
“There are clear indications that the reductions that have characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War have ended,” said Hans M. Kristensen, a researcher with SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program and director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
The number has come down from a high of more than 70,000 in 1986, as the US and Russia have gradually reduced their massive arsenals built up during the Cold War.
The US and Russia, which hold 90% of the world’s atomic weapons, saw their inventories decline in 2021 due to the dismantling of warheads retired from military service years ago. Their useable military stockpiles remained relatively stable and within the limits set by a nuclear arms reduction treaty, SIPRI said.
The research institute said that the other nuclear states — Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — are either developing or deploying new weapon systems, or have announced their intention to do so. Israel has never publicly acknowledged having such weapons.
“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,” said Wilfred Wan, the director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program. “This is a very worrying trend.”
During the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has on several occasions made reference to the use of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, several countries, including China and Britain, are either officially or unofficially modernizing or ramping up their arsenals, the research institute said.
“It’s going to be very difficult to make progress on disarmament over the coming years because of this war, and because of how Putin is talking about his nuclear weapons”, Matt Korda, one of the co-authors of the report, told AFP.
These worrying statements are pushing “a lot of other nuclear-armed states to think about their own nuclear strategies”, he added.
Despite the entry into force in early 2021 of the UN nuclear weapon ban treaty and a five-year extension of the US-Russian “New START” treaty, the situation has been deteriorating for some time, according to SIPRI.
Iran’s nuclear program and the development of increasingly advanced hypersonic missiles have, among other things, raised concern.
In early 2022, the five nuclear-armed permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — issued a statement that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
Nonetheless, SIPRI noted, all five “continue to expand or modernize their nuclear arsenals and appear to be increasing the salience of nuclear weapons in their military strategies.”
“China is in the middle of a substantial expansion of its nuclear weapon arsenal, which satellite images indicate includes the construction of over 300 new missile silos”, it said.
According to the Pentagon, Beijing could have 700 warheads by 2027.
Britain last year said it would increase the ceiling on its total warhead stockpile, and would no longer publicly disclose figures for the country’s operational nuclear weapons.