The world’s nuclear powers are strengthening their arsenals as geopolitical tensions rise, a report has found


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Nuclear-armed states are bolstering their arsenals, with many preparing new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapons systems amid escalating geopolitical tensions, a new report reveals.

The nine nuclear powers – the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel – have continued to modernize their weapons stockpiles, and China is likely to deploy, for the first time, a small number of nuclear weapons. of warheads on missiles in peacetime,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) He said in a new report Published on Monday.

“While the world’s total nuclear warheads continue to decline with the gradual dismantling of Cold War-era weapons, we unfortunately continue to see year-over-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” said Dan Smith, director of the institute. “This trend appears set to continue and perhaps accelerate in the coming years and is very worrying.”

In January 2024, the total global stockpile of warheads was estimated at 12,121 warheads, of which about 9,585 were in military stockpiles for potential use, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The think tank estimates that 3,904 of those warheads were deployed by missiles and aircraft, or 60 more warheads than in January 2023.

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A television news program in Seoul, South Korea, shows footage of a North Korean missile test on January 1, 2020.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said the majority of deployed warheads, about 2,100, were kept “on a high operational ballistic alert.” While almost all of these warheads are owned by the United States and Russia, it is also believed that for the first time China has some warheads on high operational alert.

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Russia and the United States together possess nearly 90 percent of all nuclear weapons, and the number of usable warheads they have in 2023 has remained mostly stable, according to the Swedish think tank. However, Russia is estimated to have deployed about 36 more warheads with operational forces than in January 2023.

“Transparency regarding nuclear forces in both countries has declined following the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and discussions on nuclear sharing arrangements have become increasingly important,” the Swedish think tank said.

She added that Russia and the United States also possess more than 1,200 warheads each that have previously been retired from military service, and are being gradually dismantled.

Despite “public claims made in 2023” that Russia deployed nuclear weapons on Belarusian territory, “there is no conclusive visual evidence that actual deployment of warheads occurred,” the institute said.

The size of China’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to have increased from 410 warheads in January 2023 to 500 warheads in January 2024, “and is expected to continue to grow,” according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“China is expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country,” said Hans Christensen, a senior fellow at the Stockholm International Institute’s Weapons of Mass Destruction programme. “But in almost all nuclear-armed states, there are either plans or a major effort to increase nuclear forces.”

China will likely have as many intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as Russia or the United States by the end of the decade, but Beijing’s stockpile of nuclear warheads is expected to remain much smaller compared to its stockpile.

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North Korea’s military nuclear program remains a “key component of the national security strategy,” and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that the reclusive kingdom possesses about 50 warheads and enough fissile material to reach up to 90 warheads, numbers that represent “increases.” “large compared to North Korea’s estimates.” January 2023.”

In 2023, North Korea appears to have conducted its first test of a short-range ballistic missile from a rudimentary silo, and completed development of at least two types of land-attack cruise missiles (LACM) designed to deliver nuclear weapons, according to SIBRI.

“Like many other nuclear-armed states, North Korea is putting a new focus on developing its arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons,” said Matt Korda, an associate researcher at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Weapons of Mass Destruction program. “Accordingly, there is growing concern that North Korea may intend to use these weapons very early in the conflict.”

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Anti-nuclear weapons demonstrators outside the headquarters of the US mission to the United Nations.

The Swedish research center said that the wars in Ukraine and Gaza have weakened nuclear diplomacy on the global stage.

In 2023, Russia suspended its participation in the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty that limits Russian and US strategic nuclear forces, while the United States in response stopped exchanging data. .

The SIPRI Institute said Moscow continued to make threats involving the use of nuclear weapons in light of Western aid to Ukraine, and in May 2024 conducted tactical nuclear weapons exercises near the Ukrainian border.

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“Not since the Cold War have we seen nuclear weapons play such a prominent role in international relations,” said Wilfred Wan, director of the Weapons of Mass Destruction Program at the Stockholm International Institute. He said: “It is hard to believe that it has only been two years since the leaders of the five major nuclear-armed countries reaffirmed that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’.”

Moreover, the agreement between Iran and the United States in June 2023 appeared to “temporarily calm tensions between the two countries,” but the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas in October “turned the agreement on its head, with proxy attacks by groups Supported by Iran. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said, “US forces in Iraq and Syria appear to end Iranian-American diplomatic efforts.”

The think tank said the war between Israel and Hamas “also undermined efforts” to include Israel in a conference to establish a zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East.

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