Monday, July 22, 2024

Global Nuclear Arsenals Expand Amid Rising Geopolitical Tensions

Washington, DC – The global landscape of nuclear armament saw significant developments in 2023, with the nine nuclear-armed states—United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel—continuing to modernize and expand their arsenals, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). As of January 2024, the total number of nuclear warheads globally was estimated at 12,121, with approximately 9,585 of these in military stockpiles ready for potential use. This alarming trend raises serious concerns about the potential consequences of a nuclear conflict.

Increase in Deployed Warheads

The number of deployed warheads rose by 60 compared to the previous year, reaching a total of 3,904. Around 2,100 of these are on high operational alert, primarily belonging to Russia and the USA, with China now believed to have a small number of warheads in this state for the first time. SIPRI Director Dan Smith expressed concern over this trend, noting the year-on-year increase in operational nuclear warheads despite the gradual dismantling of Cold War-era weapons.

Modernization Efforts Across Nations

India, Pakistan, and North Korea are advancing their capabilities to deploy multiple warheads on ballistic missiles, a capability already possessed by Russia, France, the UK, the USA, and recently China. This could rapidly increase the number of deployed warheads and pose a more significant threat to a larger number of targets.

Russia and USA: Dominant Nuclear Powers

Russia and the USA hold nearly 90% of all nuclear weapons, with their military stockpiles remaining relatively stable in 2023. However, Russia reportedly deployed 36 more warheads compared to January 2023. The transparency between these two countries, a key aspect of their nuclear-sharing arrangements, has declined following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, complicating these arrangements and raising concerns about the potential for misunderstandings or miscalculations.

China’s Growing Arsenal

China’s nuclear arsenal grew from 410 warheads in January 2023 to 500 in January 2024, with further growth expected. For the first time, China may now be deploying a small number of warheads during peacetime. By the end of the decade, China could have as many intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as Russia or the USA, although its total stockpile will remain smaller.

Developments in Other Nuclear States

  • United Kingdom: While the UK did not increase its arsenal in 2023, its stockpile is expected to grow following the government’s 2021 announcement to raise its limit from 225 to 260 warheads.
  • France: France continued developing a third-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine and a new air-launched cruise missile.
  • India and Pakistan: Both nations expanded their nuclear arsenals and developed new delivery systems, with India focusing on longer-range weapons capable of reaching China.
  • North Korea: North Korea expanded its arsenal to an estimated 50 warheads and developed new missile types. It also placed a new emphasis on tactical nuclear weapons.

Challenges to Nuclear Diplomacy

Nuclear diplomacy faced significant hurdles in 2023. Russia suspended its participation in the New START treaty, a bilateral agreement with the United States that limits the number of strategic nuclear weapons in their arsenals, and withdrew its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), an international treaty that bans all nuclear explosions, for any purpose. These actions by Russia have significant implications for global nuclear disarmament efforts and have further exacerbated global tensions.

Global Security Concerns

The SIPRI Yearbook highlights the ongoing deterioration of global security, exacerbated by conflicts in Ukraine, Gaza, and other regions. The yearbook stresses the urgent need for major powers to collectively address political, economic, and ecological instabilities.

As geopolitical tensions rise and nuclear arsenals expand, the call for renewed dialogue and cooperative measures among nuclear-armed states grows louder. The SIPRI report underscores the precarious state of global security and the urgent need for immediate and effective international collaboration to avert further escalation. This is not a time for complacency, but for swift and decisive action.

Author profile
Pia Sherman

Pia Sherman is a freelance writer. Views expressed are solely of the author.

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