According to the Stockholm-based Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), all nuclear-armed states have intensified their nuclear rearmament. The researchers warn of the increasing number of operational nuclear arms, and since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict, transparency has decreased. A significant increase in warheads has been recorded in China.
In its annual report, SIPRI reports that the nine nuclear powers - the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel - continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals. The researchers warn of the rising number of ready-to-use nuclear weapons, stating, "We are drifting into one of the most dangerous periods in human history." SIPRI director Dan Smith called for nuclear diplomacy to be restored and international controls on nuclear weaponry to be strengthened.
While the global inventory of nuclear warheads dropped slightly from an estimated 12,712 in early 2022 to 12,512 by early 2023, according to SIPRI estimates, the number of ready-to-use nuclear warheads rose to an estimated 9,576, up 86 from the previous year. In its research, SIPRI distinguishes between operational stockpiles and total stockpiles, including older nuclear arms and those intended for dismantling.
Decreased Transparency in Counting Nuclear Arms
Russia and the United States keep around 2,000 warheads in high alert status, according to SIPRI mostly stowed in mounted missiles or on air force bases hosting atomic bombers. The peace researchers state that Russia and the US, together, possess nearly 90% of all nuclear weapons. Their arsenals remained stable in 2022, but transparency decreased after the start of the conflict against Ukraine. Additionally, the British government ceased publicizing the number of nuclear warheads they had in their country.
SIPRI Director Smith stated that increased inventory could not be explained solely by the war in Ukraine, as it takes more time to develop new warheads. The countries with the most significant increases, he noted, were not directly impacted by the conflict.
Significant Increase in China's Arsenal
A majority of the current increase is attributed to China, which raised its stockpile of nuclear warheads from 350 to 410. The researchers predict that China's arsenal will continue to increase, potentially giving the country as many intercontinental ballistic missiles by the end of the decade as the US or Russia.
Moreover, India and Pakistan introduced and evolved new types of nuclear carrying systems in 2022. The researchers suspect that India's weapons are now geared towards long-range missile technology, expanding their range to include targets throughout China.
SIPRI expresses concerns about states increasingly using nuclear weapons as a topic of rhetoric. North Korea continues to see its nuclear program as central to its security strategy, and the country is estimated to have assembled about 30 warheads, with enough fissionable material for up to 70 warheads.