Despite a marginal decrease in the number of nuclear warheads in 2021, nuclear arsenals are expected to grow over the coming decade, according to SIPRI Report launched on Monday.
The nine nuclear-armed states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)—continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals and although the total number of nuclear weapons declined slightly between January 2021 and January 2022 , the number will probably increase in the next decade.
Of the total inventory of an estimated 12 705 warheads at the start of 2022, about 9440 were in military stockpiles for potential use. Of those, an estimated 3732 warheads were deployed with missiles and aircraft, and around 2000—nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the USA—were kept in a state of high operational alert.
Although Russian and US total warhead inventories continued to decline in 2021, this was due to the dismantling of warheads that had been retired from military service several years ago. The number of warheads in the two countries’ useable military stockpiles remained relatively stable in 2021. Both countries’ deployed strategic nuclear forces were within the limits set by a bilateral nuclear arms reduction treaty (2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, New START). Note, however, that New START does not limit total non-strategic nuclear warhead inventories.
‘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, Associate Senior Fellow with SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme and Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
‘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, Director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme. ‘This is a very worrying trend.’
Russia and the USA together possess over 90 per cent of all nuclear weapons. The other seven nuclear-armed states are either developing or deploying new weapon systems, or have announced their intention to do so. 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. Several additional nuclear warheads are thought to have been assigned to operational forces in 2021 following the delivery of new mobile launchers and a submarine.