The nuclear arsenals of seven countries, especially China, have grown in the past year and other atomic powers have continued to modernize their arsenals, amid rising geopolitical tensions, according to a study published Monday.
“We are approaching, perhaps already at the end of a long period of decline in nuclear weapons in the world,” Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, told AFP.
The total number of nuclear warheads among the nine nuclear powers (the United Kingdom, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia and the United States) fell to 12,512 at the beginning of 2023, compared to 12,710 at the beginning of 2022, according to SIPRI.
Of those, 9,576 were in “military arsenals for potential use,” up 86 from the previous year.
SIPRI differentiates between stocks available for use by states and total stock, which includes old devices to be disassembled.
“The stockpile is usable nuclear warheads and those numbers are starting to rise,” Smith said, noting that the numbers are still far from the more than 70,000 they were in the 1980s.
Most of the increase comes from China, which has increased its arsenal from 350 to 410 warheads.
India, Pakistan and North Korea have also increased their stockpiles and Russia has done so to a lesser extent, while the other nuclear powers have maintained the size of their arsenals.
Russia and the United States each possess approximately 90% of all nuclear weapons.
“We’ve seen more than 30 years of declines in the number of nuclear warheads, and now we’re seeing that process coming to an end,” Smith said.
The Stockholm Institute researchers also noted that diplomatic efforts for arms control and disarmament suffered setbacks in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
For example, the United States suspended its “bilateral dialogue on strategic stability” with Russia after the invasion.
In February, Moscow announced the suspension and limitation of its participation in the New START Treaty.
This is “the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty limiting the strategic nuclear forces of Russia and the United States,” the institute said in a statement.
China also invested heavily in all branches of its military as its economy and influence grew.
“What we’re seeing is the rise of China as a world power, and that’s the reality of our time,” Smith said.