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Nuclear Stockpiles Expected to Increase Amid Global Conflics

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Nuclear Weapon | Image by Getty Images

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Despite a slight decrease in the number of nuclear warheads last year, Russia’s saber-rattling and invasion of Ukraine will likely contribute to the growth of nuclear arsenal stockpiles in the coming years, a new report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) suggests.

SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to researching conflict, armaments, arms control, and disarmament. Established in 1966, SIPRI provides data, analysis, and recommendations — based on open sources — to policymakers, researchers, media, and the interested public.

As of early 2022, nine countries — Russia, the United States, China, France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel, and North Korea — possessed a combined total of 12,705 nuclear warheads, SIPRI estimates. Together, Russia and the U.S. control more than 90% of this global inventory.

The Guardian reported that Russia has the most extensive arsenal of nuclear weapons, with 5,977 — 550 more than the U.S.

“If the nuclear-armed states take no immediate and concrete action on disarmament, then the global inventory of nuclear warheads could soon begin to increase for the first time since the Cold War,” Matt Korda, an associate researcher with SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program (WMD), said in a statement released alongside the report.

“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 the WMD Program and director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Of the estimated total inventory of 12,705 warheads at the start of 2022, about 9,440 were in military stockpiles for potential use. Of those, an estimated 3,732 warheads were deployed with missiles and aircraft, and around 2,000 — nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the U.S. — were kept in a state of high operational alert.

“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 the WMD Program. “This is a very worrying trend.”

Stefan Löfven, the SIPRI board chair and a former Swedish prime minister, said: “Relations between the world’s great powers have deteriorated further at a time when humanity and the planet face an array of profound and pressing common challenges that can only be addressed by international cooperation.”

A study published in 2018 titled “A National Safety Pragmatic Safety Limit for Nuclear Weapon Quantities” argued that 100 nuclear weapons “is the pragmatic limit” for any country to have in its arsenal. The study asserted that “100 nuclear warheads is adequate for nuclear deterrence in the worst-case scenario, while using more than 100 nuclear weapons by any aggressor nation… would cause damage to their own society.”

A 2010 bilateral nuclear arms reduction agreement between the U.S. and Russia, known as New START, limited the number of strategic nuclear warheads each nation can stockpile. Strategic nuclear warheads are those delivered by intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, or heavy bombers.

However, the agreement does not limit total non-strategic nuclear warhead inventories, such as those designated for use on the battlefield, including nuclear mines, artillery, and torpedoes.       

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