India and Pakistan appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals, and both countries introduced and continued to develop new types of nuclear delivery systems in 2022, says The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook 2023.
While Pakistan remains the main focus of India’s nuclear deterrent, India appears to be placing growing emphasis on longer-range weapons, including those capable of reaching targets across China, said a SIPRI release June 12.
A key finding of SIPRI’s annual assessment of the state of armaments, disarmament and international security is that the number of operational nuclear weapons started to rise as countries’ long-term force modernization and expansion plans progressed.
‘The nine nuclear-armed states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) and Israel—continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals and several deployed new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapon systems in 2022,’ SIPRI said.
‘Of the total global inventory of an estimated 12 512 warheads in January 2023, about 9576 were in military stockpiles for potential use—86 more than in January 2022 . Of those, an estimated 3844 warheads were deployed with missiles and aircraft, and around 2000—nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the US—were kept in a state of high operational alert, meaning that they were fitted to missiles or held at airbases hosting nuclear bombers,’ said the release.
According to the release, the sizes (useable warheads) of nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US, which together possess almost 90 per cent of all nuclear weapons, seem to have remained relatively stable in 2022, although transparency regarding nuclear forces declined in both countries in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. In addition to their useable nuclear weapons, Russia and the US each hold more than 1000 warheads previously retired from military service, which they are gradually dismantling.
SIPRI’s estimate of the size of China’s nuclear arsenal increased from 350 warheads in January 2022 to 410 in January 2023, and it is expected to keep growing. Depending on how it decides to structure its forces, China could potentially have at least as many intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) as either the US or Russia by the turn of the decade.
‘China has started a significant expansion of its nuclear arsenal,’ the release quoted 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, as saying. ‘It is increasingly difficult to square this trend with China’s declared aim of having only the minimum nuclear forces needed to maintain its national security.’
Although the UK is not thought to have increased its nuclear weapon arsenal in 2022, the warhead stockpile is expected to grow in the future as a result of the British government’s announcement in 2021 that it was raising its limit from 225 to 260 warheads. The government also said it would no longer publicly disclose its quantities of nuclear weapons, deployed warheads or deployed missiles, the SIPRI release said.
In 2022 France continued its programmes to develop a third-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and a new air-launched cruise missile, as well as to refurbish and upgrade existing systems.
‘We are drifting into one of the most dangerous periods in human history,’ says Dan Smith, SIPRI Director. ‘It is imperative that the world’s governments find ways to cooperate in order to calm geopolitical tensions, slow arms races and deal with the worsening consequences of environmental breakdown and rising world hunger.’