Since the Ukraine war, Russia has openly threatened to use nuclear weapons. According to the Sipri annual report, the number of nuclear weapons has been increasing worldwide since this year.
According to estimates by peace researchers, the number of nuclear weapons in the world could soon be increasing again after decades of decline. Despite a slight reduction in the global total number of nuclear warheads to an estimated 12,705, the Stockholm-based peace research institute Sipri expects this number to increase again over the next decade.
“There are clear signs that the declines that have characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War have ended,” said Sipri expert Hans M. Kristensen. His colleague Matt Korda warned that without immediate and concrete steps towards disarmament by the nine nuclear-armed states, the global stockpile of nuclear weapons could soon increase again for the first time since the Cold War.
According to Sipri’s annual report released Monday, Russia (5,977) and the US (5,428) together still have about 90 percent of all nuclear warheads in the world. In both cases, the number continued to decrease in 2021 – but this has mainly to do with the dismantling of discarded warheads, which the military said goodbye to years ago. In contrast, the number of nuclear weapons in useable military stocks in the two countries has remained relatively stable.
First trend reversal since the end of the Cold War: nuclear powers are expanding
Extensive and costly programs to replace and modernize nuclear warheads, delivery systems and production facilities are underway in both the United States and Russia, the peace researchers write.
The same applies to the other nuclear weapon states, which include Great Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea, according to Sipri. According to Sipri, they have all developed or stationed new weapon systems, or at least announced this.
None of the countries intends to abolish their nuclear weapons in any way, Kristensen told the German Press Agency. Rather, China is in the middle of a comprehensive expansion of its nuclear arsenal, and Great Britain announced in 2021 that it would increase the upper limit for its total inventory of warheads.
The number of nuclear weapons worldwide has been steadily declining for decades. It now accounts for less than a fifth of what was in the arsenals of the nuclear powers at the height of the Cold War in the 1980s. However, Sipri had already identified a trend reversal towards more modern nuclear weapons in the previous year. Germany does not have such weapons.
Russia threatened nuclear weapons
The five UN veto powers USA, Russia, Great Britain, France and China had protested at the beginning of the year that they wanted to take action against the further proliferation of nuclear weapons. “We emphasize that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be waged,” the states said in a joint statement in early January.
Sipri complained that all five countries have expanded or modernized their arsenals since then. In the course of its war of aggression in Ukraine, Russia even openly threatened the possible use of nuclear weapons. “Although there have been some significant advances in both nuclear arms control and nuclear disarmament over the past year, the risk of using nuclear weapons now appears higher than at any point since the height of the Cold War,” said Sipri director Dan Smith .
The new Sipri data refers to January 2022. A month later, Russia invaded Ukraine. It is still a bit too early to draw conclusions about how Russia’s war of aggression will ultimately affect the nuclear situation in the world, said Kristensen.
However, the expert already sees an indirect effect: “The Russians are seeing that their conventional armed forces are not as good as they thought.” As a result, Russia is likely to rely more heavily on tactical nuclear weapons in the future. NATO is reacting to the Ukraine war by emphasizing the importance of its nuclear weapons.
Ukraine war increases nuclear risk
The risk of a nuclear confrontation has increased as a result of the Ukraine war, said Kristensen. The danger is that the war could escalate into a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO. Adding to the problems are the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan, growing hostilities on the China-India border, and North Korea’s ongoing nuclear efforts.
“All of these things add up, so it’s fair to say that we’re in a very precarious state at the moment,” said Kristensen. Above all, what is needed now is a relaxation of the nuclear rhetoric on the part of the nuclear powers. It is also a wake-up call for non-nuclear-weapon states that need to put much more pressure on nuclear-weapon states to back down from this daring policy. A yardstick for this is a conference on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in New York in August.