Scientists at the Sipri Peace Research Institute warn that the risk of using nuclear weapons is now as high as it was at the height of the Cold War. They assume that the era of nuclear disarmament is over. The Ukraine war is not the only factor contributing to this.
The peace research institute Sipri expects an increase in nuclear weapons in the coming decade. There are clear signs that the decline in nuclear weapons that began after the end of the Cold War is coming to an end, the Stockholm-based institute announced on the occasion of the presentation of its 2022 yearbook. The number of nuclear warheads decreased between January 2021 and January 2022. However, the importance of nuclear weapons in the military strategies of large states is increasing again.
"There is clear evidence that the downsizing that has characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War has come to an end," said Hans M. Kristensen, Sipri's weapons of mass destruction expert. "All nuclear-armed states are increasing or modernizing their arsenals, and most of them are heightening their nuclear rhetoric and the role of nuclear weapons in their military strategies. This is a very worrying trend."
In total, the nine nuclear powers - the US, Russia, Great Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea - had 12,705 nuclear warheads as of January this year. This was around 300 fewer than a year earlier. According to the Sipri yearbook, 9,440 of the existing nuclear warheads were in the stockpiles of the respective armies in January for potential use. Among these were around 2,000 warheads in a high-readiness mode.
More than 90 percent of the world's existing nuclear weapons belong to the United States or Russia. Sipri expressed concern about the disarmament talks between the two countries that had come to a standstill against the background of the Ukraine war. Moscow has even formulated "open threats about the possible use of nuclear weapons in the context of the Ukraine war," the peace researchers criticize.
According to Sipri, the other seven nuclear powers are either developing new weapon systems or are reorganizing their nuclear arsenals or have announced that they will do so. According to the yearbook, China is currently working on a "significant expansion of its nuclear arsenal". In North Korea, too, the military nuclear program remains a central pillar of the national security strategy. Pyongyang did not carry out a nuclear test last year. However, the country now has up to 20 nuclear warheads and enough fissile material to expand this arsenal to between 45 and 55 nuclear warheads.
The Peace Research Institute commented positively on diplomatic efforts in the field of disarmament. The Nuclear Weapons Prohibition Treaty (AVV) came into force last year and negotiations on reviving the nuclear agreement with Iran were started.
The outlook in the yearbook is bleak: "Although there have been some significant advances in both nuclear arms control and disarmament over the past year, the risk of nuclear weapons being used appears greater today than at any point since the peak of the Cold War," said Sipri director Dan Smith.