Global Nuclear Weapons: Modernization Remains the Priority

Issue 77

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) launched its annual nuclear forces data, which highlights the current trends and developments in world nuclear arsenals at the beginning of July. The data shows that while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world continues to decline, all of the nuclear weapon-possessing states are in the process of modernizing their nuclear arsenals and will not be prepared to give them up for the foreseeable future.

At the start of 2017 nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea—possessed approximately 4150 operationally deployed nuclear weapons. If all nuclear warheads are counted, these states together possessed a total of approximately 14,935 nuclear weapons, compared with 15,395 in early 2016

Nuclear Weapon Reductions Slow Down, investment Levels Rise

The decrease in the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world is due mainly to Russia and the USA—which together still account for nearly 93 per cent of all nuclear weapons—further reducing their inventories of strategic nuclear weapons. However, despite the implementation of the bilateral Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START) since 2011, the pace of their reductions remains slow. At the same time, both Russia and the USA have extensive and expensive nuclear modernization programs under way. The USA, for example, plans to spend $ 400 billion in 2017–26 on maintaining and comprehensively updating its nuclear forces. Some estimates suggest that the USA’s nuclear weapon modernization program may cost up to $ 1 trillion over the next 30 years.

‘‘The projected increases in US spending are not unexpected,’’’ said SIPRI Associate Senior Fellow Hans Kristensen. ‘‘The current US administration is continuing the ambitious nuclear modernization plans set out by President Barack Obama.’’

The other nuclear weapon-possessing states have much smaller arsenals, but have all either begun to deploy new nuclear weapon delivery systems or announced their intention to do so. China has started a long-term modernization program focused on making qualitative improvements to its nuclear arsenal. India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon stockpiles and developing their missile delivery capabilities. North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for approximately 10–20 nuclear warheads, which is an increase on the estimates for previous years. North Korea carried out an unprecedented number of flight tests of different missile systems in 2016 with mixed results.

‘‘Despite the recent progress in international talks on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, long-term modernization programs are under way in all nine states,’’ said SIPRI Senior Researcher Shannon Kile. ‘‘This suggests that none of these states will be prepared to give up their nuclear arsenals for the foreseeable future.’’