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Global powers likely to bolster, modernize nuclear arsenals in ‘worrying trend,’ report says

An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test April 26, 2017, from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ian Dudley)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The nine nuclear-armed states, including the United States and Russia, are likely to grow and modernize their arsenal of warheads and to be more vocal about it in the coming decade in what is seen as a “worrying trend,” an influential think tank says in its latest annual study.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on June 13 in its annual report for 2022 that despite a marginal decline in the number of nuclear warheads last year, arsenals are expected to grow over the next 10 years.

“The nine nuclear-armed states — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, and (North Korea) — continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals and although the total number of nuclear weapons declined slightly between January 2021 and January 2022, the number will probably increase in the next decade,” SIPRI said.

“There are clear indications that the reductions that have characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War have ended,” said Hans Kristensen, associate senior fellow with SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program and director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Wilfred Wan, director of SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program, said that “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.”

“This is a very worrying trend,” he added.

SIPRI estimated that nuclear states had a total inventory of 12,705 warheads at the start of 2022, of which about 9,440 were in military stockpiles ready for potential use.

It said an estimated 3,732 warheads were deployed on missiles and aircraft, with about 2,000 being kept in a state of high operational alert — almost all of them belonging to Russia or the United States.

Total U.S. and Russian warhead inventories continued to decline in 2021, but SIPRI added that this was mainly due to the dismantling of warheads that had been retired from military service in past years.

The two powers hold an estimated 90 percent of all nuclear weapons, SIPRI said.

It said that as of January 2022, the United States had 1,744 deployed warheads out of a total inventory of 5,428.

Russia had 1,588 deployed warheads out of a total inventory of 5,977.

The other seven nuclear-armed states are either developing or deploying new weapon systems or have announced intentions to do so, with China specifically in the middle of a substantial expansion of its nuclear arsenal.

Neighbors and bitter rivals Pakistan (165 total inventory) and India (160) have similarly sized arsenals, according to SIPRI.