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Nuclear powers set to continue boosting operational warheads

A deactivated Titan II nuclear ICMB is seen in a silo at the Titan Missile Museum on May 12, 2015, in Green Valley, Arizona. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

An “extremely concerning” increase in the number of nuclear warheads deployed with missiles and aircraft will probably pick up speed in the next years, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

The number of such warheads rose to 3,904 as Russia continues to threaten its adversaries at the same time as China may have put weapons of mass destruction on high operational alert for the first time, the institute said in a statement Monday, citing data from January. That bucks the declining trend in overall atomic weapons.

“While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as cold war-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” SIPRI Director Dan Smith said in a statement. “This trend seems likely to continue and probably accelerate in the coming years and is extremely concerning.”

Smith said that the world is now in “one of the most dangerous periods in human history.” Nuclear weapons are now in a more prominent role than in the years following the Cold War, with Russian President Vladimir Putin regularly flexing his military’s mass-destruction capabilities — with threats and drills — as the war against Ukraine rages on.

Russia and the U.S. hold almost 90% of the nuclear weapons in the world, and while China’s stockpile is far smaller, SIPRI estimates that it grew to 500 weapons from 410 a year earlier. The country may now also be deploying a small number of warheads on missiles during peacetime, it said.

“China is expanding its nuclear arsenal faster than any other country,” Hans M. Kristensen, associate senior fellow with SIPRI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program, said. “But in nearly all of the nuclear-armed states there are either plans or a significant push to increase nuclear forces.”


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