The world’s nuclear arsenals are on the rise as concerns over China and North Korea grow

“There are clear indications that the reductions that have characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War are over,” the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said in a report on Monday.

The report comes amid growing Western concerns about China and North Korea’s efforts to expand their nuclear capabilities. The United States suspects North Korea is preparing to conduct its upcoming seventh nuclear test, while Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe told the Shangri-La Dialogue summit over the weekend that his country has made “impressive progress” in the development of new nuclear weapons.

However, while SIPRI reports that China is “in the midst of a substantial expansion of its nuclear weapons arsenal,” it makes clear that China and North Korea are not the only culprits.

According to SIPRI estimates, the United States and Russia remain by far the largest nuclear powers in the world, with 3,708 and 4,477 nuclear weapons respectively, while China has 350, France 290 and Britain 180. But the number of warheads Chinese has increased in recent years, from 145 newspapers in 2006 according to the institute. The Pentagon expects China’s inventories to “at least double” over the next decade.

As US and Russian stocks declined in 2021, SIPRI believes a long-term “alarming” trend will see both countries increase their stocks and develop more powerful weapons.

North Korea’s secrecy means that its nuclear capabilities are difficult to assess. Some estimates place its current stockpile at around 20 nuclear warheads, although the United States and other countries believe it is working to increase this number and its ability to supply them.

Pyongyang has conducted a record number of ballistic missile launches this year and on Saturday named lead nuclear negotiator Choe Son Hui as first female foreign minister.

“North Korea continues to prioritize its military nuclear program as a central element of its national security strategy,” SIPRI said, adding that “the country’s inventory of fissile material is believed to have grown in 2021” .

The think tank, which included the country’s data for the first time in its annual report this year, said it believes North Korea now had enough fissile material to produce up to 55 warheads.

But his ability to deliver these weapons remains unknown. In May, North Korea tested what appeared to be an ICBM, although the weapon’s range or its ability to launch a nuclear warhead were unclear.

“There is no publicly available evidence that North Korea has produced an operational nuclear warhead to be launched from an ICBM, but it may have a small number of medium-range ballistic missile warheads,” SIPRI said.

SIPRI also said that India and Pakistan are making efforts to expand their nuclear arsenals. He said Israel – which does not publicly acknowledge possession of nuclear weapons – was seeking to modernize its arsenal. Inventory estimates for India and Pakistan were 160 and 165 and for Israel 90.

Recently, in January, the world’s five major nuclear powers – also known as P5, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – pledged to work together for “a world without nuclear weapons” in a rare declaration of unit.

However, the subsequent Russian invasion of Ukraine raised concerns that nuclear weapons could be used outside of a test situation for the first time since the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

Since the start of the war, Russia has repeatedly reminded the world of its nuclear force with oblique references apparently aimed at dissuading Western countries from greater intervention. CIA Director William Burns also warned that Russia could use tactical nuclear weapons in Ukraine.

Now many nations, even those without nuclear weapons, are rethinking their calculations. Japan, the United States and South Korea recently pledged to strengthen their shared nuclear deterrence strategy.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi made unusually strong comments directed at North Korea and China.

“The world has become even more uncertain,” Kishi said at the main Asian defense summit. “Japan is surrounded by actors who own or are developing nuclear weapons and who openly ignore the rules.”

South Korean and US fighter planes in show of strength to Kim Jong Un amid fears of North Korean nuclear test South Korean and US fighter planes in show of strength to Kim Jong Un amid fears of North Korean nuclear test

He criticized the missile tests of neighboring North Korea and called China “a nation of concern”, citing recent military operations it had held with Russia in waters close to Japan and Taiwan, the first since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“Ukraine (today) could be East Asia tomorrow,” he said.

Speaking at the same summit, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said his country will “drastically strengthen” its defensive capabilities amid growing concerns about Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.
Various experts pointed out that the Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrated the power of nuclear deterrence. Ukraine is one of the few countries to have voluntarily given up a nuclear arsenal. It did so after the fall of the Soviet Union, sending many of its weapons to Russia, the same country from which it is now invaded.

“Countries that feel threatened can look to Ukraine and understand that they are getting rid of it [their] nuclear weapons are not the way to go and that could diminish the incentive for them to move towards a nuclear free deal, which will become an uphill task, “said regional security expert Ian Chong, also associate professor of science. policies at the National University of Singapore.

Chong said there had been “a high level of concern about nuclear weapons” at the Shangri-La. “We are seeing an increase in tensions which very much reflects concerns in Northeast Asia [at the moment] in the event of a nuclear attack “.

China is building a sprawling network of missile silos, satellite images appear to showChina is building a sprawling network of missile silos, satellite images appear to show

Watch out for Beijing

The SIPRI report is likely to refocus attention on China’s nuclear ambitions, following last year’s reports that Beijing was building a sprawling network of ICBM silos in its western desert.

“Several additional nuclear warheads are thought to have been assigned to operational forces in 2021 following the delivery of new mobile launchers and a submarine,” SIPRI wrote.

At the Shangri-La Dialogue, Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe defended his country’s nuclear position.

“China has always pursued an appropriate path for developing nuclear capabilities to protect our country,” he said in response to questions about the new nuclear missile silos. Wei said nuclear weapons would be used “in self-defense” and to prevent a nuclear war.

The US chief of defense says China is putting its neighbors to the test by plundering resources in the PacificThe US chief of defense says China is putting its neighbors to the test by plundering resources in the Pacific

“We have developed nuclear capabilities to protect the hard work of the Chinese people and protect our people from the scourge of nuclear war,” he said.

Wei’s comments came after remarks by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who told the same conference that China was engaged in coercive, aggressive and dangerous actions that threatened to “undermine security, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific “.