Nuclear arsenals growing as chances for diplomacy shrink: report

China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and North Korea each deployed more nuclear weapons last year, according to SIPRI.

Nuclear-armed states are expanding and modernizing their arsenals as tensions continue to rise between great powers, according to a new report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. SIPRI estimates that militaries have deployed an additional 86 warheads over the past year, bringing the total number of active nuclear weapons to 9576. 

China added 60 warheads since the start of 2022, giving it a total arsenal of 410 nuclear weapons, according to SIPRI. Russia deployed an additional 12 nukes, with India, Pakistan, and North Korea making up the rest of the increase.

“It is increasingly difficult to square this trend with China’s declared aim of having only the minimum nuclear forces needed to maintain its national security,” argued SIPRI senior fellow Hans M. Kristensen in a press release.

The new data comes from SIPRI’s Yearbook, the organization’s annual report on global trends in weapons stockpiles and disarmament. 

Despite China’s notable increase, the United States and Russia continue to dominate all other states when it comes to nuclear stockpiles. Together, the two hold 85 percent of the world’s deployed nuclear weapons, and both plan to invest heavily in efforts to modernize their arsenals.

Chances for renewed disarmament talks have flagged following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine early last year. Washington and Moscow both took steps recently to reduce their compliance with the New START Treaty — the only agreement capping the number of warheads that each country deploys, which expires in 2026.

Notably, the United States announced earlier this month that it is ready to engage in new nuclear talks “without preconditions” with both Russia and China. But it remains unclear whether either state is interested in negotiating with Washington as geopolitical tensions continue to grow.

“This elevated nuclear competition has dramatically increased the risk that nuclear weapons might be used in anger for the first time since World War II,” SIPRI researcher Matt Korda said in a press release.

Meanwhile, some states have taken steps to reduce transparency around their nuclear stockpiles. The United States and United Kingdom “both declined to release information to the public concerning their nuclear forces in 2022, which they had done in previous years,” the report notes. The UK decision is particularly notable given its 2021 announcement that it will increase the limit on its arsenal from 225 to 260 warheads.

Data about the arsenals of other nuclear-armed states is also limited given the secrecy surrounding many countries’ nuclear programs. Israel has never admitted to possessing nuclear weapons, but SIPRI estimates that it currently has 90 warheads. North Korea, another secretive nuclear-armed state, has as many as 30 nuclear bombs, according to the report.