Global Nuclear Warheads

All nations that have nuclear weapons continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals, while India and China increased their nuclear warheads in the last one year, according to a latest report by Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

About SIPRI

  • Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) is an international institute based in Sweden, dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament.
  • Established in 1966, the Stockholm based SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.

Nuclear arsenals are on rise in ‘thy neighbourhood’

  • China is in the middle of a significant modernization of its nuclear arsenal.
  • It is developing a so-called nuclear triad for the first time, made up of new land and sea-based missiles and nuclear-capable aircraft.
  • China’s nuclear arsenal had gone up from 290 warheads in 2019 to 320 in 2020, while India’s went up from 130-140 in 2019 to 150 in 2020.
  • Pakistan’s arsenal was estimated to be between 150-160 in 2019 and has reached 160 in 2020.
  • Both China and Pakistan continue to have larger nuclear arsenals than India.

A general decline across the globe

  • Together with the nine nuclear-armed states — the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — possessed an estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons at the start of 2020.
  • This marked a decrease from an estimated 13,865 nuclear weapons at the beginning of 2019.
  • The decrease in the overall numbers was largely due to the dismantlement of old nuclear weapons by Russia and the U.S., which together possess over 90% of the global nuclear weapons.

Major issue in reporting: Low levels of disclosure

  • The availability of reliable information on the status of the nuclear arsenals and capabilities of the nuclear-armed states varied considerably, the report noted.
  • The U.S. had disclosed important information about its stockpile and nuclear capabilities, but in 2019, the administration ended the practice of publicly disclosing the size of its stockpile.
  • The governments of India and Pakistan make statements about some of their missile tests but provide little information about the status or size of their arsenals, the report said.

New START seems to ‘STOP’ very soon

  • The U.S. and Russia have reduced their nuclear arsenals under the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) but it will lapse in February 2021 unless both parties agree to prolong it.
  • However, discussions to extend the New START or negotiate a new treaty made no progress with the U.S.’s insistence that China must join any future nuclear arms reduction talks, which China has categorically ruled out.
  • The deadlock over the New START and the collapse of the 1987 Soviet–U.S. Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-Range and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF Treaty) in 2019 suggest that the era of bilateral nuclear arms control agreements between Russia and the U.S. might be coming to an end.
  • Russia and the U.S. have already announced extensive plans to replace and modernize their nuclear warheads and delivery systems.
  • Both countries have also given new or expanded roles to nuclear weapons in their military plans and doctrines, which marks a significant reversal of the post-Cold War trend towards the gradual marginalisation of nuclear weapons.

 INF Treaty

  • Under the INF treaty, the US and Soviet Union agreed not to develop, produce, possess or deploy any ground-based ballistic and cruise missiles that have a range between 500 and 5,500 km.
  • It exempted the air-launched and sea-based missile systems in the same range.
  • The INF treaty helped address the fears of an imminent nuclear war in Europe.
  • It also built some trust between Washington and Moscow and contributed to the end of the Cold War.

New START Policy

  • The New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) pact limits the number of deployed nuclear warheads, missiles and bombers and is due to expire in 2021 unless renewed.
  • The treaty limits the US and Russia to a maximum of 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads and 700 deployed missiles and bombers, well below Cold War caps.
  • It was signed in 2010 by former US President Barack Obama and then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.
  • It is one of the key controls on superpower deployment of nuclear weapons.
  • If it falls, it will be the second nuclear weapons treaty to collapse under the leadership of US President Donald Trump.
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