World’s stockpile of usable nuclear weapons is increasing, says Norwegian watchdog - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 11 April 2022

World’s stockpile of usable nuclear weapons is increasing, says Norwegian watchdog

A photo of the 1956 nuclear test on the Bikini Atoll

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 11th April 22


The number of nuclear warheads in usable stockpiles is rising, warns the Norwegian nuclear watchdog, Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor.


According to the well-respected organisation, the world’s nine nuclear-armed states had a combined arsenal of 12,705 nuclear warheads at the beginning of 2022.


Of these, an estimated 9,440 warheads – with a collective yield equivalent to approximately 138,000 Hiroshima-bombs – constituted “usable stockpiles”, available for use by the nuclear armed states on their missiles, aircraft, submarines and ships.


In addition, an estimated 3,265 retired, older warheads were awaiting dismantlement in Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.


The United States’ usable stockpile increased slightly in 2019 but declined again in 2020 and 2021, while France’s and Israel’s stockpiles have remained constant.

The total number of nuclear warheads in the world continued to decrease slightly in 2021, but only because the US and Russia dismantle a small number of their retired, older nuclear warheads every year. However, there been no parallel and continued gradual reduction of the number of nuclear warheads that are available for use.


“Around 2007 the pace of reductions in global usable stockpiles slowed to a trickle. In fact, the number of nuclear warheads in global usable stockpiles has even started to increase again since its lowest point in 2017, when it was at 9,227 warheads,” said Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists, one of the contributors to the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor.


Dismantlement of retired, Cold-War-era nuclear weapons will soon cease to be a course of action to reduce the global nuclear inventory. No further progress in nuclear disarmament will then be in sight, unless nuclear-armed states can agree that their current usable stockpiles are not indispensable. 


The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor has found no evidence, however, that any of the nuclear-armed states currently have the will to purposefully pursue nuclear disarmament, or to develop plans for its realization. 


The states with conduct that is not compatible with the TPNW are first and foremost the nine nuclear-armed states and the 32 so-called umbrella states (most of which are European). All of the umbrella states engaged in conduct in 2021 that was not compatible with the TPNW’s prohibition on assistance and encouragement of prohibited activities. 


These 32 states aid and abet nuclear-armed states’ retention of nuclear weapons in several ways, including by participating in nuclear strike exercises and nuclear planning; provision of logistical and technical support; endorsement of nuclear-weapons doctrines, policies and statements; and with development, production, and maintenance of key components for nuclear weapons.



The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor also concludes that there was increasing engagement in 2021 with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which entered into force in 2021 and which is seen as a vehicle for resistance to the permanence of nuclear weapons in world politics.


The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor tracks progress towards a world without nuclear weapons, highlights activities that hamper such progress, and analyses the key challenges to nuclear disarmament.


The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor also evaluates the extent to which all states — regardless of whether they have consented to be bound by the TPNW — act in accordance with the Treaty or not. It found that the conduct in 2021 of a total of 153 states (equating to almost 78% of the global total) was fully compatible with the Treaty.


The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor also continues to list Iran and Saudi Arabia as states of concern, in relation to the TPNW’s prohibition on developing and producing nuclear weapons. They do not possess nuclear weapons, but both have latent nuclear breakout capabilities.

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