Global nuclear arsenal growing for first time since Cold War

A leading think tank on conflicts and armaments releases a report showing that the global nuclear arsenal is expected to grow in the coming years for the first time since the Cold War. It also warns that the risk of such weapons being used is the greatest in decades.

By Linda Bordoni

In speeches, messages, homilies and encyclicals, Pope Francis has tirelessly called for a world free of nuclear weapons and described the use and possession of nuclear armaments as “inconceivable” and as a terrible threat to humanity and to the planet.

His words took on extra urgency when just three days after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a show of Western support for Kyiv, the Russian President put Russia’s nuclear deterrent on high alert.

Worrying trend

Observers and analysts agree that the war in Europe has heightened tensions among the world’s nine nuclear-armed states and are warning it is a worrying trend.

On Monday, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said that while the number of nuclear weapons fell slightly between January 2021 and January 2022, unless immediate action is taken by the nuclear powers, global inventories of warheads could soon begin rising for the first time in decades.

In its 2022 yearbook, SIPRI noted that “All of the nuclear-armed states are increasing or upgrading their arsenals and most are sharpening nuclear rhetoric and the role nuclear weapons play in their military strategies.”

Wilfrid Wan is Director of SIPRI’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme.” He expressed concern for the consequences of possible Russian military choices that would be “such as you have never seen in your entire history” for countries that stood in Russia’s way.

Russia and US own world’s biggest nuclear arsenals  

Russia has the world’s biggest nuclear arsenal with a total of 5,977 warheads, some 550 more than the United States. The two countries possess more than 90% of the world’s warheads, though SIPRI said China was in the middle of an expansion with an estimated more than 300 new missile silos.

SIPRI noted that the global number of nuclear warheads fell slightly between January 2021 and January 2022, but reported that an estimated 3,732 warheads were deployed with missiles and aircraft, and around 2,000 – nearly all belonging to Russia or the United States – were kept in a state of high readiness.

Appeal for international action

Calling for urgent international action and a policy of détente, SIPRI board chairman and former Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, said “Relations between the world’s great powers have deteriorated further at a time when humanity and the planet face an array of profound and pressing common challenges that can only be addressed by international cooperation.”