22nd Oct 2021

World's nuclear arsenals growing, think-tank warns

  • Cold War-era US nuclear missile, now part of a museum in Arizona (Photo: jonkeegan)

The world is heading for "a new era of global nuclear force modernisation and growth" despite anti-proliferation rhetoric in the US and EU, a new study says.

The survey by the London and Washington-based think-tank, the British American Security Information Council (Basic), notes that every one of the world's nine nuclear powers is currently in the middle of a shopping spree.

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The US, which already has 8,500 warheads, plans to spend $700 billion on its nuclear capability in the next 10 years. Around $200 billion will go on modernising delivery systems and warhead production. Part will go on a fleet of 12 new nuclear submarines and long-range air-launched missiles.

The other big player, Russia, which has around 11,500 warheads, plans to spend $70 billion by 2020. It aims to double the number of ballistic missiles it makes each year by investing $500 million in its Votkinsk factory. It is also buying eight new submarines, developing a strategic missile capable of carrying 10 warheads and working on a new long-range stealth bomber.

Its stated military doctrine depicts Nato expansion as its main strategic threat.

The US and Russia in Prague last year signed a new so-called Start II treaty on scrapping some types of warheads. China, Russia, the US and EU countries are also part of an international campaign to stop Iran from building the bomb.

The author of the Basic study, British defence expert Ian Kearns, wrote, however: "Whatever the current rhetoric about global nuclear disarmament ... the evidence points to a new era of global nuclear force modernisation and growth."

He added: "There is little sign in any of these nuclear armed states that a future without nuclear weapons is seriously being contemplated."

The survey does not cover UK investments, but notes that Britain has 225 warheads. France (300) is said to be putting "more robust" ones on submarine missiles and on Rafale fighters on its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.

China (currently on 240 warheads) is pointing intercontinental missiles at the US and building five new submarines capable of launching up to 60 nuclear projectiles each. India (up to 80 warheads) is working on a missile capable of hitting all of Pakistan or Beijing. And Pakistan is, among other projects, investing in small and light warheads for tactical use alongside conventional forces.

In the Middle East, the region's only nuclear power, Israel (100 to 200 warheads) is building new long-range rockets capable of striking the Far East as well as buying three new submarines.

Israeli media on Wednesday (2 November) reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to persuade his cabinet to launch an air strike on Iran.

The move could come shortly after 8 November, when the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, publishes its latest report on Iran, Israeli daily Haaretz said.

But for their part, US and EU diplomats are more concerned about the prospect of Pakistan's arsenal falling into the hands of Islamic extremists if the country's government loses control.

"The Iranians might make frightening statements [about destroying Israel]. But it is a country with sophisticated decision-making structures and some sense of responsibility for its own welfare and for the region. The worst case scenario in Pakistan is complete chaos," a US source said.

"There are whole hosts of armies and militant groups already poised to try and step in if Pakistan falls apart," an EU contact added.

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