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18th Aug 2022

Nuclear weapons more modern, fewer in number

  • The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel have around 4,400 operational nuclear weapons (Photo: jonkeegan)

The Stockholm-based arms-control institute, Sipri, released a report on Monday (4 June) claiming nuclear warheads are fewer in number but are increasingly more sophisticated.

The United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel collectively have around 4,400 operational nuclear weapons.

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An operational nuclear weapon is one where a warhead is placed on a missile or located on an active military base, for instance. Some 2,000 are kept in a state of high operational alert, says Sipri.

The eight states currently possess a total of approximately 19,000 nuclear weapons, compared to 20,530 at the beginning of 2011.

The drop in numbers comes primarily from existing Russian and US stockpiles where some of the weapons are simply too old, says the report.

"In spite of the world's revived interest in disarmament efforts, none of the nuclear weapon-possessing states shows more than a rhetorical willingness to give up their nuclear arsenals just yet," said Shannon Kile, a senior Sipri researcher.

Instead, new nuclear weapons delivery systems or their plans are currently underway in China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

"The long-term modernisation programmes under way in these states suggest that nuclear weapons are still a currency of international status and power," added Kile.

Nato announced plans to replace its aging 180 B61 free-fall tactical nuclear bombs stored in bases in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and Turkey in early May.

The US bombs are being replaced with precision-guided B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs. The upgrade comes with an estimated €3 billion price-tag.

According to a report by the European Leadership Network (ELN), a UK-based think-tank, the nuclear bombs positioned throughout the European countries have no guidance systems. The upgrade could provoke an arms race, warned ELN.

Meanwhile, Russian defence sources told the Interfax news agency on 23 May that they have tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) specifically designed to penetrate Nato’s European missile defence shield. The missile has a 6,000 km range.

Nato had earlier announced a new shield aimed to safeguard the continent from possible attacks by rogue states like Iran. But Russia claims the Nato shield actually seeks to undermine its nuclear deterrent.

A new 2010 arms-control treaty caps the number of strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons and 700 delivery devices.

The United States currently has 1,737 field strategic nuclear warheads carried by 812 active ICBMs, submarines-based missiles and bombers. Russia has 1,492 warheads on 494 ICBMs, according to ELN.

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