1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites
ConflictsGlobal issues

SIPRI: Nuclear diplomacy takes a hit amid Ukraine war

June 12, 2023

Disarmament achievements are gradually being reversed as global tensions rise and diplomacy falters. The Swedish peace institute has warned of the "high risk" this situation poses.

An intercontinental ballistic missile lifts off the ground
Russia test-fires an intercontinental ballistic missile in October 2022Image: Russian Defense Ministry Press Service/AP/picture alliance

There are more usable nuclear warheads in military stockpiles in the world than last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

At the same time, communication and relations between the main nuclear powers is at its lowest point for decades.

The annual assessment of the state of arms and disarmament by the independent institute, released Monday, shows there were an estimated 9,576 warheads in military stockpiles for potential use as of January 2023.

That figure represents an increase of 86 more warheads since January 2022. 

Risk from nuclear weapons is 'high'

The total global inventory stands at around 12,512 warheads, according to SIPRI's count. The global inventory includes retired warheads that are to be dismantled.

The report said that "Global reductions of operational warheads appeared to have stalled, and their numbers are rising again."

"In this period of high geopolitical tension and mistrust, with communication channels between nuclear-armed rivals closed or barely functioning, the risks of miscalculation, misunderstanding or accident are unacceptably high," SIPRI director Dan Smith said.  

"There is an urgent need to restore nuclear diplomacy and strengthen international controls on nuclear arms," he added.

US and Russian warheads kept on high alert

Of the 9,576 warheads for potential use, around 2,000 of them, nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the US, were kept in a state of high operational alert.

That meant they were fitted to missiles or held at airbases hosting nuclear bombers that can transport the weapons.

There are nine nuclear-armed states in the world, namely, the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.

How the war in Ukraine has impacted nuclear stockpiles

Moscow and Washington are once again in all but the most direct opposition to one another following Russia's fullscale invasion of Ukraine the began in February last year.

Russia earlier this year in February suspended its participation in New START, which was the only remaining nuclear arms control treaty between the US and Moscow.

The New START, which was signed in 2010, allowed inspections of weapons sites and the sharing of information on the placement of intercontinental and submarine-based ballistic missiles.

The US and Russia together possess almost 90% of all nuclear weapons, according to SIPRI.

Although SIPRI's report said that the sizes of respective nuclear arsenals or useable warheads appear to have remained relatively stable in 2022, transperancy regarding nuclear forces declined in both countries.

The US was previously locked in a nuclear arms race with its Cold War rival the Soviet Union from the end of the Second World War until the latter's collapse just over 30 years ago.

The war in Ukraine has brought relations between the two powers to their lowest point since the end of the Soviet project.

How likely is it the confrontation over Ukraine going nuclear? Interview with Elena Sokova

China's nuclear arsenal increases and how others stack up

China's nuclear arsenal increased from 350 warheads in January 2022 to 410 in January 2023 and is expected to keep growing, according to the report.

The UK's nuclear weapons arsenal is thought to have remained the same in 2022.

But the war stockpile is expected to grow in the future as the UK government announced in 2021 that it was raising its limit from 225 to 260 warheads.

India and Pakistan appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals as well. While Pakistan is keeping its eye on India, India itself appears to be placing emphasis on longer-range weapons, including those capable of reaching targets across China, according to the report.

North Korea continues to prioritize its military nuclear program as a central part of its national security strategy, while Israel, which does not publicly acknowledge its nuclear forces, appears to be expanding its arsenal as well. 

Putin's threat: Is the nuclear risk rising?

rm/ab (AFP, dpa)