Global Spending on Nuclear Weapons Up 13% in Unprecedented Rise

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A Pakistani-made Shaheen-III missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads is displayed during a military parade on Pakistan’s National Day in Islamabad, Pakistan. Mar. 23 2022. (Credit: Anjum Naveed)

Global spending on nuclear weapons has risen by $10.7 billion from the previous year, according to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This is an increase of 13% in the US, a sharp swell in the US defense budget. The new total global spending now stands at a record $91.4 billion at a time of growing geopolitical uncertainty with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war and the burgeoning threat of a more powerful China.

In fact, all nine of the world’s nuclear armed states are spending more yet the US’s budget at $51.5 billion is still more than the other 8 nations budgets combined. China is positioned as the second largest spender with a budget of $11.9 billion, followed by Russia at $8.3 billion. However, estimates for authoritarian states and states with undeclared nuclear programs such as India, Pakistan and Israel are complicated by a lack of transparency and therefore likely inaccurate estimations.

The total global inventory of nuclear warheads amounts to 12,121, of which Russia and the US have almost 90%. Wilfred Wan, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Program said, “We have not seen nuclear weapons playing such a prominent role in international relations since the Cold War”. The insitiute added that some Asian countries like India, Pakistan and North Korea are currently pursuing capablities to deploy multiple warheads on ballistic missiles which the US, UK, Russia, France, and China already have the capacity to do.

The global increase has been largely caused by escalating geopolitical tensions and a renewed focus on national security among leading powers. Countries are trying to modernize their nuclear arsenals and develop new, more destrcutive technologies in response to perceived threats and the strategic necessity to maintain their deterrent capabilities. This trend reflects a broader shift towards increased defence spending and military readiness, supported by an additional rise in the number of operational warheads from the previous year.

Susy Synder, one of the authors of the ICANs report warned that nuclear states could be on track to be “spending more $100 billion per year on nuclear weapons”. She argues that this immense sum of money could be instead diverted on environmental or social programs or to combat climate change. Over the past five years, nuclear spending has soared by 34% and current trends suggest that this will surpass $100 billion this year.

Written by Rakan Pharaon

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