Nuclears arms decline stalls as nations modernise arsenals
As nuclear nations commit to renewing and sometimes expanding their arsenals, a decline seen since the early 1990s seems to have stalled, with some signs of a numerical increase, researchers said Monday
“The reduction of nuclear arsenals that we have gotten used to since the end of the Cold War appears to be levelling out,” Hans Kristensen, associate senior fellow at SIPRI’s Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme, told AFP.
The amount of nukes among the nine nuclear-armed states — the US, Russia, the UK, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea — totalled 13,080 at the start of 2021, a slight decrease from 13,400 a year earlier, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimated.
However, this includes retired warheads waiting to be dismantled, and without them the combined military stockpile of nuclear arms rose from 9,380 to 9,620.
Meanwhile, the number of nuclear weapons deployed with operational forces increased from 3,720 to 3,825, the report said.
Of these, some 2,000 were kept in a “kept in a state of high operational alert,” meaning for launch in a matter of minutes.
“We’re seeing very significant nuclear modernisation programmes all around the world and in all the nuclear weapons states,” Kristensen said.
He added that nuclear states also seem to be raising “the importance they attribute to the nuclear weapons in their military strategies.”
This change can be observed in both Russia and the United States, which together possess over 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, Kristensen said, stressing it was too early to say if the new US administration under President Joe Biden would deviate from the strategy under his predecessor Donald Trump.
“I think that the Biden administration is signalling quite clearly that it is going to continue the overwhelming main thrust of the nuclear modernisation programme that was underway during the Trump years,” the researcher said, noting the programme was started under Barack Obama.
The US and Russia continued to dismantle retired warheads, but both had about 50 more in “operational deployment” at the start of 2021 than a year earlier.
At the same time, the “New START” nuclear arms reduction treaty between the US and Russia was extended for another five years in early 2021, albeit at the last minute.
– Truly in compliance? –
The extension was important to “create stability” and “it was doubly important” as other treaties — such as the INF treaty, banning intermediate and shorter range land based missiles — have expired.
The report authors said “all the other seven nuclear-armed states are also either developing or deploying new weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so.”
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) this month reported that nuclear nations increased spending on their arsenals by $1.4 billion (1.2 billon euros) to $72 billion in 2020, even as the pandemic raged.
In August, the parties to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — or most countries in the world — are set to meet in New York for a review held every five years.
Under the treaty nuclear powers commit to “pursue negotiations in good faith” both on the “cessation of the nuclear arms race” and “nuclear disarmament”, but as many are renewing their arsenals, other parties may question their commitment.
“The member states of that treaty will rightly be able to ask: ‘Are you truly in ‘compliance with this treaty?’,” Kristensen said.
“‘If you’re not, why should we continue to be members to the treaty’.”
While we might see a reversal of the trend since the end of the Cold War, Kristensen cautioned there were a lot of uncertainties about where future developments might lead.
“Is it just that the reduction phase is over, or are we even going to see an increase because countries might want more weapons,” he said, adding that China’s growing stockpile may also affect US and Russian readiness to disarm.
The situation during the Cold War was much more “intense,” added Kristensen.
The number of nuclear weapons peaked at over an estimated 70,000 in 1986.
Pentagon leaders, senators surprised by plan to cut sea-based nuclear cruise missiles
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mike Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that neither saw a June 4 memo from Harker which called for cancellation of the Navy’s nuclear Sea-Launched Nuclear Cruise Missile in 2023.
“The Navy cannot afford to own, operate, and maintain its current infrastructure and must prioritize demolition to achieve long-term sustainment,” the three-page memo says in part, adding “defund [the] sea-launched cruise missile.”
The missile was identified in the Pentagon’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review as a requirement.
“I have not seen the memo, but I would say that all of us, all the services, and the department, are again making tough choices in terms of what to prioritize and where to accept risk,” Austin told the committee. “That memo has to be pre-decisional because of where we are in the [review] process.”
Milley added that he would seek the memo after the hearing.
“I’m not familiar with the memo and nor was I consulted. But as soon as we’re done here, I’ll go find that memo and get consulted,” he told the committee reviewing the Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal for nuclear forces.
Senators also showed concern over the proposal to eliminate sea-launched nuclear cruise missiles from the Navy’s arsenals aboard ships and submarines.
“I think we’re all shocked to have heard the news of the acting secretary of the Navy appearing to take action to zero out the sea-launched cruise missile,” said Sen. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee subpanel on strategic forces. “We know that the Nuclear Posture Review isn’t underway, and yet we have the first steps toward actions that would be unilateral disarmament.”
Turner was not alone in his surprise over the directive.
“This memo was signed June 4, that’s just one week after the Department of Defense submitted a budget request that asked for $5 million to continue to study that concept and NNSA [National Nuclear Security Administration] requested $10 million to conduct its own assessment,” Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., said.
“I find it very concerning that an acting service secretary, who hasn’t been confirmed by the Senate, is making a decision like this,” Fischer said.
In Congress, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.,,and House Seapower Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., revealed plans to introduce legislation to eliminate the sea-launched cruise missile.
The move is an indication of pressure on the administration of President Joe Biden from his own party to scale back nuclear plans formed under the previous administration.
The proposed bill would end the missile known as the SLCM-N and save $9 billion, a Congressional Budget Office estimate said.
Learn about nuclear weapons doctrine and defense at SpaceWar.com
In a fresh report, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) detailed how the world’s nine nuclear-armed states continued to swell their spending on such weapons.
“While hospital beds filled up with patients, doctors and nurses worked over hours and basic medical supplies ran s … read more
4 August 2021