Nuclear States Continue to Amass Weapons

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released a yearbook detailing the activity of the five legally recognised nuclear armed states. Disturbingly, the report signifies a trend towards increased construction and retention of nuclear weapons rather than towards dismantlement and non-proliferation. We look at why this is this case.

There are five legally recognised nuclear states as defined by the non-proliferation treaty which has been signed by 190 nations since its enaction in 1968. They are China, France, Russia, the US and the UK. There are also four nations who have not signed the non-proliferation treaty who are believed or known to possess nuclear weapons; India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.

The objective of the non-proliferation treaty was to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology and to help bring about complete disarmament of nuclear weapons.

The latest release by SIPRI indicates that this objective is not being met, whether willingly or by sheer negligence, as the 5 countries who have signed the treaty “appear determined to retain their nuclear arsenals indefinitely”, according to the SIPRI publication.

At the beginning of 2013, eight nations – the US, UK, France, China, India, Russia, Pakistan and Israel – were believed to have possessed about 4,400 operational nuclear weapons, of which 2,000 are kept in a state of high operational alert, which means they are kept in a ‘ready-to-launch’ position at all times. If all nuclear warheads are counted, these states together possess a total of approximately 17,265 nuclear weapons, the report indicates. Easily enough to destroy the planet and every life form on it many, many times over.

Shannon Kile, a senior researcher at SIPRI, was understandably frustrated at the findings of the report. “Once again there was little to inspire hope that the nuclear-weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.” she said. “The long-term modernisation programmes under way in these states suggest that nuclear weapons are still a marker of international status and power,”

Of the five legally accepted nuclear states, China is the nation that appears to be most rapidly building its nuclear arsenal, while India and Pakistan, two nations who did not sign the non-proliferation treaty, are belived to be expanding both their nuclear weapon stockpiles and their missile delivery capabilities. Pakistan is also expanding its main plutonium-production complex at Khushab, Punjab, according to the SIPRI report.

SIPRI also estimates that Israel has approximately 80 intact nuclear weapons, 50 for its Jericho II medium-range ballistic missiles and 30 for gravity bombs carried by aircraft. Israel may also have produced non-strategic nuclear weapons, including artillery shells and atomic demolition munitions, says the yearbook.

Nuclear programs are used primarily for deterrence. The threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) posed by large nuclear arsenals as possessed by the United States and UK provide an additional layer of defense against any would-be attackers; the United States is a perfect example, its long-range and extremely potent nuclear capability providing a ‘nuclear umbrella’ that serves to protect not only itself but also its many allies from the threat of invasion or terrorist attack, due to the almost certain destruction a nuclear retaliatory strike would bring.

Consequently, nuclear weapons are seen as being an essential part of the national security plans of the US, UK, France, China and Russia. Although the disarmament of nuclear weapons is strongly encouraged by organisations such as SIPRI and treaties such as the non-proliferation nuclear treaty, the emergence of terrorism as a major national security threat in recent decades and increasing tensions surrounding rogue states such as North Korea has meant that, for the time being, the idea of global disarmament must take a back-seat as nations seek to protect their own interests first through maintaining and even increasing their nuclear arsenals.


photo credit: Pierre J. via photopin cc

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