How the UK and others are embracing nuclear proliferation

Britain, China, India and Pakistan have all increased their nuclear weapon stockpiles or limits.

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A new report estimates that the number of nuclear weapons throughout the world has fallen by more than 300. There is, however, a catch: the warheads that remain are those most ready for deployment. 

The report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) found that Russia and the US have reduced their number of warheads by 120 and 250 respectively since January 2020. But against this trend, the UK, China, India and Pakistan have all either increased their overall stocks, or, in the case of Britain, increased their ceiling of stocks.

The UK, China, India and Pakistan are increasing nuclear weapon stockpiles or limits
Estimated change in number of nuclear weapons, 2020-21
*The British Government declared in 2010 that its nuclear weapon inventory would not exceed 225 warheads. SIPRI estimates that the inventory remained at that number in Jan. 2021. This is a revision of previous SIPRI assessments based on new information. A planned reduction to 180 warheads by the mid 2020s was ended by a government review undertaken in 2020 and published in early 2021. The review introduced a new ceiling of 260 warheads.

SIPRI warns that despite the reduction in global nuclear weapons, the number of warheads deployed with operational forces – in essence, those ready for use at a moment’s notice – has increased, from 3,720 in January 2020 to 3,825 in January 2021.

“Both Russia and the US appear to be increasing the importance they attribute to nuclear weapons in their national security strategies,” said Hans Kristensen, associate senior fellow at the institute. “The prospects for additional bilateral nuclear arms control between the nuclear superpowers remain poor.”

 Ben Walker is a data journalist at the New Statesman

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