OSLO - The number of operational nuclear warheads in the world increased in 2022, driven by Russia and China, according to a report released yesterday amid threats from Moscow.
At the beginning of 2023, the nine official and unofficial nuclear powers possessed 9,576 ready-to-use warheads, 136 more than the previous year, according to the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor report, published by Norwegian NGO Norsk Folkehjelp.
Their destructive capacity is equivalent to "more than 135,000 Hiroshima bombs," according to the report.
The increase observed in 2022 is due to Russia, which has the world's largest nuclear arsenal with 5,889 operational warheads, as well as China, India, North Korea and Pakistan.
This increase is worrying and prolongs a trend that started in 2017," commented a responsible for the report, Grethe Lauglo Østern.
The report was published against a backdrop of nuclear threats by Moscow, related to its invasion of Ukraine.
Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday announced a forthcoming deployment of tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, a country on the doorstep of the EU and NATO and a close ally of the Kremlin.
There is nothing unusual here: the United States has been doing that for decades: it has been deploying tactical nuclear weapons for a long time on the territory of its allies," Putin said in an interview broadcast on Russian television.
A hundred or so "tactical" U.S. weapons have already been deployed for years in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey, according to estimates by several independent analysts.
Putin's announcement was criticized by Ukraine and its Western allies. NATO said "Russia's nuclear rhetoric is dangerous and irresponsible" and the EU threatened Minsk with further sanctions.
Reduction of the total stockpile
Parallel to the conflict in Ukraine, North Korea is stepping up its ballistic missile launches, tests that are likely to increase its ability to carry out nuclear attacks.
In this deteriorating geopolitical situation, fears of resorting to the use of these weapons are at record levels since the end of the Cold War three decades ago, according to surveys conducted in several countries.
The total stock of atomic weapons, which includes those that have been decommissioned, has, however, been reduced.
Their total number went from 12,705 to 12,512 in one year, due to the destruction of old warheads in Russia and the United States.
This is because Russia and the United States dismantle a small number of their older nuclear warheads annually," said Hans Kristensen, head of the Federation of American Scientists.
Russia and the United States together account for about 89% of the total nuclear arsenal, the report states.
If the introduction of new warheads does not stop, "the total number of nuclear weapons in the world will soon increase again for the first time since the Cold War," added Lauglo Østern.
The eight official nuclear powers are the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea.
Israel is an unofficial nuclear power and has never acknowledged having such a capability.
On a visit to Ukraine, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, indicated that he is working on a plan to guarantee safety and minimize the risk of catastrophe at the Ukrainian nuclear power plant of Zaporiyia, in Russian hands.
The objective "is to agree on certain principles and certain commitments, including not attacking the plant," he stressed, calling once again on Russia to refrain from stockpiling weapons and military equipment there.
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