THE NINE NUCLEAR-ARMED STATES had a combined arsenal of 12,705 nuclear warheads at the beginning of 2022.

Of these, an estimated 9,440 warheads – with a collective yield equivalent to approximately 138,000 Hiroshima-bombs – constituted usable stockpiles, available for use by the nuclear armed states on their missiles, aircraft, submarines and ships. The number of nuclear warheads in usable stockpiles is now on the rise, warns the watchdog Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor.

“The war in Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats are yet another stark reminder of the profound dangers of living in a world where some states insist their security must rest on capacity for massive and indiscriminate nuclear violence. We have ended up trusting luck rather than the supposed stabilising effects of nuclear deterrence. It is deeply concerning that the global stockpile of nuclear weapons available for use is now increasing”, said Henriette Westhrin, Secretary-General of Norwegian People’s Aid, which published its annual Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor report on 11 April 2022.

In addition to the 9,440 nuclear warheads in global usable stockpiles, at the beginning of 2022 an estimated 3,265 retired, older warheads were awaiting dismantlement in Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

“The total number of nuclear warheads in the world continued to decrease slightly in 2021, but only because the United States and Russia every year dismantle a small number of their retired, older nuclear warheads. There has not been a parallel and continued gradual reduction of the number of nuclear warheads that are available for use. Around the year 2007, the pace of reductions in global usable stockpiles slowed to a trickle. In fact, the number of nuclear warheads in global usable stockpiles has even started to increase again since its lowest point in 2017, when it was at 9,227 warheads”, said Matt Korda of the Federation of American Scientists, one of the contributors to the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor.

The report shows that China, India, North Korea, and Pakistan all increased their total arsenals in 2021. The United Kingdom announced a significant potential increase, and the trend over the past few years has been an increase in Russia’s usable stockpile. The United States’ usable stockpile increased slightly in 2019 but declined again in 2020 and 2021, while France’s and Israel’s stockpiles have remained constant.

Dismantlement of retired, Cold-War-era nuclear weapons will soon be exhausted as a course of action to reduce the global nuclear inventory. No further progress in nuclear disarmament will then be in sight, unless nuclear-armed states can agree that their current usable stockpiles are not indispensable. The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor has found no evidence, however, that any of the nuclear-armed states currently have the will to purposefully pursue nuclear disarmament, or to develop plans for its realisation.

The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor also concludes that there was increasing engagement in 2021 with the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which entered into force in 2021 and which has been mobilised as a vehicle for resistance to the permanence of nuclear weapons in world politics.

All the nine nuclear-armed states remain unwilling to adhere to, or even engage constructively with, the TPNW, but as of 11 April 2022 this new Treaty has a total of 60 states parties while a further 29 states are signatories that have not yet ratified. An additional 49 states are identified by the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor as ‘other supporters’ on the basis of their most recent voting record on the Treaty in the UN. This means that a total of 138 states (exactly 70 per cent of all states) are effectively supportive of the TPNW.

A total of 17 states (or some nine per cent of the global total) are undecided on the TPNW, and 42 states (equating to 21 per cent of the global total) are opposed to it: the nine nuclear-armed states; all of the 30 states with arrangements of extended nuclear deterrence with the United States; and three states with nuclear-weapon-free security policies (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Micronesia, and Monaco).

Breaking down all states’ positions on the TPNW by region, the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor found that support for the TPNW is high in all regions of the world apart from Europe, where a total of 31 of the 47 states (66 per cent) were opposed to the TPNW in 2021. Political debate about adherence to the TPNW is, however, ongoing in several of the opposed states in Europe, and polling has showed high levels of public support for the Treaty in Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain.

The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor also evaluates the extent to which all states – regardless of whether they have consented to be bound by the TPNW – act in accordance with the Treaty or not. It found that the conduct in 2021 of a total of 153 states (equating to almost 78 per cent of the global total) was fully compatible with the Treaty. A minority, consisting of 42 states not party (21 per cent), continued in 2021 to engage in conduct that was not compatible with one or more of the prohibitions. The Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor also continues to list Iran and Saudi Arabia as states of concern, in relation to the TPNW’s prohibition on developing and producing nuclear weapons. They do not possess nuclear weapons, but both have latent nuclear breakout capabilities.

The states with conduct that is not compatible with the TPNW are first and foremost the nine nuclear-armed states and the 32 so-called umbrella states (most of which are European). All of the umbrella states engaged in conduct in 2021 that was not compatible with the TPNW’s prohibition on assistance and encouragement of prohibited activities. They aid and abet nuclear-armed states’ retention of nuclear weapons in several ways, including by participating in nuclear strike exercises and nuclear planning; provision of logistical and technical support; endorsement of nuclear-weapons doctrines, policies and statements; and with development, production, and maintenance of key components for nuclear weapons.

“Umbrella states play a significant role in perpetuating the idea that nuclear weapons are legitimate and necessary. They base their security on one or more allies’ continued retention of nuclear weapons, and act as enablers of nuclear armament and obstacles to nuclear disarmament. They therefore bear a considerable degree of responsibility for the nuclear risks that the entire international community is forced to endure”, said Grethe Lauglo Østern, the editor of the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor.

Established in 2018, the Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor tracks progress towards a world without nuclear weapons, highlights activities that prevent the international community from making the necessary progress towards nuclear disarmament, and analyses the key challenges. It evaluates the nuclear-weapons-related policies and practices of each of the 197 states that can become party to global treaties for which the Secretary-General of the United Nations is the depositary. It uses the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) as the primary yardstick against which progress towards the elimination of nuclear weapons is measured, because this Treaty codifies the norms and actions that are needed to create and maintain a world free of nuclear weapons. The TPNW entered into force on 22 January 2021.The impact of the TPNW will be gradual, its effectiveness dependant on how its provisions are accepted and applied by each and every state.

* Source: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons