Report: Asian Nuclear Arsenals Continue to Expand


The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) released its latest Yearbook which, among other things, offers a snapshot of the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles. Overall, the good news is that the world, as a whole, is continuing to disarm. Nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea—maintain 15,850 nuclear weapons between them.

Per SIPRI estimates, 4,300 on these are in operational deployment, and 1,800 of these are on “high operational alert.” Overall, disarmament was modest from 2014 to 2015. Per SIPRI estimates, the reduction amounted to just 500 fewer nuclear weapons—a 3 percent decrease. The drop in nuclear arsenals is more discernible over the last five years—stocks fell 29 percent over that period (22,600 in 2010 to 15,850 in 2015).

Asia had the distinction of being the region that bucked the nuclear disarmament trend. China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—the four Asian states with nuclear weapons—either maintained their arsenals at 2014 levels or grew them. SIPRI notes that China pursued a “modest increase” in the size of its nuclear arsenal. Meanwhile, “India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon production capabilities and developing new missile delivery systems.” China is additionally pursuing multiple independently retargetable reentry vehicles (MIRV) for its older nuclear missiles, as the New York Times noted some weeks ago.

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North Korea’s opacity continues to befuddle attempts by third parties to estimate the size of its weapons program and its nuclear materials stockpiles. SIPRI noted difficulty in assessing North Korea’s progress on its nuclear arsenal, noting that it likely had an arsenal of six to eight nuclear warheads. This is a conservative estimate based on other third-party projections.

Other recent estimates on North Korea have been less sanguine: a joint project between U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University and the National Defense University, for instance, projected that North Korea could field between 10 to 20 warheads in a conservative “minimal growth, minimal modernization” scenario. Chinese exports have meanwhile claimed privately that North Korea’s uranium program is far more advanced than anticipated—Wall Street Journal report noted that they project 20 warheads under Kim Jong-un’s command.

Despite lingering uncertainties—certainly regarding the precise size of nuclear stockpiles in China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea—the SIPRI report makes it clear that Asia isn’t quite on board with the nuclear disarmament that’s being pursued by other nuclear powers.

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