Risk of Nuclear Conflict at Highest Point Since Height of Cold War—SIPRI

The risk of a nuclear conflict is the highest it has been since the times of the Cold War, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The "SIPRI Yearbook 2022," a report published Monday assessing the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security around the world, stated that nuclear arsenals are expected to grow over the coming decade.

Despite the fact that the total number of nuclear weapons in the world has slightly declined between January 2021 and January 2022 (just before the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine), the number is likely to increase in the near future, according to SIPRI.

Some 90 percent of the world's nuclear arsenal is owned by Russia and the United States, with a total inventory of respectively 5,977 and 5,428 nuclear weapons as of 2022.

Nuclear weapons
SIPRI has predicted that the global nuclear arsenal will increase in the coming decade. In this photo from January 2021, peace activists wearing masks of Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden pose with mock nuclear missiles in front of Berlin's Brandenburg Gate in an action to call for more progress in nuclear disarmament. JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP via Getty Images

The nine nuclear-armed states—the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea—continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals. The weapons that have been dismantled in the U.S. and Russia last year were already "retired" from military services, leaving the arsenal of useable nuclear weapons of the two countries virtually unchanged.

"Although there were some significant gains in both nuclear arms control and nuclear disarmament in the past year, the risk of nuclear weapons being used seems higher now than at any time since the height of the Cold War," said SIPRI Director Dan Smith.

The war in Ukraine has certainly triggered the worsening of the risk of a nuclear conflict, with Russia having already made several threats about possibly using nuclear weapons in response to Western support for Kyiv.

"Relations between the world's great powers have deteriorated further at a time when humanity and the planet face an array of profound and pressing common challenges that can only be addressed by international cooperation," said Stefan Löfven, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board.

The growth foreseen by the Swedish institute in the global nuclear arsenal would be the end of a steady decline in nuclear weapons since the Cold War ended.

"There are clear indications that the reductions that have characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the Cold War have ended," said Hans M. Kristensen, Associate Senior Fellow with SIPRI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme and Director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).

Last year, Britain announced it will increase the ceiling of its total warhead stockpiles at the same time it declared it will not publicly disclose figures for the country's operational nuclear weapon stockpile, deployed warheads or deployed missiles.

France launched a program in 2021 to develop a third-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine. SIPRI believes India, Pakistan and Israel are also developing and modernizing their nuclear arsenals.

"All of the nuclear-armed states are increasing or upgrading their arsenals and most are sharpening nuclear rhetoric and the role nuclear weapons play in their military strategies," added Wilfred Wan, Director of SIPRI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme. "This is a very worrying trend."

"If the nuclear-armed states take no immediate and concrete action on disarmament, then the global inventory of nuclear warheads could soon begin to increase for the first time since the cold war," said Matt Korda, Associate Researcher at SIPRI.