The global arsenal of nuclear weapons available "for use" by the armed forces of the nuclear-armed states increased in 2022 as the fear of a nuclear war also surged, the latest Nuclear Weapons Ban Monitor report showed Wednesday.
The "fear of nuclear war surged to the highest levels since the Cold War following Russia's invasion of Ukraine," said the monitor released by the humanitarian relief organization Norwegian People's Aid.
In collaboration with the think tank Federation of American Scientists, the organization published the latest data on global nuclear forces.
"Pakistan, Russia, China, India, North Korea, all increased their stockpiles of warheads in 2022, bringing about an increase by 136 warheads from the 9,440 warheads that were available for use in early 2022 to 9,576 in 2023," said Hans M. Kristensen, the director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
The hike was registered despite a slight annual drop in the global inventory of nuclear warheads, including in 2022, when it decreased from 12,705 warheads at the beginning of the year to the estimated 12,512 warheads in January 2023.
Old weapons dismantled
"This is only still true because Russia and the United States each year dismantle a small number of their older nuclear warheads that have been retired from service," said Kristensen.
At the start of this year, nine nuclear-armed states had 12,512 nuclear warheads, of which 2,936 are retired and awaiting dismantlement.
That leaves 9,576 nuclear warheads available for use by the military, with a collective destructive power equal to more than 135,000 Hiroshima bombs.
The increase of weapons ready for use is "worrying" and continues a trend started in 2017, said the monitor editor, Grethe Lauglo Ostern of Norwegian People's Aid.
"If this does not stop, the total number of nuclear weapons in the world will also soon increase again for the first time since the Cold War," said Ostern.
She noted that all nine nuclear-armed states — China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the US, and the UK – refuse to join the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW).
"The Ukraine crisis has demonstrated that nuclear weapons do not create peace or stability," said Henriette Westhrin, the secretary-general of Norwegian People's Aid.
"They do not deter aggression but enable conventional wars and incentivize risk-taking that could lead to nuclear war. This report shows how urgent it is for the nuclear-armed states and their allies to take concrete steps towards disarmament."
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The report also noted that they are acting in contravention of the treaty by continuing to develop, produce, and stockpile nuclear weapons.
Still, it is not just the nuclear-armed states whose activities are incompatible with the TPNW.
Non-nuclear states contravene
Also, the report shows that 35 non-nuclear-armed states, including the world's so-called 32 umbrella states, contravened the treaty in 2022 by assisting and encouraging continued possession of nuclear weapons.
Europe has the highest number of countries whose actions run counter to the TPNW and that vote against the treaty of the UN.
"These states perpetuate the idea that nuclear weapons are legitimate and necessary and are a major obstacle to nuclear disarmament," said Ostern.
Despite this, the Ban Monitor stressed that the TPNW gained strength last year.
The speed with which new countries sign and ratify the treaty accelerated following a dip during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A significant milestone, the treaty's First Meeting of States Parties, was held in Vienna in June 2022.
Five countries under the US "nuclear umbrella" attended the Vienna meeting as observers, showing early signs of a willingness to "engage constructively" with the treaty.
As of this month, the nuclear ban treaty has "68 states parties" and 27 countries that have signed but not yet ratified the treaty.
The monitoring group said only four more states need to join the treaty to exceed 50% of all states.