China has long-range nuclear weapons

Worldwide there are still more than 13,000 nuclear warheads in the arsenals of the nuclear powers. The total number of nuclear weapons fell by around 3.5 percent last year, according to the annual report of the Stockholm peace research institute Sipri. Nevertheless, all nuclear powers are in the process of further modernizing their nuclear weapons, said the peace researchers.

It appears that all nine nuclear weapon states wanted to hold on to their arsenals indefinitely, Sipri expert Shannon Kile told the German press agency. In fact, some of the weapon systems currently being developed would have an expected lifespan well into the 2080s.

There were an estimated 13,400 nuclear warheads worldwide in early 2020 - less than a fifth of the approximately 70,000 arsenal that nuclear powers had at the peak of the Cold War in the mid-1980s. The two superpowers of the past have been continuously reducing their contingent since then, but still own more than 90 percent of all nuclear warheads: the US has 5800 and Russia 6375.

USA and Russia are scrapping old weapons

The United Kingdom (215), France (290), China (320), India (150), Pakistan (160) and Israel (90) also have nuclear weapons. In addition, there is the arsenal of the isolated North Korea, the number of which is estimated at 30 to 40 and which, due to the great uncertainty about this figure, is not added to the global total. However, only some of the nuclear warheads in the USA, Russia, Great Britain and France are considered ready for immediate action - this means that they are already mounted on missiles or are on active bases.

A year earlier, the decline in nuclear warheads was just under four percent. As then, the further decline in numbers was mainly due to the US and Russia scrapping old weapons that they no longer needed, Kile said. He and his colleagues also pointed out that extensive and costly programs were running in Russia and the United States to replace and modernize nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft systems, and nuclear production facilities.

Both countries are giving nuclear weapons new and larger roles in their military plans, which corresponds to a trend change compared to the post-Cold War era. "What worries us overall is the growing importance of nuclear weapons," said Kile. "We are seeing a major shift from the post-Cold War trend towards the gradual marginalization of nuclear weapons. I think this is perhaps the most worrying development."

The dismantling of nuclear weapons has slowed: while in the previous year there were 600 fewer worldwide in absolute terms compared to the previous year, the decrease this time was only 465. In China there were even 30 nuclear weapons, and there was a smaller increase in arch-rivals India and Pakistan as well as Israel and Great Britain. Regarding the British, however, Sipri noted that these stocks could have already declined again.

Beijing is working on building a nuclear triad

China, on the other hand, is clearly in the process of major modernization of its nuclear arsenal, according to Kile. Beijing is about building a so-called nuclear triad consisting of new land- and sea-based missiles and aircraft capable of nuclear weapons. Not least because of these developments, the United States urgently wanted the People's Republic to participate in the new disarmament negotiations for the period after the New Start Treaty with Russia expired in February 2021, said Kile. China has repeatedly refused to participate in such talks.

Sipri again obtained data from public sources, including governments, for the 51st edition of its annual report. The availability of trustworthy information about the nuclear arsenals varies greatly, complained the peace researchers. In 2019, the US administration of President Donald Trump ended the practice of publicly disclosing the size of US holdings.