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Global nuclear weapons stockpile growing as Russia moves missiles to Belarus

A Russian Iskander-K missile is launched during a military exercise in February 2022.
A Russian Iskander-K missile is launched during a military exercise in February 2022. Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Andrew Naughtie, Euronews
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While some nuclear weapons states focused on modernising their arsenals, others – particularly China – are expanding and modernising them.

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With Vladimir Putin announcing that he will be deploying tactical nuclear missiles in Belarus, a new report has shed light on worrying developments in the world's nuclear weapons balance.

The detailed research from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, explains that the number of operational nuclear weapons is on the rise worldwide, with signs that the overall nuclear danger to global safety is growing.

Among these is the growth of China's arsenal, which the report says may well match the size of the American and Russian ones by the end of the decade.

According to SIPRI Associate Senior Fellow Hans M. Kristensen, China "has started a significant expansion of its nuclear arsenal" that could send the world's nuclear calculus off-kilter.

"It is increasingly difficult to square this trend with China’s declared aim of having only the minimum nuclear forces needed to maintain its national security," he said.

Also apparently expanding their arsenals are India and Pakistan, both of whom are developing new weapons delivery systems.

SIPRI's researchers point out that while the two countries are generally viewed as the main targets for each other's deterrent, India's increasing development of long-range weapons includes systems that could target Chinese territory – this at a time when Beijing and New Delhi are on particularly tense terms.

Meanwhile, while North Korea did not carry out any nuclear tests last year, it has continued to build and test long-range missiles. By SIPRI's estimate, it has greatly increased its number of warheads, as well as its stockpile of fissile material needed to assemble new ones.

However, one of the biggest concerns for researchers is the crisis in Ukraine, which SIPRI says has done serious damage to nuclear diplomacy.

The Russian factor

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, Putin and other voices in the Kremlin have warned that nuclear attacks are not off the table, though the seriousness of their threats is hard to gauge.

Putin's latest announcement about nuclear deployments in Belarus came as Ukraine mounted a major counteroffensive against his beleaguered military.

The Belarusian government confirmed that it had received Iskander missiles with a range of 500km and that Su-25 jets had been adapted to carry them, meaning that they could easily reach much of the European continent and most European NATO allies.

In recent weeks, the US has attempted to return to something resembling normal nuclear weapons diplomacy with Russia.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan insisted earlier this month that even as the Biden administration is taking countermeasures against the Kremlin's suspension of the New START treaty, which Putin announced in February, it remains invested in finding a way forward.

"It is in neither of our countries' interest to embark on opening the competition in the strategic nuclear forces," Sullivan told the annual meeting of the Arms Control Association earlier this month.

"And rather than waiting to resolve all of our bilateral differences, the United States is ready to engage Russia now to manage nuclear risks and develop a post 2026" agreement.

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