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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 1915

Time to rethink our nuclear arsenal policy

By Habib Siddiqui

Last year, after Donald Trump was elected he tweeted, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability.”

Many peace activists were genuinely alarmed to learn about Trump's intention, especially given the fact that the military budget of the USA is unmatched by any country in our time, and that the USA has stockpile of roughly half the nuclear arsenals in the world. They asked: do we need to expand nuclear arsenal capability while what we already have is enough to destroy our planet?

Based on the work of researchers at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), an organization that works to reduce the spread of nuclear weapons and increase government transparency on the issue, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed nuclear stockpile counts estimated by the organization. Currently, out of 196 countries, only nine possess nuclear weapons. And more than 90% of the world's nukes are owned by just two countries: the United States and Russia. Samuel Stebbins and Thomas C. Frohlich of 24/7 Wall St. published the list of nine countries that have nuclear arsenals.
These are:

1. Russian Federation
> Total warheads: 7,300
> Deployed warheads: 1,790
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: 5.4%

Russia’s nuclear stockpile peaked at some 40,000 warheads in the 1980s. While the country’s arsenal is much smaller than it was during the Cold War, Russia also has an expensive nuclear modernization program in progress.

2. United States
> Total warheads: 7,000
> Deployed warheads: 1,930
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: 3.3%

The United States has by far the most powerful and expensive military in the world. A key component of the U.S. global military infrastructure is its nuclear arsenal, which while trailing Russia’s in total inventory, is second to none in the number of deployed warheads. The high cost of maintaining a nuclear arsenal, as well as participation in the bilateral treaty New START, has encouraged the United States to slowly reduce its stockpile of nuclear warheads. Investment in nuclear weapons, particularly modernization projects, remains high despite the reduction. The U.S. plans to spend $348 billion between 2015 and 2024 on maintaining and updating its arsenal.

3. France
> Total warheads: 300
> Deployed warheads: 280
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: 2.1%

France has an estimated 300 nuclear weapons, the vast majority of which are deployed and operational. Two of the country’s four ballistic missile submarines are always armed with nuclear warheads. The country is also capable of delivering a nuclear payload by jet plane, though French bombers are not likely on round-the-clock high alert.

Three years after a 1994 mutual detargeting agreement between the United States and Russia, France announced it no longer had any nuclear weapons aimed at Russia. Roughly a decade later, France confirmed none of its missiles were targeting anyone. Like most other nuclear countries, France is modernizing its arsenal.

> Total warheads: 260
> Deployed warheads: N/A
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: 1.9%

China is the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council that is expanding its nuclear arsenal. The country’s missile delivery systems are diverse and largely dictated by perceived threats from the United States and Russia. Out of fear that a first strike from another nuclear power could disable missile silos, the Chinese developed mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles. Currently, China is capable of delivering a nuclear payload from the land, air, and sea.

5. United Kingdom
> Total warheads: 215
> Deployed warheads: 120
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: 2.0%

The United Kingdom has diminished its nuclear stockpile considerably in recent years. The British nuclear arsenal peaked at about 500 warheads between 1974 and 1981. Since then, the arsenal has been reduced by more than half to a current count of about 215 warheads. In addition to its own weapons, Britain stored hundreds of American bombs during the Cold War. By 1992, under the direction of President George H. W. Bush, all American bombs in the U.K. were returned to the United States to be dismantled.

Unlike the United States and Russia, the U.K. reduced its nuclear stockpile unilaterally.

6. Pakistan
> Total warheads: 130
> Deployed warheads: 0
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: 3.4%

Likely inspired by India’s nuclear weapons program, Pakistan acquired bomb making materials and expertise from China in the early 1980s.

7. India
> Total warheads: 120
> Deployed warheads: 0
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: 2.3%

India currently has about 120 nuclear warheads. India is not a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and as such, it is one of a handful of countries actively increasing their nuclear weapon stockpiles. India tested its first nuclear weapon in 1974, in a likely effort to counterbalance China’s military might.

India is actively working to modernize its nuclear strike force technology. Currently, bomber planes are its most likely method of delivering a nuclear payload. However, with recent progress in the country’s missile delivery system and the increased range to thousands of miles, India now has the capability of striking major cities in China. Still, nuclear conflict between these two neighboring countries is unlikely as they both have a no-first-use policy in effect.

8. Israel
> Total warheads: 80 (?)
> Deployed warheads: 0
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: 5.4%

Israel’s nuclear weapons program is not especially transparent. Thus, the estimate shown here by Samuel Stebbins and Thomas C. Frohlich may just be a wild guess. Though the country has had nuclear weapons for decades, the Israeli government’s official position is to neither confirm nor deny their existence. While the country’s 80 some nuclear warheads are no secret, the Israeli government maintains ambiguity for political reasons. [Many nuclear experts believe that Israel has close to 200 warheads.] Buying necessary materials and know-how from the U.S. and Western European countries, Israel quietly developed a nuclear arsenal with little international protest or awareness. Today, Israel is the only known nuclear power in the Middle East.

9. North Korea
> Total warheads: N/A
> Deployed warheads: 0
> Military spending as pct. of GDP: N/A

The exact count of a country’s nuclear weapons is typically a closely held national secret. This is especially true of North Korea, which is one of the least transparent nations on the planet. Satellite images have verified the existence of at least three North Korean nuclear test sites, and the country tested nuclear weapons in 2006, 2009, 2013, and twice in 2016. While every country on this list tests delivery systems periodically, and conducts nuclear tests in laboratory settings, North Korea is the only nation currently conducting ballistic tests with live nuclear material.

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According to the FAS after the first atomic weapon was used on August 6, 1945 against Hiroshima, Japan, the global count of nuclear weapons rose to a peak of approximately 70,300 warheads during the Cold War. The number of nuclear weapons in the world has fallen to an estimated 15,350 since then. However, it should be noted that the above count by FAS, which is based on unclassified information, is only an estimate, which may not be true. After all, military stockpiles of any of these countries are often closely-kept national secrets. Most countries often attempt to conceal or even falsely deploy weapons as part of deception tactics. It is also worth noting that while the United States and Russia developed mostly long-range ballistic missiles, Pakistan and India have stockpiled short-range, defensive missiles.

With the coming of Donald Trump whether or not the U.S. nuclear strategy meaningfully changes in coming years, the United States and Russia will likely continue to possess the vast majority of the world’s nuclear weapons. An estimated 93% of all nuclear warheads belong to these two superpowers.

Globally, according to the 2010 Blackaby Papers, there are at least 23,000 nuclear weapons in existence, sufficient to wipe out the entire human population of the planet many times over. Even a minor nuclear conflict -- one that uses only a fraction of the nuclear weapons currently in existence -- could wreak havoc on the global climate and affect billions of people across the world.

A 2014 report published in the journal Earth's Future found that even a regional war of 100 nuclear detonations would produce 5 teragrams of black soot (that's 5 billion kg!) that would rise up to earth's stratosphere and block sunlight. This would produce a sudden drop in global temperatures that could last longer than 25 years and temporarily destroy much of the Earth's protective ozone layer. This could also cause as much as an 80% increase in UV radiation on Earth's surface and destroy both land and sea-based ecosystems, potentially leading to global nuclear famine.

Michael Mills, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado and the study's lead author, summarized it best: “In the 1980s, we learned that global thermonuclear war could render the planet close to uninhabitable. Now, we know that even [regional] nuclear war can cause great suffering worldwide, with potential for a lot of people to die from starvation in regions very far from a conflict.”

Isn’t it a high time to start dismantling most of these 15,000 nuclear weapons?

- Asian Tribune -

Time to rethink our nuclear arsenal policy
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