At the beginning of 2022, the nine nations with “the bomb” (Russia, United States, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea) held 12,705 nuclear warheads, or 375 less than at the beginning of 2021, according to estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri).

Since its absolute record in 1986 (more than 70,000 head), this total has been divided by more than five with the regular decline of the enormous Russian and American arsenals built up during the Cold War. Moscow and Washington indeed control between them 90% of the world’s nuclear arsenal.

But this era of disarmament is certainly coming to an end and the risk of nuclear escalation is now at a post-Cold War high, according to the Swedish research center’s report.

“Soon we’re going to come to a point where, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, the number of nuclear weapons in the world could start to increase, which is a really dangerous phenomenon,” he said. AFP Matt Korda, one of the co-authors of the work.

After the “marginal” drop observed last year, the world arsenal should start to grow again “over the next decade”, according to Sipri.

The war in Ukraine has resulted in several explicit references by Russian President Vladimir Putin to the use of atomic weapons and several countries, such as China and the United Kingdom, are officially or unofficially carrying out modernization or development plans. of their arsenals, underlines the institute.

“It’s going to be very difficult to make progress on disarmament in the years to come because of this war and the way Putin talks about his nuclear weapons,” Korda said.

For him, these disturbing declarations “cause many of the other powers having nuclear weapons to rethink their own atomic strategies”.

– Chinese Arsenal doubled? –

Despite the entry into force of the treaty banning nuclear weapons in early 2021 after its ratification by more than 50 countries and the extension for five years of the Russian-American Start treaty, the context had already deteriorated in recent years, according to the Sipri, amid concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and the development of hypersonic missiles that are even harder to intercept.

The drop in the total number of weapons is only due to the dismantling of Russian and American nuclear warheads “removed from service several years ago”. The number of weapons considered operational remains “relatively stable”.

According to the latest estimates from Sipri, Russia is still the world’s leading atomic power, with 5,977 warheads (-280 over one year) deployed, stored or awaiting dismantling at the start of 2022. Nearly 1,600 of them would be operational, according to the ‘institute.

The United States has 5,428 heads (-120) but with more weapons deployed (1,750). Next come China (350), France (290), the United Kingdom (225), Pakistan (165), India (160) and Israel (90), the only power of the nine that does not officially recognize that it holds the atomic weapon.

As for North Korea, Sipri estimates for the first time that the communist regime of Kim Jong-Un has assembled 20 nuclear warheads. Pyongyang has enough fissile material to produce about 50.

Despite diplomatic statements, “all states equipped with nuclear weapons are increasing or modernizing their arsenals and most are toughening their nuclear rhetoric and the role of atomic weapons in their military strategies”, according to Sipri.

“In China, a substantial increase in the nuclear arsenal is underway, with satellite images indicating the construction of more than 300 new missile silos,” the body said.

According to the Pentagon, Beijing could have 700 heads by 2027.

The United Kingdom announced last year to raise the ceiling of its nuclear arsenal and decided not to communicate the number of its operational weapons.

France launched a new nuclear submarine program in 2021, and India, Pakistan and Israel also seem to be developing their arsenals, according to Sipri.