In 2022, 82.9 billion dollars were spent on nuclear arsenals. There are 12,512 nuclear warheads and 9,576 in operational status, 86 more than in 2022. The war in Ukraine is driving military spending in Europe to levels not seen since the end of the Cold War.

There are currently nine global atomic powers: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. And it does not appear that any of them have any intention of ceasing to be so. On the contrary, the number of nuclear weapons in operational status increased in 2022, according to the latest report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). As the agency itself titles its document: “States invest in nuclear arsenals as geopolitical relations deteriorate”.

The SIPRI data coincide and are complemented by the latest report of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). According to ICAN, in 2022, the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons will spend $82.9 billion on their arsenals, 3% more than in 2021. This amounts to a spending of $157,664 per minute on nuclear weapons for that year.

The United States spent more than the other eight countries combined.
The Wasted: 2022 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending report reveals that the US spent $43.7 billion (down slightly from 2021, but still more than the other eight countries combined). China spent a quarter of the US total, $11.7 billion, an increase of just over 6%.

Russia was the third largest spender with $9.6 billion, an increase of 5.74 per cent over the previous year. India was the country that increased its spending the most, with a 21.8% increase. The other country to register a double-digit increase was the UK, which increased its spending by just over 11 per cent.

According to ICAN, arms companies involved in nuclear weapons production received new contracts worth just under $16 billion in 2022. In the US and France alone, these companies spent $113 million on lobbying governments. All nine nuclear powers have contracts with companies to produce at least $278.6 billion worth of additional such devices, in some cases extending to 2040.

The United States
43.7 billion dollars (83,143 dollars per minute)
11.7 billion (22,219 per minute)
9.6 billion ($18,228 per minute)
United Kingdom
6.8 billion (12,975 per minute)
5.6 billion (10.603 per minute)
2.7 billion (5,181 per minute)
1.2 billion (2,226 per minute)
1.0 billion (1,967 per minute)
North Korea
589 million (1,221 per minute)

9,576 ready-to-use nuclear warheads
Returning to SIPRI, according to its report, out of a total of 12,512 nuclear warheads in January 2023, some 9,576 were in military stockpiles for potential use, 86 more than in January 2022. Of these, an estimated 3,844 warheads were deployed on missiles and aircraft, and about 2,000 were kept on high operational alert (installed on missiles or retained at airbases hosting nuclear bombers).

On the one hand, these 2,000 weapons on high operational alert are almost all from the US and Russia, which account for 90 per cent of all nuclear weapons. On the other hand, there has been a year-on-year fall of almost two percentage points in the global nuclear arsenal.

SIPRI finds that “most nuclear powers are toughening the rhetoric about the importance of these weapons and even using explicit or implicit threats about their potential use. This nuclear competition has dramatically increased the risk that nuclear weapons will be used for the first time since World War II,” the report warns.

According to the institute, increased geopolitical tension and the closing of communication channels in turn increases the risk of “miscalculations, misunderstandings and accidents” to “unacceptably high” levels. And part of that tension is the Russia-Ukraine war, which has had an impact globally on increased military spending.

A SIPRI report last April already showed that global arms spending (nuclear and non-nuclear) grew in 2022 for the eighth consecutive year to an all-time high of $2.24 trillion. Thus, Europe registered figures similar to those of the no end of the Cold War.

World nuclear forces (January 2023)
Warheads deployed (placed on missiles or located at bases with operational forces).

Stockpiled warheads (stockpiled or reserve warheads that would require some preparation before they could be deployed).

Total inventory (warheads in storage and removed for dismantlement).

United States
Deployed warheads: 1,770
Stockpiled warheads: 1,938
Total inventory: 5,244

Warheads deployed: 1,674
Warheads in stockpiles: 2,815
Total stockpile: 5,889

United Kingdom
Warheads deployed: 120
Warheads stockpiled: 105
Total stockpile: 225

Warheads deployed: 280
Warheads in stockpiles: 10
Total stockpile: 290

Warheads deployed: No data
Warheads stockpiled: 410
Total stockpile: 410

Warheads deployed: No data
Warheads Stockpiled: 170
Total stockpile: 170

Warheads deployed: no data
Warheads in stockpiles: 164
Total stockpile: 164

Warheads deployed: no data
Warheads stockpiled: 90
Total stockpile: 90

North Korea
Warheads deployed: No data
Warheads in stockpiles: 30
Total stockpile: 30

From China’s growth to Israel’s denial
The SIPRI report comments on the nuclear situation in each of these countries (we have already seen the US and Russia). It notes that China has increased its number of warheads by 17% in the last year and is expected to continue to grow, so that by no end of this decade it could have as many intercontinental ballistic missiles as the two nuclear superpowers.

Of the UK, it is expected to increase its number of warheads in the future following the government’s announcement in 2021. And France is said to be continuing its programmes to develop a third generation of nuclear-powered submarine-launched ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles.

According to the institute, India and Pakistan also appear to be expanding their arsenals, while Israel still does not publicly admit to possessing nuclear weapons. However, it is believed to be modernising its arsenal.

Finally, North Korea continues to prioritise its nuclear programme as central to its national security strategy. SIPRI estimates that Pyongyang has assembled around thirty warheads and possesses enough fissile material for between fifty and seventy more, a “significant” increase from a year ago.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a setback for diplomacy
The war in Ukraine has been a major setback for nuclear arms control and disarmament diplomacy. Indeed, the Stockholm Institute recalls that after the Russian invasion, the US suspended its bilateral strategic stability dialogue with Russia.

Then, in February 2023, Moscow announced that it was suspending its participation in the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START), the last remaining nuclear arms control treaty that limits the strategic nuclear forces of Russia and the US.

Talks on a follow-on treaty to New START, which expires in 2026, were also suspended. However, according to the SIPRI assessment, as of January 2023, the strategic nuclear forces deployed by both countries remained within the New START limits.