China is in the middle of a significant modernisation and expansion of its nuclear weapon inventory, and India and Pakistan also appear to be expanding their nuclear arsenals, according to Swedish think tank Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Year Book 2021 released on Monday.
‘The overall number of warheads in global military stockpiles now appears to be increasing, a worrisome sign that the declining trend that has characterized global nuclear arsenals since the end of the cold war has stalled,” said Hans M. Kristensen, Associate Senior Fellow with SIPRI’s Nuclear Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme.
According to the year book, India possessed an estimated 156 nuclear warheads at the start of 2021 compared to 150 at the start of last year, while Pakistan had 165 warheads, up from 160 in 2020. China’s nuclear arsenal consisted of 350 warheads up from 320 at the start of 2020.
The nine nuclear armed states - the U.S., Russia, the U.K., France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea - together possessed an estimated 13,080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021. Russia and the U.S. together possessed over 90% of global nuclear weapons and have extensive and expensive modernisation programmes under way, SIPRI said.
A report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London, in May titled ‘Nuclear Deterrence and Stability in South Asia: Perceptions and Realities’ said that chance played an important ameliorative role in the India-Pakistan crisis of February 2019 and the two countries “risk stumbling into using their nuclear weapons through miscalculation or misinterpretation in a future crisis.”
“India and Pakistan are seeking new technologies and capabilities that dangerously undermine each other’s defence under the nuclear threshold. Whatever they learn from past crises, the uncharted territory they are now exploring requires enlightened judgement about their doctrines, their nuclear and conventional capabilities, and their unpredictable implications in future crises,” said the report by Antoine Levesques, Research Fellow at the IISS as the lead author.
It stated that China’s evolving profile as a nuclear-weapons state was compounding India’s security challenges. “Yet control over the drivers of the India–Pakistan nuclear-deterrence and stability equation remains almost entirely in the hands of leaders in New Delhi and Islamabad,” it noted.
Listing several Confidence Building Measures and other practical steps in this direction, it concluded that a robust, trusted, reliable, deniable back channel between the leaderships is the most promising means by which India and Pakistan could achieve greater strategic and nuclear deterrence stability.