Global nuclear weapons spending continues to rise

Global nuclear weapons spending continues to rise
A Mark 28 thermo-nuclear bomb is downloaded from a B-52H Stratofortress aircraft. Credit: TSgt. Boyd Belcher, USAF/ Wikimedia Commons

Nuclear arms come at a high cost and in 2021, spending on modernising atomic arsenals rose by nearly 9%, according to a report by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). In total, nations spent $82.4 billion on upgrading their nuclear weapons.

By far the largest spender was the United States, accounting for over half of global nuclear armaments spending: $44.2 billion. This is a 12.7% rise on the year previous.  The US maintains some 5,550 nuclear warheads which it has retained after the signing of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Spending is going up at an alarming rate. As highlighted by the report, nine nuclear-armed states spent more than $156,000 per minute on nuclear weapons in 2021.

Certain military contractors have made a fortune from nuclear weapons-related contracts. Honeywell International made $6.2 billion from nuclear tenders and spent an additional $7 million on lobbying. Lockheed Martin received $1.9 billion from the industry and spent $16.9 million on lobbying.

Nuclear arms race

China also increased its spending by 10.4% to $11.7 billion in 2021. It now possesses 350 nuclear warheads and is said to be expanding its arsenal.

Almost all nuclear nations have increased their budgets over recent years. Russia now dedicates $8.6 billion to its nuclear programme, France $5.9 billion, and the UK $6.8 billion.

Bitter rivals India and Pakistan are both racing to compete in nuclear weapons spending. Estimates state that Pakistan spent around $1.1 billion on nuclear armaments last year, while India spent around $2.3 billion. There are concerns that any escalation of the Kashmir dispute between the two nations could lead to the use of nuclear weapons.

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Israel, which has never officially acknowledged having nuclear warheads, is estimated to have spent $1.2 billion last year. Rogue state North Korea spent $642 million on developing its rapidly expanding arsenal of nuclear weapons.

What's the point?

The report notes that recent geopolitical events in Europe have only served to line the pockets of the wealthy, who profit from the industry.

“We were told that investing billions in weapons of mass destruction, with the power to destroy the world many times over, was the price to pay for peace in Europe. Instead, that money has lined the pockets of a wealthy few."

Global panic over global weapons came to a head this year. In 2022, iodine tablets sold out in pharmacies across the world as the threat of nuclear war in Ukraine seemed increasingly likely. Russia used nuclear threats against the rest of the world to force its will on Europe.

The report also notes that nuclear deterrence has failed, as it did nothing to stop a new war in Europe and contain Russian aggression.

“This cycle of spending around nuclear weapons didn’t deter war in Ukraine. So what is the point?"

ICAN received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for a nuclear treaty banning nuclear weapons. This was signed by 59 countries around the world, but not a single nuclear power.

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