Explained: India Has More Nukes Than Pak, But China Races Ahead

According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), each of these countries continued to modernise their nuclear capabilities.

Explained: India Has More Nukes Than Pak, But China Races Ahead
New Delhi:

In 2023, the global nuclear landscape was characterised by significant developments among the nine nuclear-armed states: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. 

According to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), each of these countries continued to modernise their nuclear capabilities, with several deploying new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable weapon systems.

The Nuclear-Armed States

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United States

The United States remains a key player in the global nuclear arena. As of January 2024, the US nuclear arsenal comprised 5,044 warheads, with a significant portion deployed on ballistic missiles and aircraft. The US continues to modernise its nuclear arsenal, focusing on enhancing the capabilities and reliability of its land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers.

Russia

Russia, alongside the United States, possesses the majority of the world's nuclear weapons. Despite some fluctuations, Russia's military stockpile has remained relatively stable at 5,580. In 2023, Russia deployed an additional 36 warheads, reflecting its ongoing emphasis on nuclear deterrence.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom announced a significant shift in its nuclear policy in 2023, with plans to increase its warhead stockpile limit from 225 to 260. While the UK did not expand its arsenal that year, the decision shows its commitment to maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent. The UK also ceased public disclosure of specific nuclear quantities. 

France

France continues to develop and upgrade its nuclear capabilities, including advancing a third-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) and a new air-launched cruise missile. 

China

China's nuclear arsenal experienced the most rapid growth among the nuclear-armed states, increasing from 410 warheads in January 2023 to 500 in January 2024. This expansion is part of China's broader strategy to enhance its nuclear deterrent capabilities. For the first time, China is believed to have placed some warheads on high operational alert. Projections suggest that China could have as many ICBMs as the United States or Russia by the end of the decade, although its overall stockpile will remain smaller.

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India

India has slightly expanded its nuclear arsenal, focusing on developing new delivery systems. While Pakistan remains the primary target of India's nuclear deterrent, there is a growing emphasis on longer-range weapons capable of reaching China. India's stored nuclear warheads were estimated at 172 in January 2024. According to the SIPRI report, India was the world's top arms importer, with an increase of 4.7 per cent between 2014-18 and 2019-23.

Pakistan

Pakistan, with an estimated 170 stored warheads, continues to develop its nuclear delivery systems. The ongoing rivalry with India drives Pakistan's nuclear strategy, with both nations pursuing capabilities to deploy multiple warheads on ballistic missiles. Pakistan's nuclear posture remains a central element of its national security strategy.

North Korea

By January 2024, North Korea had assembled approximately 50 warheads and possessed sufficient fissile material for up to 90. North Korea's nuclear ambitions continue to destabilise regional security dynamics as its tensions with neighbour South Korea keeps the region on edge. 

Israel

Israel, which does not officially acknowledge its nuclear arsenal, is believed to be modernising its capabilities. Upgrades to its plutonium production reactor at Dimona, 144 km from Jerusalem, suggest ongoing efforts to enhance its nuclear deterrent.

The China-India-Pakistan Equation

The dynamics between China, India, and Pakistan are crucial for regional and global security. According to an ORF report, India was the first country to propose a nuclear test ban treaty and a halt to the production of materials for nuclear weapons. India signed and ratified the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963, which prohibited nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, outer space, and underwater. 

However, the discriminatory politics surrounding the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) posed challenges. Despite conducting nuclear tests in 1998, India maintained its commitment to the No-First-Use (NFU) policy, reiterating this stance in its 1999 draft nuclear doctrine and again in 2003.

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In 1994, India offered Pakistan an agreement on the no-first-use of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, regional and historical tensions between the two countries meant no agreement could be reached.

Moving towards the east, India and China, both nuclear-armed, have had unstable relations due to longstanding border disputes since the 1950s. While trade between these nations suggests potential mutual benefits, unresolved border issues have hindered bilateral relations.

NATO And Nuclear Sharing

The NATO's nuclear-sharing arrangements involve the deployment of US B-61 nuclear bombs in Europe, which remain under US custody and control. In the event of a conflict, these weapons would be delivered by dual-capable aircraft (DCA) from NATO member states, subject to political approval from the Nuclear Planning Group (NPG) and authorisation from the US President and UK Prime Minister.

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NATO's nuclear sharing ensures that the benefits, responsibilities, and risks of nuclear deterrence are distributed across the alliance.

Nuclear Diplomacy

The United Nations plays a key role in promoting nuclear disarmament. The suspension of the New START treaty - a nuclear arms reduction agreement between Russia and the US - by Russia and the ongoing challenges in arms control highlight the fragile state of nuclear diplomacy. Despite these setbacks, efforts continue within the UN framework to address nuclear threats and promote disarmament.

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The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), though not yet in force, remains a key instrument in the UN's efforts to curb nuclear proliferation. Despite Russia's withdrawal from the treaty's ratification, it continues to participate in the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).

"The United States and Russia have fundamentally divergent views on when arms control should be pursued and what purpose arms control should serve in the current strategic environment," according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). "While the United States' position remains that cooperation to manage the world's two largest nuclear arsenals is in the best interests of the international order, Moscow believes current U.S. efforts to reinstate arms control are part of a wider effort to take advantage of Russia as it is bogged down in Ukraine."

The deteriorating global security environment, exacerbated particularly by conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza, continues to pose significant challenges to nuclear diplomacy. 

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