Disarmament Week? But Hundreds of Nukes Can Be Launched Within Minutes

Human Wrongs Watch

MADRID, Oct 25 2021 (IPS)* – Hadn’t it been so worrisome, it would be ironic to hear that humanity is to mark theWorld Disarmament Week (Oct 24 to 30, 2021) barely six months after learning that the world’s biggest military powers had spent last year some 2,000,000,000,000 US dollars on killing machines.


World military spending rose to almost two trillion dollars in 2020, an increase of 2.6 percent in real terms from 2019. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

And that the world’s nuclear arms arsenal is stuffed with some 150 atomic weapons, hundreds of which can be launched in just minutes.

Also that while the Nobel Peace Laureate, World Food Programme, has recently celebrated that the European Union –which comprises many of those military powers– provided just 2.5 million euro in humanitarian aid to support vulnerable refugees in Tanzania.

Or that while Afghanistan teeters on the brink of universal poverty and as much as 97% of Afghans could plunge into poverty by mid 2022, the International Organisation for Migration appealed last August for 24 million US dollars, which outlines immediate funding requirements in order to respond to pressing humanitarian needs in this Asian, war-torn country which suffered 20 years of military operations by the largest military spender powers.

What are all these weapons for?

In addition to national security arguments, part of such huge stockpiles of weapons has been used by the world’s largest military spenders, in ongoing wars on Afghanistan, Irak, Syria, Yemen, and Libya.

Another portion is being sold or trafficked to so-called ‘insurgent’ or ‘rebel’ groups, fuelling regional and local armed conflicts in at least a dozen of countries, including DR Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Nigeria, among others.

Who spends the most?

But let’s go to some of the key findings included in last April’s report by the prestigious, independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament: the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI):

. World military spending rose to almost two trillion dollars in 2020. This amount implied an increase of 2.6 percent in real terms from 2019. The increase came in a year when global gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 4.4 per cent, largely due to the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic,

. The five biggest spenders in 2020, which together accounted for 62 percent of global military expenditure, were the United States, China, India, Russia and the United Kingdom,

. Strong increase in US military spending continued in 2020, as the world’s biggest power’s military expenditure reached an estimated 778 billion dollars, representing an increase of 4.4 per cent over 2019, as it accounted for 39 percent of total military expenditure in 2020.

. China’s military expenditure, the second highest in the world, is estimated to have totalled 252 billion US dollars in 2020. This represents an increase of 76 percent over the decade 2011–20.

. Nearly all members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) saw their military burden rise in 2020.

. Military spending across Europe rose by 4.0 percent in 2020.

Nuclear arsenals grow as states continue to modernise

Around a couple of months later, on 14 June 2021, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute launched the findings of its Yearbook 2021, which assesses the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security.

World nuclear forces, January 2021

Country Deployed warheads Other warheads Total 2021 Total 2020
USA 1 800 3 750 5 550 5 800
Russia 1 625 4 630 6 255 6 375
UK 120 105 225 215
France 280 10 290 290
China 350 350 320
India 156 156 150
Pakistan 165 165 160
Israel 90 90 90
North Korea [40–50] [40–50] [30–40]
Total 3 825 9 255 13 080 13 400

Source: SIPRI Yearbook 2021.

One of its key findings is that despite an overall decrease in the number of nuclear warheads in 2020, more have been deployed with operational forces.

The nine nuclear-armed states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)—together possessed an estimated 13, 080 nuclear weapons at the start of 2021. This marked a decrease from the 13, 400 that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2020.

2,000 nukes in “state of high operational alert’

Sipri’s yearbook 2021 explains that despite this overall decrease, the estimated number of nuclear weapons currently deployed with operational forces increased to 3,825, from 3,720 last year. Around 2,000 of these—nearly all of which belonged to Russia or the USA—were kept in a state of high operational alert.

Two countries, 90% of all nuclear weapons

Russia and the US together possess over 90 percent of global nuclear weapons. Both have extensive and expensive programmes under way to replace and modernise their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and production facilities, SIPRI concludes.

More facts

  • In addition to China, both India (72.9 billion dollars), Japan (49.1 billion), South Korea (45.7 billion) and Australia (27.5 billion) were the largest military spenders in the Asia and Oceania region. All four countries increased their military spending between 2019 and 2020 and over the decade 2011–20.
  • One of the poorest regions on Earth, sub-Saharan Africa increased its military expenditure by 3.4 percent in 2020 to reach 18.5 billion dollars. The biggest increases in spending were made by Chad (+31 percent), Mali (+22 percent), Mauritania (+23 percent) and Nigeria (+29 percent), all in the Sahel region, as well as Uganda (+46 percent).
  • Military expenditure in South America fell by 2.1 percent to 43.5 billion dollars in 2020. The decrease was largely due to a 3.1 per cent drop in spending by Brazil, the sub-region’s largest military spender.
  • Meanwhile, the combined military spending of the 11 Middle Eastern countries for which SIPRI has spending figures decreased by 6.5 per cent in 2020, to 143 billion dollars.

Last but not least: Everybody who goes to vote in elections should be aware that the slightest human or technical error or a hasty political judgement can kill every living thing on Planet Earth.


2021 Human Wrongs Watch

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