Global nuclear spending surged to $2,898 a second in 2023 amid rising tensions

An in-depth look into the staggering increase in global nuclear weapons spending, its implications, and the call for disarmament.

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Global spending on nuclear arms surged to nearly $3,000 a second in 2023, reaching a total of $91.4 billion, according to reports published on Monday. This increase comes as nations expand and modernize their nuclear arsenals, raising concerns about global stability and the prioritization of resources.

The United States, the first and only country to use an atomic weapon in war, spent $51.5 billion on its nuclear arsenal in 2023—more than all other nuclear-armed countries combined. This data, highlighted in a report by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), shows the U.S. accounted for 80% of the $10.7 billion global increase in nuclear spending from the previous year.

ICAN’s analysis reveals that total global spending on nuclear weapons rose to a record $91.4 billion last year, equivalent to $173,884 per minute. This surge in spending is attributed to efforts by various countries to modernize their arsenals and flaunt new nuclear capabilities.

ICAN’s report emphasizes the financial boon for military contractors such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Lockheed Martin. These companies have ongoing contracts worth at least $387 billion to produce nuclear weapons, with some agreements extending through 2040.

A separate report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates that 3,904 nuclear warheads were deployed worldwide as of January 2024—60 more than at the start of the previous year. SIPRI notes that the world’s nine nuclear-armed countries—the U.S., Russia, France, the United Kingdom, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel—continued to modernize their arsenals and deploy new nuclear-armed or nuclear-capable systems in 2023.

“While the global total of nuclear warheads continues to fall as Cold War-era weapons are gradually dismantled, regrettably we continue to see year-on-year increases in the number of operational nuclear warheads,” said SIPRI director Dan Smith. “This trend seems likely to continue and probably accelerate in the coming years and is extremely concerning.”

Smith emphasized the danger of the current period, citing numerous sources of instability, including political rivalries, economic inequalities, ecological disruption, and an accelerating arms race. “The abyss is beckoning and it is time for the great powers to step back and reflect. Preferably together,” Smith added.

The alarming new reports were released just hours after NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg suggested that the Western military alliance might mobilize more nuclear weapons to counter China and Russia. According to ICAN, China and Russia were the second- and third-largest nuclear spenders last year, following the U.S.

“I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues,” said Stoltenberg. The Kremlin quickly denounced Stoltenberg’s comments as “nothing else but an escalation.”

Despite the bleak picture painted by these findings, ICAN notes progress towards a world without atomic weapons remains possible. In 2023, 101 cities and municipalities joined the ICAN Cities Appeal, including Durham and Leicester in the United Kingdom and Lyon and Montpellier in France. These cities have called on their governments to join the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, joining international capitals like Washington, Paris, and Berlin.

Public and investor pressure on companies involved in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons is growing. According to ICAN, while companies continue to profit from contracts related to weapons of mass destruction, there is an increasing recognition of the problematic nature of nuclear weapons. Human rights reviews and investor scrutiny are compelling some companies to reconsider their involvement in the industry.

ICAN highlights that pressure from the public, investors, and governments is having an effect. This is evidenced by the growing number of cities and municipalities advocating for disarmament and the number of companies stepping away from the nuclear weapons industry.

“Democracy will only be healed when informed voters play their important part,” ICAN’s report notes. “Send out postcards that speak your truth and motivate less committed voters to make their preferences count.”

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Alexis Sterling is a seasoned War and Human Rights Reporter with a passion for reporting the truth in some of the world's most tumultuous regions. With a background in journalism and a keen interest in international affairs, Alexis's reporting is grounded in a commitment to human rights and a deep understanding of the complexities of global conflicts. Her work seeks to give voice to the voiceless and bring to light the human stories behind the headlines. Alexis is dedicated to responsible and engaged journalism, constantly striving to inform and educate the public on critical issues of war and human rights across the globe.

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