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Spending on nuclear weapons hit $91.4 billion in 2023, watchdog finds

FILE - This image taken from video broadcasted by North Korea's KRT shows what it says is a ballistic missile being launched from an undisclosed location in North Korea, Feb. 20, 2023.
FILE - This image taken from video broadcasted by North Korea's KRT shows what it says is a ballistic missile being launched from an undisclosed location in North Korea, Feb. 20, 2023.

The world’s nine nuclear-armed states together spent $91.4 billion last year, or nearly $3,000 per second, as they “continue to modernize, and in some cases expand their arsenals,” according to a report issued Monday by ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

“This money is effectively being wasted given that the nuclear-armed states agree that a nuclear war can never be won and should never be fought,” Alicia Sanders-Zakre, co-author of the report, told journalists in Geneva last week in advance of the report’s publication.

For example, she said, $91.4 billion a year “could pay for wind power for more than 12 million homes to combat climate change or cover 27 percent of the global funding gap to fight climate change, protect biodiversity and cut pollution.”

The report shows the nuclear-armed states spent $10.7 billion more on nuclear weapons in 2023 compared with 2022, with the United States accounting for 80% of that increase.

ICAN reports the United States spent $51.5 billion, “more than all the other nuclear-armed countries put together.” It says the next biggest spender was China at $11.8 billion with Russia spending the third largest amount at $8.3 billion.

The report notes that the United Kingdom’s “spending was up significantly for the second year in a row,” with a 17% increase to $8.1 billion, just behind Russia.

The combined total of the five other nuclear powers, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea, amounted to $11.6 billion last year.

The authors of the report say companies involved in the production of nuclear weapons received new contracts worth just less than $7.9 billion in 2023. Analysis of data gathered over the past five years shows that the nuclear-armed states collectively spent $387 billion on their nuclear arsenals.

“There has been a notable upward trend in the amount of money devoted to developing these most inhumane and destructive of weapons over the past five years, which is now accelerating,” Sanders-Zakre said. “All this money is not improving global security. In fact, it is threatening people wherever they live.”

Arms control experts share these concerns and warn of the dangers of a new arms race as the nuclear powers build up their arsenals in defiance of the spirit of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which aims to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology.

A report in the May issue of Foreign Affairs magazine cites Washington’s concerns about China’s rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal. According to Pentagon estimates, “Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing is on track to amass 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030, up from around 200 in 2019.”

A 2023 report by the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States insists that China’s nuclear expansion should prompt U.S. policymakers to “re-evaluate the size and composition of the U.S. nuclear force.”

The commission also expressed disquiet at Russia’s increasingly aggressive behavior, “including the unprecedented growth of its nuclear forces, diversification and expansion of its theater-based nuclear systems, the invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and subsequent full-scale invasion in February 2022.”

International anxiety about an accidental or deliberate tactical nuclear attack by Russia was on display this past weekend at the G7 summit in Italy and at the peace summit for Ukraine in Switzerland.

In their final communique, the G7 leaders condemned Russia’s “blatant breach of international law” affirming that “in this context, threats by Russia of nuclear weapons use, let alone any use of nuclear weapons by Russia in the context of its war of aggression against Ukraine, would be inadmissible.”

This sentiment was mirrored in a final declaration signed by most of the 100 countries that attended the Ukrainian peace conference. Notable holdouts included India, Indonesia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ICAN Executive Director Melissa Parke warned, “This war has increased nuclear tensions between Russia and the West to their highest level since the Cold War and there is now a real threat of nuclear conflict as a result of Russia’s numerous overt and tacit nuclear threats.”

ICAN’s report, which profiles 20 countries involved in the production, maintenance and development of nuclear weapons, notes that “Altogether there is $335 billion in outstanding contracts related to nuclear weapons work.”

While the report shows significant growth in nuclear spending over the last five years, Susi Snyder, ICAN’s program coordinator and report co-author, observes “there also has been growth in global resistance to these weapons of mass destruction.”

“The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons has signatures from nearly 100 countries. One-hundred-eleven investors representing about $5 trillion in assets stated their support for the treaty,” she said.

“They demanded that more efforts be made to exclude the nuclear weapons industry from their business until these countries stop doing things prohibited by the treaty,” she said, noting the treaty is “a clear pathway forward.”

“It is a way to reduce tensions, to condemn threats, and to stop this new nuclear arms race that we have illustrated here before it surges any further out of control,” she said.