SIPRI: Nuclear weapons are still being developed

The vision of a world without nuclear weapons is history. In its annual report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute has criticized the ongoing development of new nuclear weapons.

Last year was a special year for those in favor of nuclear disarmament. A total of 122 UN member states signed a pledge not to produce or possess nuclear weapons.However, this has not brought the goal of a nuclear-free world much closer.

According to the latest estimates by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 14,465 nuclear weapons still exist, in the hands of just nine states: the US, Russia, Britain, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. Although internationally these nine countries are in the minority, they have absolutely no intention of giving up their nuclear weapons.

Infografik Zahl der Atomwaffen je Staat im Januar 2018 EN

Fewer, but more modern

Shannon Kile, head of SIPRI's nuclear weapons project, emphasized in an interview with DW that while the total number of nuclear weapons has fallen slightly compared to the previous year, existing weapons have been modernized.

"This means that older weapons are being replaced – some of them are actually 40 or 50 years old – but new nuclear weapons are also being developed that have new capabilities and new technical functions."

The US government only confirmed its development of nuclear weapons in February, when it published an updated version of its Nuclear Posture Review. This also affects Germany: While it does not have any nuclear weapons of its own, as a NATO state it comes under the protection of the United States' nuclear shield. Around 20 American B61 nuclear bombs are stockpiled in the Eifel region, and in the coming years these are to be replaced by more modern nuclear bombs that can be precision-guided to a particular target.

Read more: UN's Guterres unveils disarmament plan 'from grenades to H-bombs'

The Büchel air base with the adjacent depot site, where an estimated 20 US nuclear warheads are stored

Expensive modernization

The United States is investing a lot of money in the modernization of its nuclear arsenal. By 2026 it plans to have spent $400 billion (€344 billion). However, Kile says that smaller countries like India and Pakistan are also engaged in a kind of "strategic arms race." They are both developing new nuclear weapons and enlarging their production capacities for fissile material. Nuclear weapons thus remain a core element of the nuclear powers' national defense strategies.

In view of the current tensions between the United States and Russia, Kile says it is unclear how effective international agreements will be in future in controlling nuclear weapons.

"What concerns me at the moment is the fact that the political-strategic relationship between the United States and Russia has collapsed – and between them these two countries possess 92 percent of all nuclear weapons," he says.

Read more: Iran deal: The European Union's ugly options

F-35s at Berlin's ILA aerospace exhibition

Arms control in jeopardy

This also affects arms control. When important disarmament agreements like the New START treaty expire in the coming years, nuclear weapons experts fear that new treaties may not be made to replace them. There would then be no contractual limitations whatsoever on weapons arsenals. "We are clearly moving away from Barack Obama's 2009 vision of a nuclear-free world," says Kile.

As a SIPRI expert, Kile has been observing the nine nuclear states for a long time now. He expressed surprise at one development in particular: the technical advances North Korea has demonstrated in its nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missile tests in the past 12 months. He says it remains to be seen whether the meeting between the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump really will lead to North Korean nuclear disarmament.

"I'm a bit skeptical about it," he says, but adds that the meeting has opened the door for further trust-building measures.

On June 12, Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump signed an agreement that may lead to North Korea's nuclear disarmament

Peak in military spending

In their 2018 annual report the SIPRI peace researchers have brought together other data that highlights the tense political situation where security is concerned. More money was spent on the military in 2017 than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Total military spending worldwide rose to $1,739 billion – that's $230 for every person on Earth. In 2016 it was $227 per head.

The reason for this global increase is higher military spending in some – though not all – regions of the world. The rise in East Asia is particularly striking: China, for example, increased its defense budget by 5.6 percent to $228 billion. In Europe, the picture is more varied: The countries of eastern Europe spent considerably less on the military in 2017 than in the previous year, but in central and western Europe defense spending increased.

According to its Federal Ministry of Defense, in 2017 Germany spent €37 billion (around $43.5 billion) on the Bundeswehr – around 2 billion euros more than the previous year. The United States still has the largest defense budget of any country – $610 billion – followed by China, Saudi Arabia and Russia.

German weapons are in demand

According to the Stockholm researchers' findings, another trend is also on the rise: The global arms trade has increased significantly in the past ten years after reaching its lowest point since the Cold War in the early 2000s. After the United States, Russia and France, Germany ranks as the fourth-biggest weapons exporter worldwide.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

January 2, 2017: Missile test imminent

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said in his New Year’s address that his country was in the "final stages" of launching an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). US President-elect Donald Trump, whose inauguration was set for January 20, said on Twitter: "North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the US. It won't happen!"

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

July 4, 2017: North Korea's 'gift packages'

North Korea tested its first ICBM — the Hwasong-14 — on US Independence Day. Kim reportedly told his scientists that "the US would be displeased" by the launch. This, he said, was because "it was given a 'package of gifts' ... on its 'Independence Day.'" Trump wrote on Twitter in response: "North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?"

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

July 28, 2017: US mainland threatened

Pyongyang tested its second Hwasong-14 weeks later. Experts estimated the new rocket could reach the US mainland. Trump lashed out at North Korean ally China, writing in a Tweet: "I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk."

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

August 8, 2017: 'Fire and fury'

Trump appeared to threaten swift military action against Pyongyang when he told reporters: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." North Korea responded by threatening to fire a medium-range ballistic missile into the waters around Guam, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean. It did not follow through.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

August 29, 2017: Japan rocket test

Pyongyang sparked international outcry when it test-launched a mid-range ballistic missile — the Hwasong-12 — over Japan. The UN Security Council unanimously condemned the test. Trump said in a White House statement: "Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world. All options are on the table."

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

September 3, 2017: Hydrogen bomb test

North Korea announced it had successfully tested its sixth nuclear weapon. Pyongyang said it was a powerful type of nuclear weapon called a hydrogen bomb and that it could be placed on top of a ballistic missile. Trump wrote on Twitter: "The United States is considering, in addition to other options, stopping all trade with any country doing business with North Korea."

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

September 19, 2017: Threat to 'Rocket Man'

In his first speech at the United Nations, Trump called North Korea a "rogue state" and said Washington "will have no choice than to totally destroy North Korea" if Pyongyang failed to stop its nuclear weapons program. Referring to Kim, he added: "Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime." Kim called Trump a "mentally-deranged US dotard" two days later.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

November 29, 2017: Third ICBM test

North Korea test-fired its third ICBM of 2017. Pyongyang claimed it was a new missile, the Hwasong-15, which was superior to the Hwasong-14 and could hit any target on the US mainland. The US urged allies, including Germany, to break diplomatic ties with North Korea. Berlin ignored the call. Trump also called Kim a "sick puppy."

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

January 3, 2018: Who's got the bigger button?

Kim said in his 2018 New Year's address that the North had completed its nuclear weapons program and that a "nuclear button" was on his desk at all times. Trump wrote two days later on Twitter: "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

February 10, 2018: Tensions thawing?

South Korean President Moon Jae-in welcomed Kim's sister, Kim Yo Jong, at the presidential house in the South Korean capital. She handed a letter to Moon inviting him to meet the North Korean leader in Pyongyang. Tensions appeared to be thawing. Seoul and Pyongyang had already agreed to send a unified hockey team to compete at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

March 6, 2018: Momentum builds

South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong led a delegation on March 5 to Pyongyang to discuss the potential for peace talks. The next day, Chung said both sides had agreed to hold a joint summit in April and set up a telephone hotline between the two capitals. He also said Pyongyang would agree to stop its nuclear weapons and missile tests if the US agreed to hold talks with the North.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

March 9, 2018: Trump agrees

Chung flew on to Washington, D.C. to speak with Trump. After the meeting, Chung told reporters the US president had agreed to meet Kim by May. Trump later wrote on Twitter: "no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time. Great progress being made but sanctions will remain until an agreement is reached. Meeting being planned!" Foreign leaders welcomed the historic breakthrough.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

April 19, 2018: 'Denuclearization'

A week before the scheduled meeting at the border between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Moon said North Korea wanted "an end to the hostile relations" and had expressed a commitment to "complete denuclearization" of the peninsula. The next day, the telephone hotline was connected for the first time since February 2016, so Moon and Kim could talk directly.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

April 21, 2018: Kim ends missile tests

Kim announced North Korea would stop nuclear and missile tests. Kim said: "We no longer need any nuclear test or test launches of intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles, and because of this the northern nuclear test site has finished its mission." However, no mention was made of its stored nuclear materials and equipment.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

April 27, 2018: Historic summit

Kim and Moon Jae-in meet in the border town of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that has divided the two Koreas since the Korean War in 1953. The two leaders vowed to work towards a nuclear-free Korea and pledged an end to war. It was the first time a North Korean leader had set foot across the border since the 1950s and paves the diplomatic way for a Trump-Kim meeting in May or June.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

April 30, 2018: Seoul turns off broadcasts

South Korea announces its propaganda loudspeakers are to be switched off for good. They had been silenced temporarily ahead of the inter-Korean summit, which prompted the North to halt its broadcasts, too. Pyongyang also said it would adjust its time zone to that of the South as a symbolic gesture. North Korea has been half an hour behind the South since 2015.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

May 24, 2018: Trump calls off Kim summit

After North Korea slammed US Vice President Mike Pence for comparing North Korea and Libya, Donald Trump abruptly canceled the summit. Trump said the move was due to "tremendous anger and open hostility" displayed by Pyongyang.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

June 1, 2018: Trump backtracks

A day after scrapping the summit, Trump suggested he was still open to meeting Kim. US and North Korean officials met during the following week and on June 1, Trump met one of Kim's closest aides, Kim Yong Chol, in the White House. Shortly thereafter, Trump said the summit would indeed take place on June 12 in Singapore. "I think you're going to have a very positive result in the end," he said.

North Korea: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un's nuclear saga

June 12, 2018: Smiles in Singapore

Trump and Kim met in Singapore as planned. They smiled, shook hands and praised how far they had come in overcoming their previous animosity. The summit ended with both leaders signing a short joint declaration that committed Pyongyang to denuclearize and the US to providing unspecified "security guarantees" to the North. Trump also said he would invite Kim to the White House.

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