Nuclear Recount: New Report on Asia’s Nuclear Stockpiles

Nuclear Recount: New Report on Asia’s Nuclear Stockpiles

sipri-2013Several nuclear armed countries in Asia have expanded their arsenal over the past year according to a new report. China, India, and Pakistan added 10 to 20 nuclear weapons to their stockpiles and made qualitative improvements to their delivery systems. Last week, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – an international security think tank based in Sweden – published their latest SIPRI Yearbook, a helpful and comprehensive reference guide on global armaments.

Data from SIPRI Yearbook, 2010-2013. Estimates from January of year listed.

Data from SIPRI Yearbook, 2010-2013. Estimates from January of year listed.

To place these numbers in the context of other nuclear powers, here is a chart with a more detailed breakdown for 2013 numbers:

Chart from FAS and SIPRI Yearbook data. For explanations of how they arrived at these numbers, see:

Chart from FAS and SIPRI Yearbook data. For explanations of how they arrived at these numbers, see:

Country Specific Highlights

China is the only country in Asia that is recognized as a Nuclear Weapon State by the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Though the SIPRI report estimated that China added 10 nuclear warheads to its total inventory over the past year (from 240 to 250), the report noted that data on the country’s nuclear arsenal remains “highly non-transparent as part of its long-standing deterrence strategy.”

The report also states that China is the only NPT state that “appears to be expanding the size of its nuclear arsenal. In 2012, China conducted a comprehensive series of missile trials consolidating its road-mobile, land-based and submarine-based nuclear deterrent.” Nevertheless, SIPRI researcher Phillip Schell doubted that China would fundamentally alter its current policy of maintaining a credible deterrent with the fewest number of nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

According to SIPRI  senior researcher Shannon Kile, the motivation behind the Chinese effort to increase the quantity and quality of its nuclear force is to move “toward a more survivable arsenal… especially with road-mobile, long-range missiles” such as the Dongfeng 31 and Dongfeng 31A ICBMs.”

Kile added that China might choose to develop multiple-warhead missiles in its attempt to counter new U.S. missile defense capabilities. As the United States successfully develops and deploys further missile defense and long-range precision strike systems, China may need to “re-evaluate [its] nuclear force posture.”

In response to the report, Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, articulated what he calls the “defensive” nature of China’s nuclear arsenal. “China has never deployed nuclear weapons in other countries,” Hong said. “China does not participate in any form of the nuclear arms race and has always kept its nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for national security.” He felt that China’s nuclear policy, including its pledge to not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict, was the most transparent among nuclear weapon states. He argued that Chinese leaders have long maintained support for global nuclear disarmament, though the burden of further arsenal reductions should begin with much larger stockpiles, such as those in Russia or the United States.

India and Pakistan
SIPRI suggested that the drivers for Indian and Pakistani nuclear planners are “more complex than the forces that guided Cold War-era arms tensions.” While the Soviet Union and United States swelled their stockpiles in response to the other side’s nuclear arsenal, Pakistan is more focused on closing what it sees as a gap in the conventional military capabilities of Islamabad and New Delhi. On the other hand, India’s development and deploying of increasingly sophisticated long-range delivery system “is aimed at least at much at China” than its neighbor Pakistan.

From the report summary:

India and Pakistan are increasing the size and sophistication of their nuclear arsenals. Both countries are developing and deploying new types of nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missile and both are increasing their military fissile material production capabilities.

India’s nuclear doctrine is based on the principle of a minimum credible deterrent and no-first-use of nuclear weapons. In June 2012 the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, convened a meeting of India’s Nuclear Command Authority, which reportedly stressed the need for the ‘faster consolidation’ of India’s nuclear deterrence posture based on an operational triad of nuclear forces.

In 2012 Pakistan conducted a series of missile trials testing most of its nuclear-capable missile types that are currently in operational service or still under development. Pakistan is also expanding its main plutonium-production complex at Khushab, Punjab.

North Korea
SIPRI analyst Kile saw a “consensus” emerging among experts that North Korea has likely put together an “operational, militarily useful” nuclear weapon. Despite the lack of publicly available data to verify claims on the isolated nation’s nuclear program, the SIPRI report came to the following conclusions:

[I]n January 2012 the US Director of National Intelligence assessed that North Korea had produced nuclear weapons, although he gave no estimate of the size of the country’s weapon inventory.

During 2012 several non-governmental reports concluded, based on the analysis of satellite imagery and other evidence, that North Korea was making technical preparations for carrying out a third underground nuclear test in tunnels at its nuclear test site, Punggye-ri, in the north-east of the country.

Be sure to follow the Rising Power Initiative’s Nuclear Debates in Asia project on Twitter @westmyer and this blog as events develop for more news and analysis.