Global nuclear weapons spending ‘increases 13% in record rise’

States on course to be spending $100bn a year on nuclear weapons amid broader geopolitical uncertainty, says pressure group

The USS Kentucky, capable of firing nuclear ballistic missiles, docked in Busan, South Korea. Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Global spending on nuclear weapons is estimated to have increased by 13 per cent to a record $91.4bn (€85bn) during 2023, according to calculations from the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) pressure group.

The new total, which is up $10.7bn from the previous year, is driven largely by sharply increased defence budgets in the United States, at a time of wider geopolitical uncertainty caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war.

All nine of the world’s nuclear armed nations are spending more, Ican added, with China judged to be the second-largest spender with a budget of $11.9bn – though Beijing’s total is well below the $51.5bn attributed to the United States.

Russia is the third largest spender, at $8.3bn, followed by the UK ($8.1bn) and France ($6.1bn), although estimates for authoritarian states or the three countries with undeclared nuclear programmes (India, Pakistan and Israel) are all complicated by a lack of transparency.


Susy Snyder, one of the author’s of the research, warned that nuclear states are “on course to be spending $100bn a year on nuclear weapons” and argued that the money could be used on environmental and social programmes instead.

“These billions could have been used for combating climate change and saving animals and plants that sustain life on Earth from extinction, not to mention improving health and education services around the world,” Ms Snyder said.

Over the past five years, since Ican began its research, nuclear weapons spending has soared by 34 per cent, or $23.2bn. Spending by the US increased by 45 per cent during that time and by 43% in the UK, and on current trends will surpass $100bn in 2024.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has referred repeatedly to his country’s nuclear arsenal to warn the West of a direct military intervention in Ukraine since launching the full-scale invasion in February 2022. Russia also began a series of exercises simulating the use of tactical nuclear weapons near the Ukrainian border in May.

Other data, complied by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows the number of active nuclear warheads is also slightly higher, at 9,585, driven largely by China increasing its arsenal to 500 from 410.

The largest nuclear states remain, as they have done since the 1950s, the United States and Russia, who possess about 90 per cent of all warheads. Russia has 4,380 nuclear warheads deployed or in storage, compared with the United States on 3,708, the researchers added. – Guardian