Number of nuclear weapons in the world is set to rise in the coming decade after 35 years of decline as global tensions flare amid Russia's offensive in Ukraine, says Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Russia has the world's biggest nuclear arsenal with a total of 5,977 warheads, some 550 more than the United States.
Russia has the world's biggest nuclear arsenal with a total of 5,977 warheads, some 550 more than the United States. ((FILES) In this file grab made from a handout video footage released by the Russian Defence Ministry on April 20, 2022 shows the launching of the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile at Plesetsk testing field, Russia. / AFP)

The global nuclear arsenal is expected to grow in the coming years for the first time since the Cold War while the risk of such weapons being used is the greatest in decades, a leading conflict and armaments think-tank has said.

Russia's offensive in Ukraine and Western support for Kiev has heightened tensions among the world's nine nuclear-armed states, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) think-tank said on Monday in a new set of research.

While the number of nuclear weapons fell slightly between January 2021 and January 2022, SIPRI said that unless immediate action was taken by the nuclear powers, global inventories of warheads could soon begin rising for the first time in decades.

"All of the nuclear-armed states are increasing or upgrading their arsenals and most are sharpening nuclear rhetoric and the role nuclear weapons play in their military strategies," Wilfred Wan, Director of SIPRI's Weapons of Mass Destruction Programme, said in the think-tank's 2022 yearbook.

"This is a very worrying trend."

Three days after Moscow's assault on Ukraine, which the Kremlin calls a "special military operation", President Vladimir Putin put Russia's nuclear deterrent on high alert.

He has also warned of consequences that would be "such as you have never seen in your entire history" for countries that stood in Russia's way.

Russia, US possess 90% of nuclear warheads

Russia has the world's biggest nuclear arsenal with a total of 5,977 warheads, some 550 more than the United States. The two countries possess more than 90 percent of the world's warheads.

In terms of overall numbers, China comes third with 350, followed by France with 290, Britain with 225, Pakistan with 165, India with 160 and Israel with 90.

Israel is the only one of the nine that does not officially acknowledge having nuclear weapons.

As for North Korea, SIPRI said for the first time that Kim Jong-un's Communist regime now has 20 nuclear warheads.

Pyongyang is believed to have enough material to produce around 50.

SIPRI said the global number of nuclear warheads fell to 12,705 in January 2022 from 13,080 in January 2021. An estimated 3,732 warheads were deployed with missiles and aircraft, and around 2,000 - nearly all belonging to Russia or the United States - were kept in a state of high readiness.

"Relations between the world's great powers have deteriorated further at a time when humanity and the planet face an array of profound and pressing common challenges that can only be addressed by international cooperation," SIPRI board chairman and former Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said.

In early 2022, the five nuclear-armed permanent members of the United Nations Security Council –– Britain, China, France, Russia and the US –– issued a statement that "nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought".

Source: TRTWorld and agencies