Would the West be too confident in the non-use of nuclear weapons by Russia, China or North Korea?

In his new reportt on the subject of armaments, disarmament and international security, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, the Swedish institute of reference in this field, draws a snapshot of the global balance of power in terms of armed forces.

This year, it shows, among other things, an unprecedented progression in several decades of weapons and nuclear warheads in service around the world.

A 0,9% increase in nuclear weapons stockpiles in the world in one year

Indeed, between 2022 and 2023, the total number of operational nuclear warheads increased from 9.490 to 9.576, an increase of 0,9% overall. However, this slight variation hides significant disparities, while Western countries (United States, Great Britain, France and Israel) have maintained strictly identical stocks, whereas China (410 vs 350) has experienced a increase of more than 17%, and North Korea (30 vs 25) of 20%. As for Russia (+0,2%), India (+2,5%) and Pakistan (+3%), their stocks increased more moderately.

However, this rapid increase in Chinese and North Korean stocks has not given rise to any marked response from the authorities of the Western countries.

This lack of reaction is to be found in the certainty shared by Western chancelleries, according to which the nuclear threshold could not be crossed by the authorities of Moscow, Beijing or Pyongyang, knowing that if so, this would probably lead to a generalized nuclear conflict which no one would emerge victorious.

Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on the planet
Russia will deploy a fleet of 12 Borei/Borei-A SSBNs, as many as the US Navy's fleet of Columbia-class submarines

This theory of mutually assured destruction has been at the heart of a number of decisions in recent months, whether it is Western support for Ukraine against Russia, or American support for Taiwan against China in the Pacific. .

Obviously, Europeans and Americans have never really taken seriously the Kremlin's threats in this area, nor the massive rearmament in progress of these countries in the nuclear field.

Rapid rise in nuclear capabilities of China, Russia and North Korea

Let us recall, in fact, that in recent years, Moscow has significantly increased its efforts in this area, with the intensive production of Borei-class nuclear ballistic missile submarines, the resumption of the construction of Tu-160M ​​strategic bombers2 and the upcoming entry into service of the ICBM Satan system potentially equipped with Avangard hypersonic gliders.

Beijing, for its part, has admitted 3 Type 09IV(A) SSBNs into service over the last 3 years, continued the development of the H-20 stealth strategic bomber, and above all has undertaken the construction of three new sites intended to accommodate ICBM missiles in silos, potentially bringing Beijing to parity with the United States and Russia in this area in the years to come.

Pyongyang, finally, has carried out numerous tests of new ballistic vectors, including a medium-changing missile which will arm the North Korean Navy's next conventionally powered ballistic missile submarine.

The lack of Western response to these Chinese and North Korean programs, and the certainty of European and American chancelleries that Russia will never use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, were at the heart concerns expressed by Doctor Francesca Giovannini, director of the Harvard Research Network on Rethinking Nuclear Deterrence, during NATO's Riga StratCom Dialogue which was held on June 7 and 8 in the Latvian capital.

missile silos china Deterrent Forces | Defense News | Nuclear weapons
China has undertaken the construction of 3 sites intended to accommodate up to 300 ICBM missiles in silos, compared to 399 American Minuteman IIIs in service

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  1. I share the idea that reflection on the renewal of a tactical nuclear fleet in the West is relevant.
    On the other hand, I do not think that the West does not understand the risk of Russia using weapons of this nature. Conversely, the entire Western strategy of support for Ukraine, which from the start consists of giving this country the means to stop the Russian advance without giving it the means to push the Russians out of its borders, stems precisely the desire to prevent the Russians from being forced to use this option to avoid a debacle that Putin would not survive. I therefore think that the risk of the use of tactical nuclear weapons by Russia is considered very credible by Westerners, and particularly by those who are nuclear powers, because they would then be faced with an impasse.

  2. Russia has not invested massively in increasing its arsenal (less than India or Pakistan for example) but has invested in upgrading its arsenal after more than 20 years of chronic underinvestment, particularly in the naval component.
    Having a nuclear arsenal is good, but whether it is credible in terms of “potential” operational effectiveness is an absolute necessity.
    In this, Russia is not arming itself more but better so as not to keep pace with its potential adversaries who have never stopped maintaining and renewing their equipment.
    This is the sine qua non condition for remaining credible and not exposing oneself to a “first strike”.


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