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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: dpa

North Korea ‘has 20 nuclear warheads at most’, security think tank says

  • The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute says the number was for ‘actual assembled warheads North Korea possesses’
  • Organisation also says Russia has the world’s largest nuclear arsenal with 5,977 warheads, followed by US with 5,428 and China with 350; it says global nuclear arsenal ‘expected to grow over the coming decade’
North Korea

North Korea now has 20 nuclear warheads at most, a leading international security think tank said on Monday, at a time when concerns are growing in the Asia-Pacific region that Pyongyang could conduct a nuclear test any time soon.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) gave the estimates for this year for “the number of actual assembled warheads North Korea possesses”.

Figures released in previous years referred to the number of warheads that it could build with the amount of fissile material (material that can sustain a nuclear fission chain reaction) it has produced.

The estimates for North Korea were added for the first time to the global inventory of nuclear warheads.

SIPRI’s annual report came as North Korea’s neighbouring countries Japan and South Korea and their ally the United States are bracing for a fresh nuclear test, which if carried out would be its first since September 2017.

Washington and Seoul have said Pyongyang has already completed preparations for a nuclear test at its Punggye-ri test site in the country’s northeast.


Russian and Chinese bombers flew near Japan during Quad summit in Tokyo

Russian and Chinese bombers flew near Japan during Quad summit in Tokyo

The Sweden-based think tank said in its report that North Korea’s stockpile of fissile material is projected to have grown in 2021, enough to produce 45 to 55 nuclear warheads. It may also have “a small number of warheads for medium-range ballistic missiles,” according to the report.

North Korea has also raised tensions on the Korean peninsula since the start of this year with repeated ballistic missile launches.

Across the world, the number of nuclear warheads was estimated at 12,705 as of January. Although the figure was down from 13,080 a year earlier, the report said the global nuclear arsenal is “expected to grow over the coming decade”.

European Council President Charles Michel (C) lays a wreath in Hiroshima, Japan, last month for victims of 1945’s atomic bombs. Photo: AFP

The risk of nuclear weapons being used “seems higher now than at any time since the height of the Cold War,” the institute said, given Russia’s nuclear sabre-rattling following its invasion of Ukraine that began in February.

Russia had the world’s largest nuclear arsenal with 5,977 warheads, followed by the United States with 5,428. Together, they account for nearly 90 per cent of the world’s nuclear warheads.

The total warhead inventories for Russia and the United States declined in 2021, but the report attributed this to the dismantling of warheads retired from military service several years ago.

China ranked third with 350 warheads, unchanged from the previous year, with France having 290 and Britain 180. Pakistan was estimated to possess 165 warheads while India had 160 and Israel had 90.