Nuclear-armed nations spent $82.4bn on weapons in 2021

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons accuses nuclear-armed nations of ‘obscene’ spending and notes extensive industry lobbying.

A mushroom cloud after a nuclear weapons test on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands in 1946.
International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons says nuclear nations are again upgrading their arsenals [File: US Library of Congress/Handout via Reuters]

The world’s nine nuclear-armed countries spent $82.4bn upgrading their atomic weaponry in 2021, eight percent more than the year before, a campaign group has said.

The biggest spender was the United States, which accounted for more than half the total spending, followed by China, Russia, the United Kingdom and France, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said in its annual report on nuclear spending.

“Nuclear-armed states spent an obscene amount of money on illegal weapons of mass destruction in 2021, while the majority of the world’s countries support a global nuclear weapons ban,” the group said in its report. “This spending failed to deter a war in Europe and squandered valuable resources that could be better used to address current security challenges, or cope with the outcome of a still raging global pandemic. This corrupt cycle of wasteful spending must be put to an end.”

ICAN noted that nuclear weapons producers also spent millions lobbying on defence, with every $1 spent lobbying leading to an average of $256 in new contracts involving nuclear weapons.

“The exchange of money and influence, from countries to companies to lobbyists and think tanks, sustains and maintains a global arsenal of catastrophically destructive weapons,” the report said.

On Monday, the Stockholm International Peace Research (SIPRI) warned that all nine nuclear-armed countries were increasing or upgrading their arsenals, and that the risk of such weapons being deployed appeared higher now than at any time since the height of the Cold War.

Russia, which invaded Ukraine in February, has openly threatened to use its nuclear weapons.

Kim Jong Un, standing in front of what appears to be some sort of weapons mock-up with his advisers in 2017.
Kim Jong Un, pictured with his advisers shortly before Pyongyang’s last nuclear weapons test in 2017, is thought to be preparing the country for renewed testing [File: KCNA via Reuters]

ICAN estimates North Korea spent $642m on nuclear weaponry in 2021 even as its economy struggled under United Nations sanctions and the pandemic-linked closure of borders.

Pyongyang walked away from denuclearisation talks after the collapse of a summit with then-US President Donald Trump in 2019, and has carried out a record number of missile launches this year. There are concerns it is preparing for its first nuclear weapons tests since 2017.

There is no official confirmation on the amount North Korea spends on nuclear weapons or its arsenal. SIPRI estimates it has as many as 20 warheads.

Nuclear weapons spending, 2021

Source: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons

  1. United States $44.2bn
  2. China $11.7bn
  3. Russia $8.6bn
  4. UK $6.8bn
  5. France $5.9bn
  6. India $2.3bn
  7. Israel $1.2bn
  8. Pakistan $1.1bn
  9. North Korea $642m
Source: Al Jazeera