India is expanding its nuclear arsenals and placing emphasis on long-range weapons, including those capable of reaching targets across China, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute said on Monday.

India and China have been locked in a border standoff since their troops clashed in Galwan Valley in eastern Ladakh in June 2020. Twenty Indian soldiers and four Chinese soldiers were killed in the fight.

Both the countries have had several rounds of military and diplomatic talks to ease the tensions, but in March Indian Foreign Minister S Jaishankar had said that the situation in eastern Ladakh remains “very fragile” and “quite dangerous”.

An annual assessment by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released on Monday said that the number of operational nuclear weapons in the arsenals of the world’s nine nuclear-armed countries, including India, is on the rise again.

Globally, the Sweden-based conflict think tank estimated there were 12,512 nuclear warheads as of January 2023. Of these, 9,576 are in military stockpiles ready for potential use – 86 more than a year ago.

Nuclear arsenal of the nine countries. (Image credit: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute)

India’s nuclear arsenal grew from 160 in 2022 to 164 in 2023, while neighbouring Pakistan’s rose from 165 to 170. “Pakistan remains the main focus of India’s nuclear deterrent,” the assessment noted.

China, which is the world’s third biggest nuclear power, is believed to have increased its number of warheads from 350 in January 2022 to 410 in January 2023.

The arsenal is expected to keep growing in the Asian nation, the think tank said. Depending on how Beijing decides to structure its forces, the report stated, it could potentially have at least as many intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, as either the United States (3,708) or Russia (4,489) in their stockpiles by 2030.

Hans M Kristensen, an associate senior fellow with the think tank’s weapons of mass destruction programme, said: “China has started a significant expansion of its nuclear arsenal. It is increasingly difficult to square this trend with China’s declared aim of having only the minimum nuclear forces needed to maintain its national security.”

Despite China’s increasing nuclear stockpile, the US and Russia together possess almost 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons. The think tank, however, said that the sizes of their respective arsenals appeared to have remained relatively stable in 2022.

Dan Smith, the director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, warned that the world is drifting into one of the most dangerous stages in history.

“It is imperative that the world’s governments find ways to cooperate in order to calm geopolitical tensions, slow arms races and deal with the worsening consequences of environmental breakdown and rising world hunger,” he added.