North Korea estimated to possess ‘up to 50 nuclear weapons’: think tank

The number jumped from 30 last year, according to a Swedish group.

North Korea estimated to possess ‘up to 50 nuclear weapons’: think tank

North Korea may have assembled up to 50 nuclear weapons, a significant increase over the past year, and could produce more, says a Swedish think tank.

“North Korea’s military nuclear programme remains central to its national security strategy,” said the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, in its Yearbook 2024 Armaments, Disarmament and International Security.

“North Korea has produced plutonium for use in nuclear weapons but is believed to be producing HEU [highly enriched uranium] for nuclear weapons as well,” it added.

Last year, the institute estimated that North Korea had up to 30 nuclear weapons. 

North Korea has tested a nuclear device six times since 2006 and says its missiles are capable of striking anywhere in the world. 

The think tank said the number of nuclear warheads in the world stood at 12,121 as of January, down from 12,512 a year earlier.

The SIPRI classifies nine countries as nuclear powers: the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel.

Of these, the United States and Russia possess about 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.

Globally during 2023, 14 United Nations arms embargoes and 22 European Union arms embargoes aimed at limiting the spread of weapons were in force.

But the efficacy of U.N. arms embargoes has been under strain in 2023 amid widespread allegations that Russia procured weapons from North Korea and the continued ineffectiveness of an embargo on Libya, according to the think tank.

Outside armed conflict, there was a shift towards greater use of cyber capabilities for longer-term intelligence gathering and away from large-scale or one-off operations, said SIPRI.

Some middle-power states, including Iran and North Korea, increased the sophistication of their cyber-espionage techniques and operations in 2023, it added. 

Edited by RFA Staff.