Study: Nukes, Cyber Weapons Fuel Global Instability

By Sandra I. Erwin

Expanding nuclear arsenals, cutbacks in peacekeeping operations and the rise of cyberweapons will continue to fuel instability around the world, according tonew data by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

In a report unveiled June 3, SIPRI looks at the current state of international security, armaments and disarmament trends. It finds that even though major powers such as the United States and European nations have reduced military budgets and trimmed their nuclear stockpiles, other emerging players are ramping up spending on new weapons, including nuclear arms. The study sees other signs that point to further instability, including a decline in the number of deployed peacekeeping forces, diminishing efforts to ban the use of cluster bombs that harm civilians and the growing role of cyberweapons as tools of national security.

Eight countries — the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan and Israel — possessed approximately 4,400 operational nuclear weapons in 2013, according to SIPRI. Nearly 2,000 are kept in a state of high operational alert. If non-operational warheads are counted, these states collectively own about 17,265 nuclear weapons, compared to 19,000 in 2012.

The study attributes the drop to actions by the United States and Russia to pare back their inventories of strategic nuclear weapons under the so-called Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, also known as “New START.”

Nuclear arsenals, however, are being modernized. All five legally recognized nuclear weapon states — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States — are either deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems or have announced programs to do so, SIPRI noted. Of the five, only China seems to be expanding its nuclear arsenal. India and Pakistan are both bulking up their nuclear weapon stockpiles and missile delivery systems.

"Once again there was little to inspire hope that the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals,” said SIPRI senior researcher Shannon Kile. “The long-term modernization programs under way in these states suggest that nuclear weapons are still a marker of international status and power,” she said in a statement.

An unofficial nuclear power, Israel, neither confirms nor denies that it possesses nuclear weapons. SIPRI estimated that Israel has approximately 80 nuclear weapons, of which 50 are for delivery by medium-range ballistic missiles and 30 are gravity bombs that would be dropped from aircraft.

Of concern these days are the nuclear capabilities of North Korea, which maintains a secretive nuclear program. SIPRI said there is no public information to verify that it possesses operational nuclear weapons. Several non-governmental reports concluded, based on the analysis of satellite imagery and other evidence, that North Korea was preparing to conduct a third underground nuclear test.

Another finding in the SIPRI study is a decline in the number of peacekeepers deployed in troubled countries. It fell by more than 10 percent in 2012, as the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan got under way. More than 233,000 personnel were deployed in 53 operations worldwide in 2012.

“We are certainly going to see total peacekeeper numbers keep falling this year, and probably next year, too, as a result of the NATO drawdown in Afghanistan,” said Jair van der Lijn, a SIPRI senior researcher. “How far they fall, and what the future peacekeeping landscape looks like, is going to depend on how many troops are eventually deployed in Mali, the broader Sahel region and, potentially, Syria.” He speculated that austerity might encourage states to send more troops to other peace missions in order to avoid domestic pressure to cut their armed forces.

In the arms-control arena, 2012 was a disappointing year for advocates of ending the use of cluster munitions, SIPRI said. “Supporters of the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions proved unable to persuade any new states to sign the convention,” the study said. Major cluster munitions producers that have not signed or ratified the convention include Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Israel, South Korea, Russia and the United States. Cluster bombs disperse multiple smaller munitions, some of which can explode months or years later causing civilian casualties.

Other trends highlighted in the SIPRI study point to a shift in the distribution of global arms spending. Worldwide military expenditures in 2012 were estimated to exceed $1.7 trillion, or 2.5 percent of global gross domestic product. The total is about 0.4 percent lower in real terms than in 2011, the first drop since 1998. Notably, the distribution of global spending in 2012 “shows what may be the beginnings of a shift from the West to other parts of the world, in particular Eastern Europe and the developing world,” SIPRI said. In Western and Central Europe, austerity measures continued to reduce military spending. In Asia and Oceania, military spending still increased in 2012 but did so at a slower pace, partly as a result of the 2008 financial crisis.

Military spending by the United States declined by 5.6 percent in real terms in 2012. Cutbacks in U.S. and European defense budgets have sparked efforts by arms manufacturers to seek new markets in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. “Individual companies are taking steps to insulate themselves against austerity measures through military specialization, downsizing, diversification and exports,” the SIPRI report said. “Governments use a number of strategies to assist their arms industries outside of their home markets. These include direct government arms export promotion; support for cost reductions; and the use of rhetoric about arms industry employment.”

SIPRI also highlighted the emerging role of cyberwarfare in international security. “The growing importance of cybersecurity in the military and civil realms has led to noteworthy diversification by arms production and military services companies into the cybersecurity market,” said the report. “While there is no reliable evidence, a growing number of countries — including China, Iran, Israel, Russia and the United States — were suspected of using cyberweapons and making offensive interventions across cyberspace.”

The rise of cybersecurity on the political and military agendas has economic implications, the study said. Global public and private cybersecurity spending was approximately $60 billion in 2011 — or about 3.5 percent of total military spending. The United States accounted for half of the total, and was the only country where the levels of public and private investment in cybersecurity were almost equal, said SIPRI. In the rest of the world, the private sector accounted for the majority of national spending on cybersecurity. “States’ reliance on private cybersecurity providers could become a matter of political concern, particularly with regard to democratic transparency, oversight, accountability and cost,” said the study. “The provision of services by arms-producing companies — as well as traditional cybersecurity providers — may change the way in which states define and manage their cyberdefense.”

Obtaining a comprehensive picture of who is involved in the business of cyberweapons is difficult, said Vincent Boulanin, a research fellow at SIPRI. Besides corporations and governments, there are independent hackers, activist groups and criminal organizations that may develop or deploy cyberweapons, he said. "There is little incentive for anyone involved to be transparent [as] anonymity is a major added value of cyberattacks."

The use of cyberweapons and espionage create "huge practical and conceptual challenges for the international community," said Boulain. "In the military realm, the applicability of international law to cyberweapons like Stuxnet is unclear and has fueled discussion about whether offensive action using a cyberweapon could be considered a legitimate casus belli for conventional warfare."

The use of cyber tools for espionage, he added, is also a sticking point in diplomatic relations between China and the United States. "These concerns have led to discussions about whether international controls should, or even could, be applied to cyberweapons and related technologies, as they are for conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction," said Boulanin. "There are still widely differing opinions about what should be considered a cyberweapon."

Another issue is the technical complexity of monitoring "stockpiles" of cyberweapons, he said. "Arms control treaties require verification mechanisms, but it is beyond dispute that no state would allow a third party to scan its governmental computer systems and networks for this purpose."

Topics: C4ISR, Cybersecurity, International, Strategic Weapons

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