Nuclear spending by top 9 world powers surged to $91.4B in 2023, watchdog says

North Korea test-fires its upgraded Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile that Pyongyang claims can deliver a super-size nuclear warhead to anywhere on the continental United States. North Korea is one of nine countries an ICAN report criticizes for ramping up its nuclear arms spending in 2023. File Photo by KCNA/UPI

June 17 (UPI) -- Spending on nuclear weapons by the world's nine nuclear-armed states jumped by an estimated 13.4% to $91.4 billion led by the United States which accounted for more than half of the total spend, according to a new disarmament report published Monday.

An almost 18% spending hike by the United States pushed its total spend to $51.5 billion with China and Russia coming a distant and second and third with $11.9 billion and $8.3 billion, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said in its fifth annual audit of the global nuclear arms trade.

Britain spent the third highest amount at $8.1 billion followed by France on $6.1 billon and India on $2.7 billion while spending by Pakistan, Israel and North Korea was in the region of $1 billion apiece.

Most of the money went toward modernization and updating of aging weapons and associated systems -- but some states expanded their arsenals.

With annual spending surging a "massive" 34% in the five years since it began publishing its analysis, ICAN called for the top spending countries to join the nearly 100 signatories to the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons saying countries faced a choice to "stand on the side of investment in weapons of mass destruction or to work towards their disarmament by joining the TPNW."

"The acceleration of spending on these inhumane and destructive weapons over the past five years is not improving global security but posing a global threat," said the report's co-author Alicia Sanders-Zakre.

ICAN said 20 nuclear weapons development and maintenance companies made $31 billion in 2023 with at least $7.9 billion in new contracts, bringing outstanding contracts to be fulfilled over the next decade to at least $335 billion.

The report said these jumbo profits fuel an influence-buying industry in which the nuclear weapons sector acquires sway over governments through an intertwined web involving financing think tanks, hiring lobbyists and holding high-level meetings with officials.

The report claims six big American defense contractors -- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, RTX, Northrop Grumman and Honeywell -- collectively account for almost $86 million out of a total $118 million lobbying by the industry in France and the United States.

No fewer than 21 think tanks received funding from Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, RTX and General Dynamics.

In the European industry, Airbus and Britain's BAE Systems led the lobbying spending as well as holding 87 high-level meetings with high British officials. Rolls Royce, another big contractor, held 50 such meetings

ICAN said former executives of defense contractors went on to to join think tank boards of directors and advisory councils and sit on the boards of financial institutions with significant investments in their old companies.

The group also cites the opportunity cost of billions "squandered" on nuclear weapons every year calling it an "unacceptable misallocation of public funds" that could be used for vital public services or tackling global crises such as climate change or slowing biodiversity loss.

Sixty seconds' worth of the money spent in 2023 would cover the cost of planting one million trees, ICAN calculates, while five years of nuclear weapons spending would feed the 45 million people around the who are currently facing famine for the rest of their lives.