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Hiroshima for Global Peace

Executive Summary: Nuclear Trends in 2020

The global pandemic of COVID-19 has significantly impacted nuclear issues from various dimensions. Among other things, states parties to the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty (NPT) decided to postpone the 2020 NPT Review Conference (RevCon), which was scheduled to be held in April-May 2020, “to a later date, as soon as the circumstances permit, but no later than April 2021.”1 Then in October, it was announced that the conference would be further postponed to August 2-27, 2021.2 Various other conferences on nuclear issues were also postponed or cancelled. In addition, a number of meetings, such as those of the UN General Assembly, were held in a limited manner, either entirely online or as a hybrid of online and face-to-face communication.

Furthermore, while the public and private sectors around the world have struggled to address the global pandemic of COVID-19, interest in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation issues seemed to have receded.

In a separate major development, regarding the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) adopted in 2017, the number of ratifying countries reached 50 on October 24, 2020, which is required to enter into force of the treaty. In addition, at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS 2020) held in February 2020, participating countries provided information on their efforts and achievements toward strengthening nuclear security taken since the previous conference in 2016.

However, in general, the overall nuclear situation shows few signs of improvement from the previous year, and rather seems to be in a spiral of impasse and aggravation. The major trends in nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and nuclear security observed in 2020 are as follows.

(1) Nuclear Disarmament

Since the end of the Cold War, the overall number of nuclear weapons has been decreasing. Still, an estimated 13,400 nuclear weapons remain on the Earth, and nuclear-armed states continue to modernize their nuclear arsenals. These states, including Russia and the United States, have yet to come to a decision regarding further reductions of their nuclear weapons, and the issue of extending the U.S.-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), which is set to expire in February 2021, was not resolved in 2020. The entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and negotiations on the commencement of a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT) have not yet been achieved. Little or no progress has been made by nucleararmed states and their allies on efforts to reduce the roles of nuclear weapons; instead, these states appear to have increased their reliance on nuclear deterrence.

On the other hand, the number of countries signing or ratifying the Treaty of the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW)—which, inter alia, legally bans states from possessing and using nuclear weapons—has steadily increased. As the number of ratifying countries reached 50 on October 24, 2020, the TPNW was to enter into force on January 22, 2021. Still, nuclear-armed states and their allies have stated their intention not to sign the treaty. Their refusal reveals a deepening rift over nuclear disarmament between nuclear-armed states and their allies on one side, and other NNWS on the other.

The Status of Nuclear Forces (estimates)

➢ Approximately 13,400 nuclear weapons (estimated) still exist on the Earth. The pace of their reduction has slowed.

Commitment to Achieving a World without Nuclear Weapons

➢ No country openly opposes the goal of “the total elimination of nuclear weapons” or “a world without nuclear weapons.” However, steady and concrete implementation and promotion of nuclear disarmament toward the realization of this goal has not been seen in 2020.
➢ On the Japan-led UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution titled “Joint courses of action and futureoriented dialogue towards a world without nuclear weapons,” the United Kingdom and the United States became co-sponsors and voted in favor, but China and Russia voted against it. Furthermore, France and some TPNW proponents, as well as some Western countries that had voted in favor in the previous years, abstained.


➢ As the number of ratifying countries reached 50 on October 24, 2020, the TPNW was to enter into force on January 22, 2021. By the end of 2020, 86 countries have signed the TPNW, and 51 of them have already ratified it.
➢ Proponent countries of the TPNW emphasize the importance of the treaty in promoting nuclear disarmament and establishing a norm against nuclear weapons. The UNGA adopted a resolution calling for further signature and ratification of the treaty.
➢ Nuclear-armed states and their allies remain opposed to the TPNW. Meanwhile, Sweden stated that it would seek to become an observer state.

Reduction of Nuclear Weapons

➢ Russia and the United States continue to implement the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). While they each offered proposals for extending the treaty beyond its expiration date of February 2021, they were unable to reach an agreement regarding this in 2020.
➢ The United States argued that China’s participation in nuclear arms control talks is imperative. However, China reiterated that it would not join such negotiations unless the two countries possessing the largest nuclear arsenals make drastic and substantive reductions.
➢ All nuclear-armed states continue to modernize their nuclear forces. In particular, China and Russia have been aggressively pursuing the development and deployment of various new delivery vehicles carrying nuclear warheads. China, India, Pakistan and North Korea have gradually increased the number of nuclear weapons.

Diminishing the Role and Significance of Nuclear Weapons in the National Security Strategies and Policies

➢ There have been few significant changes in nuclear policies regarding: the role and significance of nuclear weapons; a “sole purpose” or no first use policy; negative security assurances; and extended nuclear deterrence.
➢ France and Russia introduced their respective nuclear policies, both of which emphasize the importance of nuclear deterrence for their national security.

De-Alerting or Measures for Maximizing Decision Time to Authorize the Use of Nuclear Weapons

➢ There have been few significant changes in NWS policies concerning alert status. Russian and U.S. strategic nuclear forces are considered to remain on high alert status.


➢ Among the 44 states listed in Annex 2 of the CTBT, whose ratification is a prerequisite for the treaty’s entry into force, five states (China, Egypt, Iran, Israel and the United States) have signed but not ratified, and three (India, Pakistan and North Korea) have not even signed.
➢ With the exception of North Korea, all countries which have declared possession of nuclear weapons maintain moratorium on nuclear test explosions. As in 2018 and 2019, no country conducted a nuclear explosion test in 2020. The United States claimed that China and Russia conducted non-“zero yield” nuclear tests, but China and Russia denied the allegations.
➢ North Korea declared at the end of 2019 that it would no longer be bound to its previous decision to unilaterally suspend nuclear testing. However, it did not conduct a nuclear test in 2020.
➢ Some nuclear-armed states are considered to conduct nuclear tests without explosions. In November 2020, the United States conducted the subcritical experiment.


➢ In the 2020 session of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), negotiation of an FMCT yet again failed to be commenced. Pakistan continued to oppose even negotiating a treaty prohibiting just the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons.
➢ China, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea have yet to declare moratorium on production of fissile material for nuclear weapons. Those countries, except China, are considered to maintain their production.

Transparency in Nuclear Forces, Fissile Material for Nuclear Weapons, and Nuclear Strategy/Doctrine

➢ No significant efforts were made by the nuclear-armed states regarding transparency in nuclear weapons-related issues.
➢ The amount of information released by the United States decreased during the Trump administration.

Verifications of Nuclear Weapons Reductions

➢ The International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification (IPNDV), launched by the United States, started Phase III in 2020, and further discussions and deliberations on verification measures—including practical exercises—are underway.


➢ Russia and the United States continue to dismantle or convert, to some extent, their strategic delivery vehicles, nuclear warheads, and fissile material declared excess for military purposes.

Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Education and Cooperation with Civil Society

➢ While facing many limitations and difficulties due to the global pandemic of COVID-19, government officials, experts, NGOs, and other civil society groups engaged in active discussions at online meetings and other events.
➢ Some countries have started to legislate “divestment” against, or prohibit lending to, organizations and companies which are involved in producing and developing nuclear weapons. The number of companies which have individually established such policies is also increasing.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Peace Memorial Ceremonies

➢ Representatives from 83 countries attended the peace memorial ceremony in Hiroshima, and 68 countries represented at the ceremony in Nagasaki. While the scale of the ceremonies was reduced due to the pandemic of COVID-19, the number of participating countries was the same level as in previous year.

(2) Nuclear Non-Proliferation

As of December 2020, 191 countries (including the Holy See and Palestine) have acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). However, three nuclear-armed states—India and Pakistan which possess nuclear weapons, and Israel which has not denied possessing them—remain outside and are unlikely to join the treaty in the near future. North Korea has not made a strategic decision on renouncing its nuclear weapons. Regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a year after the U.S. withdrawal in 2018, Iran began to steadily decrease its adherence to the nuclear limits of the deal.

The number of countries that accept the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards under the Additional Protocols has increased steadily. Still, more than 40 countries have not yet signed them. On export controls, most members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) have solid export controls in place. On the other hand, there are concerns that North Korea is continuing to engage in illicit trafficking and procurement activities for its nuclear and missile programs.

Acceptance and Compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Obligations

➢ No progress has been made to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue. Pyongyang has continued to bolster its nuclear and missile capabilities.
➢ In opposition to the U.S. withdrawing from the JCPOA and its enhancement of sanctions on Iran, since the latter half of 2019, Tehran has steadily expanded the areas from which it has withdrawn from its own obligations under the JCPOA; inter alia, its stockpile of enriched uranium, level of enrichment, the number of centrifuges have exceeded the upper limits established by the JCPOA.
➢ Saudi Arabia again in 2020 implied an interest in acquiring nuclear weapons.

IAEA Safeguards

➢ As of 2020, 131 NPT NNWS have concluded the IAEA Additional Protocols. Some countries such as Brazil argue that the conclusion of an Additional Protocol should be voluntary, not obligatory under the NPT.
➢ Iran has continued to accept verification and monitoring by the IAEA. In August and September 2020, Tehran granted the IAEA access to two sites where nuclear activity was suspected to have taken place in the past. In the meantime, the IAEA detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not previously declared to the Agency. The IAEA requires Iran to provide further clarifications and information.
➢ While Iran continued to provisionally apply the Additional Protocol, Iran’s parliament enacted a legislation calling for the government to withdraw from the provisional application of the Additional Protocol by February 21, 2021.
➢ The IAEA applied integrated safeguards to 67 NNWS by the end of 2019. In addition, as of June 2020, the Agency developed and approved the state-level safeguards approaches (SLAs) for 131 countries.
➢ Saudi Arabia is nearing completion of its first research reactor, but has not yet concluded a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA nor accepted a modification to its Small Quantities Protocol (SQP).

Implementing Appropriate Export Controls on Nuclear-Related Items and Technologies

➢ Most members of the NSG have solid export controls in place, including establishment of legislative measures and other relevant national implementation systems. On the other hand, many countries, in particular developing countries, have been requested to strengthen their systems and implementation of export controls.
➢ North Korea continues to engage in illicit trafficking and procurement of nuclear-related items.
➢ The discussion over India becoming a member of the NSG has continued, but no agreement has yet been reached. Some countries have proactively promoted civil nuclear cooperation with India despite it being a non-party to the NPT, while others are contemplating cooperation, subject to implementing additional nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation measures.
➢ China has been criticized for its export of nuclear power reactors to Pakistan, which may constitute a violation of the NSG guidelines.

Transparency in the Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy

➢ As of the end of 2020, China, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States did not submit their respective reports based on the Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium.

(3) Nuclear Security

With regard to nuclear security, the highlight of 2020 was the International Conference on Nuclear Security (ICONS 2020) convened by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in February. The efforts and achievements made by participating countries since 2016 in the area of nuclear security were shared. As more emphasis is being placed on improving transparency and accountability with regard to the implementation of nuclear security measures in each country, it is expected that more countries will make relevant information available, while protecting sensitive information.

Overall, some progress has been seen in efforts to improve nuclear security measures and provisions of support, particularly in countries wary of the threat of nuclear terrorism and those that plan to embark on nuclear energy. However, efforts to strengthen measures against new threats such as cyber-attacks and insider threat are still limited in a small number of countries. Therefore, more focused efforts by all countries should be made to improve the situation. In addition, fostering nuclear security culture is essential to ensure sustainable and effective nuclear security in each country and further efforts should be seen in this area as well.

Regarding adherence to nuclear securityrelated conventions as well as nuclear forensics efforts at both national and multilateral levels, progress has been seen over the years. Furthermore, multilayered efforts in the area of human resource development have been advanced at both national and regional levels. The first Review Conference of the Amendment to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM/A) is scheduled to be held in 2021. Active exchanges of information regarding national implementation of the Convention in each State Party and discussions on the universalization of the Convention as well as its effective implementation are expected to take place during the conference.

Physical Protection of Nuclear Material & Nuclear Facilities

➢ No country completely eliminated fissile material in 2020. Twenty-one countries subject to this survey still possess fissile material attractive to terrorists.

Accession to Nuclear Security and Safety-Related Conventions, Participation in Nuclear Security-Related Initiatives, and Application to Domestic Systems

➢ Except for an announcement by the Philippines on the resumption of the national ratification process for the CPPNM/A and an expression of will by Pakistan on actively considering joining the International Convention on the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (ICSANT), there was no development in the status of adherence to nuclear-security related international conventions. On the other hand, the gradual increase in number of countries joining all the relevant conventions is commendable.
➢ Information made available on the application status of the measures recommended in the IAEA’s “Nuclear Security Recommendations on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and Nuclear Facilities (INFCIRC/225/Rev.5)” in each country has been reducing. While efforts to strengthen measures against insider and cyber threats have been enforced in some countries, there are still room for improvement in many countries.

Efforts to Maintain & Improve the Highest Level of Nuclear Security

➢ Regarding the minimization of highly enriched uranium (HEU) for civilian use, major progress has been made toward HEU removal in Canada and Kazakhstan. Also, the development of alternative technologies to HEU use has been ongoing.
➢ Progress has also been seen in introducing and strengthening measures to detect radioactive
materials at borders. Provision of support in the form of equipment and training to improve detection capabilities remains important.
➢ No international assessment missions on nuclear security such as the IAEA International Physical Protection Advisory Service (IPPAS) were carried out in 2020. Still, some countries expressed their interest in hosting IPPAS missions in 2021 or in the near future. While the number of countries hosting IPPAS is decreasing, some countries have been working to improve their nuclear security regime continuously through follow-up missions.
➢ Nuclear security-related activities in multilateral efforts were limited in 2020 due to the global spread of COVID-19. Nonetheless, at ICONS 2020, groups of countries promoted their activities through various basket proposals on key nuclear security issues developed through the Nuclear Security Summit process and later compiled into IAEA INFCIRC documents. Although the number of countries endorsing those INFCIRC documents is increasing at a limited rate, it is expected that these frameworks will be more actively utilized and efforts will be strengthened. With regard to other multilateral efforts, the Nuclear Forensics International Technical Working Group (ITWG) on nuclear forensics has been active. More countries are expected to participate in the 7th Collaborative Materials Exercise (CMX) to be held in July 2021.

1 “Note Verbale on Documentation for the NPT Review Conference,” March 30, 2020,
2 Gustavo Zlauvinen, “Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” October 28, 2020,

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