North Korea may have spent as much as $642 million on its nuclear programme last year, according to anti-nuclear activists, as the impoverished country appears ready to test a new weapon despite battling Wuhan virus outbreak and economic crisis.
There is no confirmed data on North Korea’s nuclear spending, or the size of its arsenal. Since 2006 it has conducted at least six nuclear tests, and appears to be preparing to resume testing for the first time since 2017.
In a report on global nuclear weapons spending released on Tuesday, the Geneva-based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons said its estimate is based on the assumption that North Korea has continued to spend about a third of its gross national income on its military, and about 6% of that military budget on nuclear weapons.
That estimate put North Korea as the lowest spender of the nine nuclear-armed countries covered by the ICAN report, spending about half as much as the next lowest country, Pakistan.
The United States, which has led an international campaign to impose sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile development, has criticised Pyongyang for spending millions of dollars on its military while the country faces food shortages and other economic problems.
North Korea says it has a sovereign right to develop nuclear weapons for self-defence, and that they are necessary to protect the country in the face of international threats.
It is unclear whether Pyongyang cut back any funding for its nuclear programme during the pandemic.