Nuclear divestment: the medical case
This week the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons launched a major study on the global financing of nuclear weapons producers. The 180-page report argues that banks, pension funds, insurance companies and asset managers should divest from companies involved in the manufacture, maintenance and modernization of nuclear forces. By investing in these companies, financial institution are in effect facilitating the build-up of nuclear arsenals and heightening the risk that these ultimate weapons of mass destruction will be used again.
The report provides details of financial transactions with 20 companies that are heavily involved in the US, British, French and Indian nuclear programs. They include BAE Systems and Babcock International in the United Kingdom, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman in the United States, Thales and Safran in France, and Larsen & Toubro in India. Financial institutions invest in these companies by providing loans and purchasing shares and bonds. The report found that more than 300 financial institutions in 30 countries have substantial investments in nuclear weapons companies.
Roughly half of them are based in the United States and a third in Europe. Asian, Australian and Middle Eastern institutions are also listed in the report. The institutions most heavily involved in financing nuclear arms makers include Bank of America, BlackRock and JP Morgan Chase in the United States; BNP Paribas in France; Allianz and Deutsche Bank in Germany; Mitsubishi UJF Financial in Japan; BBVA and Banco Santander in Spain; Credit Suisse and UBS in Switzerland; and Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland in Britain.
The Humanitarian Argument
The report argues that investing in nuclear weapons producers is unethical given the catastrophic humanitarian harm that nuclear weapons cause. A single nuclear bomb dropped on a large city could kill millions of people. Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, writes in the report: “Anyone with a bank account or pension fund has the power to choose to invest his or her money ethically – in a way that does not contribute to this earth-endangering enterprise.”
The report notes that, in May 2010, the 189 parties to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty acknowledged, for the first time collectively, “the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons”. The report also draws attention to the landmark resolution on nuclear disarmament adopted by the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement in November 2011, which describes nuclear weapons as “unique in their destructive power, in the unspeakable human suffering they cause … and in the threat they pose to the environment, to future generations and indeed to the survival of humanity”.
ICAN chair Tilman Ruff argues that nuclear divestment is necessary on the basis that “nuclear weapons are the biggest threat to global health”. He says in the report that curbing investments in nuclear weapons would directly help end their production and stigmatize these most inhumane of all weapons: “A world freed from nuclear weapons is good for everyone – the business case to do the right thing and help to bring it about is compelling.”
Taking Action for Divestment
The report offers practical suggestions for ways to put pressure on financial institutions to divest, recommending that financial institutions be boycotted by the public if they refuse to do so. In today’s globalized economy, many thousands of individuals and institutions are indirectly involved – in most cases, unwittingly – in the financing of nuclear weapons companies. Any person with a bank account or pension fund has the power to choose not to invest in nuclear arms makers.
Divestment is a mechanism with which we can harness the widespread and overwhelming public opposition to nuclear weapons to achieve tangible outcomes. As South African activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu reminds us in the foreword to the report, divestment was a vital part of the successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa: “Today, the same tactic can – and must – be employed to challenge man’s most evil creation: the nuclear bomb. No one should be profiting from this terrible industry of death, which threatens us all.”