Image credit: UNFOLD Zero - Photo: 2017

Ban Treaty Should Stop Funding Nuclear Weapons Production

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – Prohibiting the financing of nuclear weapons production was one of the issues discussed at the first session of the UN conference to negotiate a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty from March 27 to 31 at the world body’s headquarters in New York. 

The proposal has its origins in a working paper submitted by the Dutch peacebuilding NGO PAX to the Open Ended Working Group (OEWG) in 2016: Closing our wallets to nuclear weapons: the necessity of including explicit language on financing in a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty or framework of agreements. This led to the inclusion of this concept in the final document of the OEWG, which includes explicit language raised in the working paper.  

The working paper states that, “Explicitly prohibiting the financing of companies directly involved in the development, testing, production, stockpiling or trade of nuclear weapons related technology, parts, products or services would increase the norm against nuclear weapons possession and the impact of any legally binding nuclear weapons prohibition.”

Most of the nuclear weapons money goes to private companies, which are awarded contracts to manufacture, modernize and maintain nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles. The companies actively lobby their parliaments and governments to continue allocating the funds to nuclear weapons. They support think tanks and other public initiatives to promote the ‘need’ for nuclear weapons maintenance, modernization or expansion.

In order to sound convincing, they elevate the threats from potential nuclear adversaries and lobby for enhanced nuclear weapons systems to counter those threats. This, in itself, increases the threats and antagonism between nuclear-armed states and the risks that nuclear weapons could be used by accident, miscalculation or intent, argues the working paper.

This strategy is far from surprising. U.S. President Eisenhower warned 60 years ago of the possibility of a military-industrial complex being established – a formidable union of the armed forces and defence contractors using their power to move governments and parliaments to maintain high military budgets. This has arguably come true – especially in relation to nuclear weapons, states the working paper.

Civil society organizations, on the other hand, have virtually no access to funding to counter the lobbying weight of the nuclear weapons manufacturers.

The paper explains: Prohibiting the financing of nuclear weapons by state parties to the nuclear prohibition treaty would help to delegitimize nuclear weapons production, and would put a dent in the power of the nuclear weapons corporations. It would strengthen the power of civil society within nuclear-armed States and globally to challenge the nuclear arms race.”

The bloated nuclear weapons budget also impacts negatively on the international community, states the working paper, The biennial UN Core Budget, for example, is only US$ 5.1 billion – or 5 per cent of the annual global nuclear weapons budget.

Overseas development aid from the nuclear-armed States to the developing countries remains way under the agreed target of 0.7% of GDP, a target which could easily be reached if the funding for nuclear weapons was re-directed towards development aid.

“Over 16,000 nuclear weapons remain in the world’s arsenals costing $100 billion annually – funds that could instead be used to reverse climate change, eliminate poverty and address other social and economic needs,” according to a Joint Statement by legislators and religious leaders organised by Mayors for Peace, Religions for Peace and PNND, titled ‘A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Our Common Good’.

The working paper cautions: The nuclear weapons prohibition treaty being negotiated should prohibit financing of the production of nuclear weapons. But it should not prohibit financing of nuclear weapons activities which support nuclear disarmament, such as dismantling and destruction of nuclear weapons, verification of disarmament agreements and environmental clean-up of nuclear weapons production facilities.

With a view to drawing on the experience of other treaties, the working paper says: The Cluster Munitions and Landmines Conventions do not specifically prohibit the financing of these weapons. However, each of the treaties includes a provision under which “Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances … To assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.”

This has been interpreted by some state parties as including a prohibition on the financing of the production of these weapons. For Cluster Munitions, approximately 40 States parties have made interpretive statements that investments in cluster munitions are, or can be seen as, prohibited by the Convention on Cluster Munitions. At least 10 have already adopted legislation prohibiting such investments.

The working paper notes that the nuclear prohibition treaty can draw from experience of several countries that have already taken steps to prohibit – or partially prohibit – the financing of nuclear weapons. This includes New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland, which have all adopted policies or legislation to divest from nuclear weapons corporations.

In New Zealand and Norway, public funds have divested from nuclear weapons corporations. In Switzerland, the War Materials Act Amendment of 2012 prohibits financing of nuclear weapons corporations.

These countries adopted such measures in the absence of a global treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. As such, they have all been rather cautious in their approach. New Zealand and Norway only divested public funds from nuclear weapons corporations. They did not prohibit private investments or financial institutions such as banks from investing in nuclear weapons.

Switzerland’s legislation appears strong on paper, but relies on a more restrictive definition of “nuclear weapons corporations”, which they define as those, which are primarily involved in manufacture of nuclear weapons.

As nuclear weapons production is usually only a part of the activities of corporations involved, there does not appear to have been as much divestment by financial institutions in Switzerland from nuclear weapons corporations as there has been by public funds in Norway and New Zealand.

The paper says: It will be up to the States negotiating the nuclear weapons prohibition treaty to decide whether to include a simple prohibition on financing of nuclear weapons production, and leave it up to each State party to implement this in the way they see fit, or to provide a more prescriptive provision detailing the measures required to curtail nuclear weapons financing under their jurisdiction. The former approach would most likely make the treaty easier to negotiate and enable States to ratify more quickly.

The paper reassures those nervous about the possible repercussions of taking on the nuclear-armed states, by drawing on the experiences of Lichtenstein, which mentioned this in their statement to the negotiations. Although these divestment measures were opposed by nuclear-armed states, in particular the U.S., they did not lead to any negative financial or political impact on these countries.

(For more background on nuclear divestment see ‘Move the nuclear weapons money, a handbook for civil society and legislators’.)

Another key aspect of the March 27-31 negotiations was whether the illegality of the threat and use of nuclear weapons is already prohibited under international law. If so, the prohibition treaty should affirm this prohibition, and be framed as codifying and implementing it rather than creating it.

The International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Weapons submitted a working paper which argues that if the prohibition treaty affirms this, it would strengthen the norm against the use of nuclear weapons, delegitimise nuclear deterrence, and enhance the pressure on nuclear-armed states to move toward nuclear abolition.

If the treaty does not affirm this prohibition, it would undermine current law and could imply that the prohibition of threat and use of nuclear weapons does not apply to states that do not join the negotiated treaty.  [IDN-InDepthNews – 02 April 2017]

Image credit: UNFOLD Zero

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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