Ban treaty opens the door to global nuclear divestment campaign

Image: Rob van Riet (World Future Council) presenting at a press conference at the United Nations on nuclear weapons divestment.

On July 7, 2017, the United Nations adopted a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons with 122 countries voting in favour. This demonstrates the clear and unequivocal acceptance of the majority of UN members never to use, threaten to use, produce, possess, acquire, transfer, test or deploy nuclear weapons.

The nuclear-armed and allied States opposed the treaty and none are likely to join. As such they are not bound by its provisions, and will not be directly affected by it.

However, the new treaty could be used to impact on the policies and practices of the nuclear armed States, especially if States parties prohibit investments in nuclear weapons corporations as part of their implementation of the treaty.

Corporations manufacturing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are major drivers of the nuclear arms race. They actively lobby their parliaments and governments to continue allocating the funds to nuclear weapons. And they support think tanks and other public initiatives to promote the ‘need’ for nuclear weapons maintenance, modernization and expansion.

Many of the countries supporting the nuclear prohibition treaty have public funds (such as national pension funds), and banks operating in their countries, that invest in these corporations.

The new treaty does not specifically prohibit such investments. However, States parties to the treaty agree not to ‘assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Treaty.’  This can be interpreted as prohibiting investments in nuclear weapons corporations.

If a number of States Parties to the treaty, encouraged by their parliamentarians and civil society, decide to prohibit investments in nuclear weapons corporations as part of their national implementation measures, this could highlight the unethical corporate practice of manufacturing such weapons, damage the standing of such corporations and constrain their lobbying power.

In 2016, UNFOLD ZERO, International Peace Bureau (IPB), Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), the World Future Council and others launched  Move the Nuclear Weapons Money. This campaign and resource guide, released at the Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (which comprises 170 member parliaments), focuses on cutting nuclear weapons budgets in nuclear-armed States, redirecting these funds to meeting economic and environmental needs such as promoting renewable energy and protecting the climate, and implementing nuclear divestment globally in order to support such efforts.

A handful of countries (Lichtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland) have already implemented nuclear divestment policies through action by parliamentarians (mostly PNND members) and civil society. The influence so far has been moderate, but if they were joined by 40, 50 or even 100 more countries (as they ratify the ban treaty), this influence would multiply exponentially.

On June 2, Rob van Riet (World Future Council) gave a presentation on nuclear weapons divestment at the UN in Geneva to delegations to the ban treaty negotiations. The presentation highlighted the experience of nuclear divestment by governments and parliaments, comparisons with divestment campaigns relating to fossil fuels and climate change, the fact that such divestment measures have not harmed the performance ratings of the public funds involved, and the value of additional countries following suit with nuclear weapons divestment measures.

The organisations behind Move the Nuclear Weapons Money are therefore using the ban treaty to amplify the global nuclear weapons divestment campaign. They are being joined by the Abolition 2000 Working Group on Economic Dimensions of Nuclearism.

PNND, for example, has included this in a Parliamentary Action Plan for a Nuclear Weapon Free World, which was released at the United Nations on July 5, as the ban treaty negotiations were drawing to a close.

Move the Nuclear Weapons Money also encourages nuclear-weapons-divestment by cities, universities and religious institutions in nuclear-armed and allied countries, building on the nuclear divestment example of the city of Cambridge MA (USA) and the recent resolutions of the U.S. Conference of Mayors which call for re-direction of nuclear weapons spending to meet human and environmental needs.

Divestment was one of the key tools that the international community used to move South Africa to end apartheid. Nuclear divestment could be the game-changer to finally end the power of the nuclear weapons corporations to keep the nuclear arms race running.

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