Campaign of the Month: Don’t Bank on the Bomb

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Tim Wright

Each year, the nine nuclear-armed nations spend a combined total of more than US$100 billion on their nuclear forces – assembling new warheads, modernizing old ones, and building ballistic missiles, bombers and submarines to deliver them. Much of this work is carried out by private corporations, which are financed by a vast web of financial institutions around the world.

In March the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) launched a 180-page report, Don’t Bank on the Bomb, identifying more than 300 banks, pension funds, insurance companies and asset managers in 30 countries with substantial investments in nuclear arms producers contracted by the US, British, French and Indian governments.
By investing in these companies, financial institutions are in effect facilitating the build-up of nuclear forces, undermining efforts to achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world and heightening the risk that one day these ultimate weapons of mass destruction will be used again. Any use of nuclear weapons would have catastrophic humanitarian consequences and violate international law.

Of the 300 or so financial institutions identified, roughly half are based in the United States and a third in Europe. Asian, Australian and Middle Eastern institutions are also listed. The institutions most heavily involved in financing nuclear arms makers include Bank of America 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, and RBS in Britain.

Nuclear Weapons Producers

The report examines investments in the following companies:

  • Alliant Techsystems, which produces rocket propulsion systems for Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles and Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles for the United States
  • Babcock International, which is involved in developing a new class of nuclear-armed submarine for the United Kingdom and maintaining the country’s existing fleet of submarines
  • Babcock & Wilcox, which supplies the US government with nuclear components for its defence programmes and operates the Pantex plant of the National Nuclear Security Administration, where it modernizes nuclear warheads
  • BAE Systems, which is part of a joint venture that is producing nuclear missiles for the French air force, and is also involved in developing Britain’s proposed new nuclear-armed submarines
  • Bechtel, which manages the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, where nuclear weapons are researched, designed and developed, and the “safety and reliability” of the current US nuclear stockpile is monitored
  • Boeing, which maintains the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles in the US arsenal, being responsible for guidance, flight controls, weapons systems testing and engineering
  • EADS, a Dutch company that produces and maintains submarine-launched nuclear missiles for the French navy, and is part of a joint venture responsible for building new nuclear missiles for the French air force
  • Finmeccanica, an Italian company that holds a one-quarter share in MBDA, the joint venture building nuclear missile for the French air force
  • GenCorp, which is involved in the design, development and production of land- and sea-based nuclear ballistic missile systems
  • General Dynamics, which provides maintenance, engineering and technical support for US Ohio-class submarines equipped with Trident nuclear missiles
  • Honeywell International, which produces approximately 85 percent of the non-nuclear components for US nuclear weapons, and is involved in simulated nuclear testing and the life-extension programme for the US navy’s Trident II nuclear missiles
  • Jacobs Engineering, which owns a one-third share in the Atomic Weapons Establishment, where British nuclear warheads are constructed and modernized
  • Larsen & Toubro, an Indian company that is involved in designing and building nuclear-armed submarines for the Indian navy
  • Lockheed Martin, which is involved in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons for both the United States and Britain, being responsible for the construction of submarine-launched Trident II D5 nuclear missiles
  • Northrop Grumman, which leads a joint project responsible for producing and maintaining the Minuteman III nuclear missiles
  • Redhall Group, which carries out various mechanical and electrical engineering contracts at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the United Kingdom
  • Rolls‑Royce, which is part of the joint venture to develop the new class of nuclear-armed submarine, and also maintains the existing fleet of submarines
  • Safran, a French company that is part of a joint venture to build the new M51 submarine-launched missiles for the French navy, which can each deliver multiple nuclear warheads
  • Serco Group, which owns a one-third share in the Atomic Weapons Establishment, where British nuclear warheads are constructed and modernized
  • Thales, a French company that is involved in the contract to build M51 nuclear missiles for the new French submarines, with an estimated value of €3 billion.

The Case for Divestment

The ultimate aim of divestment is to force companies to withdraw from the nuclear weapons industry. While it is unlikely that divestment by a single financial institution would create sufficient pressure on a company for this to happen, divestment by multiple institutions based on the same ethical objection could have a significant impact on the company’s strategic direction.

There are many ways for campaigners to put pressure on financial institutions to divest. For example, handing out pamphlets to bank customers as they enter branch offices or use automated teller machines will alert them to the unethical way in which their funds are being used, and encourage them to consider transferring to a more socially responsible bank.

It is important that banks and other financial institutions are made aware that both the general public and their own customers disapprove of their investments in nuclear weapons producers. Writing letters to the chief executive officer, chief financial officer or chairperson can help to achieve this objective. Collecting petition signatures outside bank branches can also be effective.

If banks express a clear unwillingness to divest from nuclear weapons producers, customers should take their money elsewhere, and encourage others to do the same. If a sufficient number of people boycott a particular financial institution, it might reconsider its support for the nuclear weapons industry.
Divestment campaigning has the potential to contribute significantly to the struggle for a nuclear-weapon-free world.

For more action ideas, and to download the report, please visit www.dontbankonthebomb.com. Tim Wright is a co-author of the report and Australian director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

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