On July 7, 2017, the United Nations adopted a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons following negotiations over 5 weeks during March, June and July. 122 countries voted in favour of the treaty, demonstrating 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, International Peace Bureau (IPB) joined UNFOLD ZERO, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament (PNND), the World Future Council and others to launch Move the Nuclear Weapons Money, a campaign and resource guide 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. 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.