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Three NGOs Urge Ban on Funding Nuclear Weapons Production

By J Nastranis

NEW YORK (IDN) – Global consensus on a legally-binding treaty on prohibiting the production of nuclear weapons has yet to be achieved. But three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are pressing for a ban on the financing of atomic arsenals when such a legal instrument is agreed.

The three groups are the Basel Peace Office, Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (PNND) and UNFOLD ZERO. They have submitted a joint working paper for the United Nations Conference to Negotiate a Legally Binding Instrument to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons, Leading Towards their Total Elimination.

"Prohibiting the financing of nuclear weapons by States Parties to the nuclear prohibition treaty would help to delegitimise nuclear weapons production, and would put a dent in the power of the nuclear weapons corporations," said Alyn Ware, Director of the Basel Peace Office, in a media release by UNFOLD ZERO. "It would strengthen the power of civil society and parliamentarians within nuclear-armed States and globally challenge the nuclear arms race," he added.

The working paper draws on and expands the discussion in a report titled Move the Nuclear Weapons Money, published by the International Peace Bureau (IPB), PNND and the World Future Council in October 2016.

"There are also political reasons for prohibiting financing of nuclear weapons," says the Basel Peace Office-PNND-UNFOLD ZERO paper, adding: "The financing of nuclear weapons is one of the most significant drivers of the nuclear arms race. The governments of the nuclear armed countries currently spend US$100 billion annually on their nuclear weapons programs."

Most of the nuclear weapons money goes to private companies which are awarded contracts to manufacture, modernise and maintain nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles, argues the paper. "For these companies, the bloated budgets are in their interests."

Indeed, the companies 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, modernisation or expansion, notes the paper.

"In order to do this,” it argues, “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."

The paper recalls that 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."

In contrast to private companies, civil society organisations have virtually no access to funding to counter the lobbying weight of the nuclear weapons manufacturers, notes the paper.

Prohibiting the financing of nuclear weapons by States Parties in a nuclear prohibition treaty would help to delegitimise nuclear weapons production, and would diminish the power of the nuclear weapons corporations, the paper states. "It would strengthen the power of civil society within nuclear-armed States and globally challenge the nuclear arms race."

Referring to the enormous sum of money going to nuclear weapons, the paper argues that the bloated nuclear weapons budget also impacts negatively on the international community.

The biennial UN Core Budget, for example, is only 5.1 billion dollars – or 5 percent 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.

In this context, the paper refers to 'A Nuclear-Weapon-Free World: Our Common Good', a joint statement signed by legislators and religious leaders organised by Mayors for Peace, Religions for Peace and PNND, which notes: “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.”

While they want a nuclear weapons prohibition treaty to prohibit financing of the production of nuclear weapons, the Basel Peace Office, PNND and UNFOLD ZERO are pleading for funds for 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.

In their paper, the three NGOs argue that the nuclear prohibition treaty can draw from the experience of several countries that have already taken steps to prohibit – or partially prohibit – the financing of nuclear weapons. These include 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, notes the paper. "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 joint paper concludes: "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." [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 April 2017]

Photo: The MGR-1 Honest John was the first nuclear-tipped rocket developed by the U.S. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate

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