Containing the nuclear weapons corporations: Nuclear weapons divestment in the United States

The United States spends over $60 billion annually on nuclear weapons – more than the other eight nuclear-armed States combined. This colossal amount of spending on nuclear weapons is unnecessary, regardless of whether or not you support unilateral nuclear disarmament by the United States, or conditional nuclear deterrence until there is a multilateral nuclear abolition agreement by all nuclear armed States.

U.S. Senator Markey and Congress Representative Blumenauer have introduced the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditure (SANE) Act, which calls for minimal deterrence (until global nuclear disarmament is agreed), which could be served by spending approximately 1/3 of the current nuclear weapons budget

However, even this moderate approach can only get the support of a handful of congress-members. Why? Because the United States corporations manufacturing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems are too powerful a force for even the moderate democrats to oppose.

They actively lobby congressional members to allocate additional funds for nuclear weapons, even during periods of nuclear disarmament, such as in the early part of the Obama administration (which negotiated the new START treaty with Russia). They elevate the nuclear threats to the United States in order to justify high spending on nuclear weapons. They support think tanks and other public initiatives to promote the ‘need’ for nuclear weapons maintenance, modernization and expansion. And they invest money in elections in opposition to nuclear disarmament advocates in the US Congress.

Civil society must therefore employ other means to constrain the power of the nuclear weapons corporations and to build support for cuts in nuclear weapons budgets. Move the Nuclear Weapons Money, a new global campaign to shift the $100 billion annual nuclear weapons budget to better purposes, has advanced nuclear weapons divestment as probably the most powerful tool at the disposal of civil society.

Cities, States, universities, religious organisations, banks and other entities have funds which they invest in the stock market in order to get a return for their institutions and constituents. Many of these are investing in nuclear weapons corporations.

By moving these institutions to divest from the nuclear weapons corporations, the nuclear abolition movement can spotlight the unethical behaviour of these corporations, help reduce market confidence in them, and put pressure on them to get out of the nuclear arms race. Such actions against the nuclear weapons corporations can also give political strength and cover to congress members who are wavering on whether or not to support nuclear weapons budgets cuts and initiatives such as the SANE Act.

Move the Nuclear Weapons Money highlights examples of such nuclear divestment in the United States, and around the world. They also link to partner organisations and campaigns which have been undertaking nuclear divestment work.

One of these is Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, which has been working on nuclear weapons divestment since 2004. PNND members, working in cooperation with civil society partners, have been successful in moving the parliaments and/or governments of Lichtenstein, New Zealand, Norway and Switzerland to adopt policies to end (divest from) any investments of government funds (such as pension funds) from nuclear weapons corporations.

Building on this success, PNND is now working with Move the Nuclear Weapons Money to move additional non-nuclear governments to divest federal funds from nuclear weapons corporations, and to support civil society campaigners in nuclear-armed and allied states working to divest their city or regional/state government funds from nuclear weapons corporations.

In the United States, some cities have already taken such action. Examples include Takoma Park (MD) which adopted a nuclear divestment policy in 1983 and the city of Oakland (California) which adopted a nuclear divestment policy in 1988.

US organisations which have become active more recently include the Future of Life Institute and Nuclear Ban US.

On 2 April 2016, Cambridge (Massachusetts) City Council adopted a resolution proposed by the Future of Life Institute to prohibit city funds from investing in nuclear weapons corporations. The institute has also produced a guide for nuclear divestment in the United States.

Nuclear Ban US, which was established in 2017 after the adoption at the United Nations of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), is calling for nuclear divestment in the United States as a way for cities, states and institutions to give effect to some of the treaty provisions despite the fact that neither the United States, nor any other nuclear-armed State, have agreed to sign the treaty.

The campaign is also making links with the growing campaign of divestment from the fossil fuel sector. In Germany, for example, some universities have already divested their endowment funds from both fossil fuel and nuclear weapons corporations. Move the Nuclear Weapons Money aims to strengthen this cooperation between the movement to prevent climate change and the nuclear abolition movement.

Senator Markey introducing the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditure (SANE) Act to the United States Congress