“While politicians here have rightly expressed their disgust at threats to engage in nuclear war, their words come against the backdrop of the UK continuing to upgrade our own nuclear weapons system at a cost of at least £205bn.”
By Russell Whiting, The Nuclear Weapons Financing Research Group
With the conflict in Ukraine continuing and Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling growing ever more concerning, people are now talking about nuclear weapons with a sense of urgency that we haven’t seen for many years.
While politicians here have rightly expressed their disgust at threats to engage in nuclear war, their words come against the backdrop of the UK continuing to upgrade our own nuclear weapons system, Trident, at a cost of at least £205bn.
With Russia threatening nuclear war and other nuclear powers supplying arms to Ukraine, it can be easy to forget that the vast majority of states do not possess nuclear weapons and are actively seeking their elimination. The United Nations agreed the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017, and it entered into legal force in 2021. The Treaty bans nuclear weapons for their indiscriminate nature and catastrophic humanitarian consequences and states will gather in Vienna later this year for the first formal meeting to discuss the progress of the Treaty. Despite having Ambassadors based in Vienna the UK is currently not planning to engage with the meeting.
Other efforts towards nuclear disarmament, however well meaning, have continued to stall. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of international law on nuclear weapons, has been deadlocked for decades. The latest Review Conference will take place in New York in August, but against the backdrop of the situation in Ukraine it looks unlikely that any progress will be made. The lack of progress is despite five of the nine nuclear-armed states being obligated to engage in negotiations towards disarmament “in good faith”. They are all currently in the process of expanding or upgrading their nuclear arsenals. In some cases, like the UK, both.
It’s all to easy to feel that we have to leave these big issues to our political leaders and that we can only bring about change through the ballot box. But there are simple things we can do to make sure we don’t share in the complicity of the chaos nuclear weapons bring.
The money to upgrade nuclear weapons systems around the world doesn’t only come from governments through our taxes, but also from investments made by financial institutions using the money from our bank accounts and pension funds.
UK banks and pension funds have invested tens of billions in companies like BAE and Rolls Royce who are involved in the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons in the UK and further afield. But now, with banks to have their AGMs over the coming weeks, consumers are hitting back as banks.
NatWest, HSBC, Barclays, Royal London, People’s Pension and Nest are some of the institutions that invest in these companies that produce nuclear weapons and they need to hear that their customers think this is unacceptable.
The Nuclear Weapons Financing Research Group, made up of a range of civil society organisations, has been working on this issue for a number of years, and now we need as many people with bank accounts and pensions to make their voices heard and ensure that money is invested in projects which can bring genuine security through tackling climate change and providing secure, high-skilled jobs for the future.
Divestment campaigns around the world are already having an impact – the Norwegian Sovereign Fund and the ABP pension fund of the Netherlands. Deutsche Bank of Germany and Resona Holdings of Japan have all recently moved money away from nuclear weapons.
In the UK we have seen how contact from customers can spark action amongst financial institutions. We have already had some engagement with Barclays, HSBC and NEST, which we understand is currently undertaking a review of its own policies. But we need you to help us amplify the voices of those calling for change around the world.
We all want to live in a world without nuclear weapons – and we can all make a difference to bring it about. The history of great social change shows us that we don’t have to wait for our politicians to move, through grassroots campaigning and organising together we can make it harder for the companies involved in nuclear weapons to get their money.
The Nuclear Weapons Financing Research Group has a simple template letter on our website which you can use to contact your bank and/or pension provider. You can also read our report which outlines the scale of the problem in the UK. The status quo isn’t inevitable, but we need to act with the urgency as those who are seeking to continue to build the nuclear weapons that threaten us all.