“Some say nuclear disarmament is utopian… I say the illusion is that nuclear weapons provide security”, said United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week. The UN chief further argued that their inherently destabilising presence was unwarranted in the post-Cold War era. “How, then, do we explain that… amidst a global financial crisis, the nuclear-weapon states seem intent on modernising their arsenals for decades to come?”
Despite major progress in recent years in terms of shaping and implementing robust ethical policies excluding producers of ‘controversial arms’, quite a few pension funds still refuse to label, and thus exclude, companies involved in nuclear weapons production and maintenance. New research by the Campagne tegen Wapenhandel actually reveals a major rise in pension funds’ shares in companies such as BAE Systems, General Dynamics, EADS and Safran. Most outstanding is ABP, the largest Dutch pension fund, which now has a portfolio with over 660 million euro invested in nuclear weapons-related companies. The main pension funds holding shares in these companies have been tagged this week by campaigners, raising awareness of ongoing ‘explosive’ investments.
Some of these companies have recently been awarded major new deals in nuclear weapons programmes. UK companies BAE Systems and Babcock this week received 350 million worth in orders to continue the design of a new generation of nuclear-armed submarines for the Royal Navy aimed at replacing the current Vanguard class from 2028. In May, the MoD announced another 350-million-pound deal with BAE, Babcock and Rolls-Royce to undertake design work. In 2011 the Conservative-led coalition government announced putting aside 3 billion pounds for the design of the Trident missile-armed Successor submarine.
Earlier this month General Dynamics also reported a major new deal related to the modernisation of US nuclear weapons submarines.
Last week at the UN, diplomats stressed the need to put an end to the era of nuclear weapons. “It is of great concern that, even after the end of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear annihilation remains part of the 21st century international security environment”, according to a joint statement on behalf of 34 states.
“Nuclear weapons have the destructive capacity to pose a threat to the survival of humanity,” said Benno Laggner, Switzerland’s ambassador for Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation.
However, “countries like United States, Russia, Great Britain, France and China are claiming to comply to disarmament commitments, while spending billions more of their various currencies on modernising, replacing, upgrading and adding value to their existing arsenals,” Rebecca Johnson, vice chair of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), said.
It is high time some of the largest Dutch pension funds finally implement proper ethical criteria to their investments, banning companies involved in nuclear weapons programmes. Would they need more than Ban Ki-moon’s plea for nuclear disarmament to make a clear choice and divest from companies involved in those horrific weapons?
Surely most people rather enjoy a pension without having supported the industry that threatens the survival of humanity.
[FS, 31 Oct 2012]