27 UK financial institutions invest $27bn in nukes

June 25, 2014

When public money, to the tune of £45 billion, was used to bail out the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in 2008, few of us could have imagined that the bank would spend our money on nuclear weapons. Yet that is exactly what has happened.

A new report Don’t Bank on the Bomb, published in October 2013 by Dutch organisation PAX, part of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), has laid bare the financing of the nuclear weapons industry and shown that British financial institutions, including RBS, are profiting from the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.

Don’t Bank on the Bomb identifies 298 financial institutions in 30 countries that invest heavily in companies involved in the US, British, French, Indian and Israeli nuclear weapon programmes.

The nine nuclear-armed nations, including the UK, each year spend billions of pounds on their nuclear programmes – assembling new warheads, modernizing old ones, and building ballistic missiles, bombers and submarines to launch them. While the majority of that money comes from taxpayers in the nuclear armed countries, this report shows that the private sector is investing over $314 billion in the companies that produce, maintain and modernise the nuclear arsenals.

One of the strange findings revealed in a UK specific briefing is that 27 UK financial institutions invest $27bn in 27 nuclear weapons companies.

In October 2013 at the United Nations in New York, 125 states signed a statement highlighting the catastrophic humanitarian and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons and the urgent need to achieve nuclear disarmament. In this context, it is even more unacceptable that an institution such as RBS, of which we the public own over 80%, has committed over £3.5bn – through investment and loans – to companies that build nuclear weapons. Other banks in the report’s ‘Hall of Shame’ include high street names such as Barclays and Lloyds Banking Group.

Because of an anomaly that has been allowed to persist for too long, nuclear weapons are not technically illegal under international law, unlike other WMDs such as biological and chemical weapons. However, the UK, along with France, China, Russia and the US, are under a legally binding obligation to negotiate the disarmament of their nuclear arsenals. A treaty banning nuclear weapons, which ICAN campaigns for and which is now being discussed seriously in diplomatic circles, will make illegal the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of nuclear weapons. It will also prohibit the direct or indirect assistance with such acts, by way of investment in companies that produce or otherwise carry out commercial activities involving these weapons.

Despite the stark humanitarian issues at stake, commercial factors contribute to some states clinging to nuclear weapons. With Don’t Bank on the Bomb, PAX and ICAN aim to increase transparency, stimulate debate on the responsibilities of financial institutions and highlight the individual responsibilities of citizens to pursue a world free of these weapons of mass destruction.

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