U.S. and World Politics

Financing Nuclear Terror

By Mark Sullivan

A new report from ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) and PAX is calling out the 20 biggest nuclear-weapons financiers, underscoring the degree to which banks and contractors have been quietly funding the recent resurgence in the global arms race. Disturbingly, the research shows, investment in nuclear weapons increased by $81 billion in 2017.

Since January 2014, some 329 financial institutions from around the world invested $525 billion in 20 companies that produce, maintain, or modernize nuclear weapons. And $110 billion of it came from just three U.S. companies: BlackRock, Vanguard, and Capital Group.

Here’s the full top ten:

BlackRock—$38.4B; Capital Group—$36.7B; Vanguard—$35.3B; State Street—$33.4B; JPMorgan Chase—$29.7B; Bank of America—$25.9B; Citigroup—$16.5B; Evercore—$13.7B; Wells Fargo—$13.5B; Goldman Sachs—$10.8B

“They are capitalizing on chaos,” Beatrice Fihn, ICAN’s executive director, told me. “We have talked to some of them, and they are not proud to share information on it.”

Fihn says their reasons for investing in weapons of mass destruction are what you might expect. They’re using whatever legal means available to make returns on their clients’ money. “But there are limits to these things,” she adds. “You don’t see these institutions investing in sarin gas or child labor just because it makes you money.”

Unbelievably, it’s a good time to invest in nuclear weapons, because nuclear saber-rattling has come back in style. “A lot of people thought this issue was solved at the end of the Cold War,” Fihn said, “but the risk that nuclear weapons will be used is actually growing.”

“We have some world leaders that are going in the wrong direction,” she said, obviously referring to Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

And old Cold War enemies, the United States and Russia, are both now talking loudly about the strength of their nuclear arsenals and the desire to increase them.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Science and Security Board recently set the so-called Doomsday Clock to two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, meaning the world is at greater risk of nuclear conflagration than it was during the Cold War’s hottest moments.

Thankfully, there are signs that nukes won’t be a hot investment opportunity forever. Since the sub-prime mortgage meltdown and bailout, people are more aware of where financial institutions are investing their money. Some may object to their dollars being invested in technology that could quickly kill off the human species.

And we live in a world that’s very different, politically speaking, than the one that was gripped by the Cold War.

“We have a new generation of leaders from around the world who grew up after the Cold War, and nuclear weapons do not fit with the way they see the world,” Bihn said. “There are no longer two power blocks threatening each other. So they are going to start questioning why the investment in nuclear weapons is rising, and why these institutions are profiting from it.”

A majority of the world’s nations congregated (at ICAN’s invitation) at the United Nations last year, where they agreed on a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. The agreement will become binding law when 50 nations have signed it. Not surprisingly, the United States, the U.K., Israel, Russia, and North Korea did not participate.

ICAN says that since the adoption of the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, 30 companies have ceased investing in nuclear weapons. And two of the top five largest pension funds in the world—Norway’s Government Pension Fund and the Dutch pension fund ABP—are divesting from companies involved in the production or upkeep of nuclear weapons.

Fast Company, March 7, 2018