Why Individuals Must Stand up to the Military-Industrial Complex
A web of corporate players are involved in nuclear weapons modernization. Ray Acheson, the director of Reaching Critical Will – a programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom – explains the situation, and why we need to challenge the new nuclear arms race.
ICAN: Some people have a vested interest in nuclear weapons. Who are they?
Ray Acheston (RA): The people who profit from the nuclear weapons industry include the owners and managers of the corporations and the laboratories that produce nuclear weapons and delivery systems, as well as their paid lobbyists.
ICAN: Can divestment challenge the military–industrial complex?
RA: Yes, divestment can have an impact. We have recently seen the success of divestment from cluster munitions production, for example. The companies that design, manufacture and modernize nuclear weapons have much to lose from divestment initiatives. Once sub-contractors are factored in, the number of beneficiaries is immense.
However, they often also receive contracts directly from their government, which means it will be important to highlight the role not just of pension plans and institutional investors in these companies, but also the role that the US Congress and other legislatures play in funnelling funds to these weapons contractors.
ICAN: Are governments genuine about achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world?
RA: Most government officials probably are genuine in their desire to eliminate nuclear weapons. These weapons waste billions of dollars every year, cause widespread death and environmental destruction when used, and their mere existence gives their possessors a tool with which to threaten or coerce other countries.
However, when leaders from nuclear-weapon states have merely said they “seek to achieve the vision” of a nuclear-weapon-free world, it is much less clear how genuine they are. Their security policies that maintain nuclear weapons as either strategic or defensive tools, as well as their plans for modernization of their arsenals and related infrastructure, indicate that they are in reality paying lip service to the goal of nuclear disarmament.
They are certainly against the further proliferation of nuclear weapons, but most of them have said that they will keep their own nuclear weapons until all other nuclear weapons are eliminated. This is quite a catch-22 for disarmament.
ICAN: Nuclear weapons cost billions of dollars. Where is the money going?
RA: Most of the money goes to the laboratories and factories where the nuclear weapons and delivery systems are manufactured, assembled and so on, and to the firms that manage these laboratories. Some money is also spent on building or replacing the facilities used to create these weapons. Money also goes to universities and firms for research and design of new and “better” nuclear weapons or delivery systems.
ICAN: How does modernization affect the chances of abolition?
RA: The modernization of nuclear weapons directly undermines the opportunities for achieving nuclear abolition. Modernization significantly extends the lifetime of weapons and/or adds new military capabilities to them. Even while some nuclear-weapon states have agreed to “reduce” their nuclear arsenals, their modernization means that they need fewer weapons to wield the same threat.
By investing billions of dollars in nuclear weapons, delivery systems and the infrastructure to create them, governments are investing in a future where arsenals of weapons of mass destruction continue to be construed as providers of security rather than as direct impediments to security.
ICAN: Are any governments investing in disarmament?
RA: Some governments invest in disarmament by supporting non-governmental work in this area. Others invest time and resources in their diplomats to work on concrete initiatives for promoting disarmament. The United Nations is vastly under-resourced in this area. Its Weapons of Mass Destruction branch, which is tasked with nuclear disarmament issues, is the smallest substantive branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs. The overall UN budget is a pittance compared with the billions being spent on nuclear weapons every year.
For more information, visit www.reachingcriticalwill.org. Photo by Joshua McElwee from the National Catholic Reporter in the United States.