Working with Parliamentarians

How Legislators Can Promote Divestment of Public Funds from Nuclear Weapons

Alyn Ware coordinates Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament – a network of more than 800 legislators in 80 countries committed to achieving a world free of nuclear weapons. Here he describes the role that lawmakers can play in promoting nuclear weapons divestment.


ICAN: How have parliamentarians promoted divestment?

Alyn Ware (AW): In Norway and New Zealand, parliamentarians were instrumental in moving public funds to divest from corporations involved in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. In 2004 the Norwegian government pension fund, following pressure from parliamentarians, media and non-governmental organizations, established ethical guidelines for its investments and appointed an advisory council on ethics to make recommendations on implementation of these guidelines.

In 2005 the advisory council discussed and came out with a recommendation regarding nuclear weapons production. Following this, the pension fund excluded the following companies from its investment portfolio and divested from shares in them due to their production of nuclear-weapons-related components: BAE Systems, Boeing, EADS, Finmeccanica, Honeywell International, Northrop Grumman, Safran and United Technologies. Other nuclear-weapons-related corporations such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Alliant Techsystems had already been excluded due to their involvement in the production of anti-personnel landmines or cluster munitions.

In New Zealand, the minister responsible for the Accident Compensation Fund directed the fund to divest from nuclear weapons corporations after being approached by the New Zealand section of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, which had been inspired by the Norwegian example. A coalition of members of parliament and non-governmental organizations also moved the Government Superannuation Fund to divest from such corporations.

ICAN: Why should they care about nuclear disarmament?

AW: As long as nuclear weapons are maintained under policies of nuclear deterrence – that is, the threat to use them against other states – there is a risk that they could be used by accident, miscalculation or design. The disaster of Fukushima indicates that even when we have the best technical controls in place, unforeseen events or combinations of events can lead to a disaster. Any disaster with nuclear weapons would cause catastrophic and unprecedented devastation.

The continuing possession of nuclear weapons by some states is a recipe for proliferation. It stimulates other states to acquire them and means that there are bomb-making materials, or actual bombs, susceptible to theft by terrorist organizations. In addition, the US$100 billion spent annually on nuclear weapons is sorely needed for economic and social development and to invest in renewable energies to combat climate change.

ICAN: What other disarmament initiatives can parliamentarians promote?

AW: Members of parliament in nuclear-weapon states can advocate in their legislatures for a reduction in spending on nuclear weapons, an immediate change in nuclear weapons doctrines to rule out any first use of nuclear weapons and affirm the norm of non-use, and a committed programme to develop verification technologies and mechanisms to support nuclear disarmament.

Parliamentarians in states covered by extended nuclear deterrence – Australia, Japan, South Korea and the NATO states – can call for a parliamentary review of such security policies and an examination of non-nuclear security mechanisms at national, regional and global levels to abandon, or phase out, reliance on extended nuclear deterrence.

Parliamentarians in non-nuclear-weapon states can adopt legislation prohibiting and criminalizing nuclear weapons, similar to legislation adopted in Austria, Mongolia, New Zealand and the Philippines, and prohibiting public investment in corporations making nuclear weapons and their components or delivery vehicles, as has been done in Norway and New Zealand. Parliamentarians in regions not covered by nuclear-weapon-free zones – such as Europe, North-East Asia, the Middle East and the Arctic (circumpolar nations) – can initiate inquiries, hold parliamentary discussions and adopt resolutions on establishing such zones in their region.

Parliamentarians in any parliament can hold events – film screenings, debates, receptions, award ceremonies – on the incompatibility of nuclear weapons with international humanitarian law, morality and cooperative security; endorse international parliamentary appeals (such as those calling for a Middle East nuclear-weapon-free zone and the immediate de-alerting of nuclear weapons); adopt resolutions supporting key initiatives such as the UN Secretary-General’s five-point proposal for nuclear disarmament or the proposed nuclear weapons convention; and call for parliamentary hearings on developing the legal, technical, institutional and political framework for the global abolition of nuclear weapons.

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written by

Australian director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
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