By Neena Bhandari
A new campaign is encouraging Australians to urge their superannuation funds to exclude nuclear weapons producers from their investments, consistent with the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which has been ratified by 33 states and needs another 17 ratifications to become enforceable under international law – 90 days after the fiftieth instrument of ratification.
A joint initiative of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (MAPW) and International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Quit Nukes campaign is an Australian project that works in collaboration with Pax, the producers of the annual ‘Don’t Bank on the Bomb’ report, which documents the global financing of nuclear weapons.
Quit Nukes Director Margaret Peril said: “The campaign is initially targeting the Australian superannuation industry, which currently invests over two trillion US dollars on behalf of its members, making it one of the largest pension fund assets worldwide.”
As many as 69 percent of Australians want their superannuation fund to not invest their money in companies that assist with nuclear weapons production and deployment, according to August 2019 poll by Ipsos, a global market research company. But out of 190 or so superannuation funds, only two – Australian Ethical and Future Super – have been certified to be totally nuclear weapons free by Pax.
Future Super is committed to not investing in nuclear energy, uranium mining, nuclear weaponry or companies that profit from these industries. Its founder, Simon Sheikh, told IDN:“We take a long-term view on managing social and environmental risks, including the potential for catastrophic nuclear fallout. All Australians deserve a choice in how their money is invested and the future they are building for themselves and the next generations.”
The campaign is encouraging nuclear-free finance by informing superannuation funds about the existing risks of nuclear weapons, the companies to avoid and the policies required to achieve portfolios that are free of companies associated with the production of nuclear weapons.
Said Stuart Palmer, Head of Ethics Research at Australian Ethical, a company known for rejecting financing nuclear weapons: “We believe that the threat of nuclear war continues to pose an existential danger to life on this planet and the potential for misappropriation of nuclear technologies and materials for weapons manufacture is one of the key reasons we will not invest in nuclear power either.”
Quit Nukes is advocating for the screening out of 18 companies across all portfolios: Aecom (USA), Aerojet Rocketdyne (USA), Airbus (The Netherlands) BAE Systems (United Kingdom) Bechtel (USA) Boeing (USA) BWX Technologies (USA) Fluor (USA) General Dynamics (USA) Honeywell International (USA) Huntington Ingalls Industries (USA) Jacobs Engineering (USA) Larsen & Toubro (India) Lockheed Martin (USA) Northrop Grumman (USA) Safran (France) Serco (United Kingdom) and Thales (France).
“The vast majority of people around the world want to see nuclear weapons eliminated and are realising that their bank accounts and super funds can be used to further this goal,” ICAN Australia Director, Gem Romuld told IDN. “While 100 billion US dollars is poured into the nuclear arms industry every year, shrinking the funds and social licence for nuclear bomb-making is a powerful way to apply the nuclear weapon ban treaty.”
Internationally, financial institutions are excluding nuclear arms producers in countries that have not yet joined the TPNW. The Treaty, once it enters into force, will make nuclear weapons illegal just as other treaties have made the use of chemical weapons, biological weapons, land mines and cluster munitions illegal.
“The Treaty also prohibits anyone from assisting with the production of nuclear weapons, which includes financing,” Romuld added. “It has already provided the basis and motivation for a number of financial institutions to divest from nuclear arms producers, including the major Dutch pension fund ABP and the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund.”
Investing in nuclear weapons is also contrary to the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (UNPRI). For investors and advisers who are a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment, “there is an expectation for them to adhere to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). SDG 16 prescribes peaceful societies amongst other things. So, investing in nuclear weapons is clearly contrary to the spirit of SDG 16”, Peril told IDN.
It is worth noting that as many as 79 percent of Australians want their government to sign and ratify the TPNW, according to Ipsos data from November 2018. Australia does not possess any nuclear weapons, but it subscribes to the doctrine of extended nuclear deterrence under the United States alliance, which is seen as key to Australia’s national security.
Dr Stephan Frühling, Associate Professor at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre in Canberra told IDN: “Australia values the stabilising role of US nuclear weapons in the Indo-Pacific security order. It should not sign the TPNW, which undermines a key pillar of international security by seeking to de-legitimise US extended deterrence and hence US alliances.”
He added: “US nuclear weapons have traditionally played a much less significant role in the US-Australia alliance than in other US alliances, and the question of what Australia can do politically as well as operationally to support US deterrence in Asia, including nuclear deterrence, will likely be a more important issue in the future than it has been in the past.”
So, does Australia place importance on US extended nuclear deterrence because it sees it as a stabilising factor in the Asian strategic order? David Santoro, Vice President and Director for Nuclear Policy at the Honolulu headquartered Pacific Forum told IDN: “Australia realises it needs to do more to enhance deterrence and defence in the region, which includes greater contributions to US extended nuclear deterrence. It does see such efforts as a stabilising factor in a rapidly changing Indo-Pacific characterised by China’s re-rise. Australia, however, also wants to better understand the risks associated with taking on a greater share of the deterrence and defence burden. More dialogue within ANZUS [Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty] about these questions, notably the nuclear dimension, is needed.”
In ‘Escalating cooperation: nuclear deterrence and the US-Australia alliance‘, a paper published by the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Centre on November 15, 2019, the authors – Frühling, Santoro and Professor Andrew O’Neil – argue that Australia’s concerns over US extended nuclear deterrence “are primarily about entrapment, not abandonment” and “the alliance should consider cooperation in conventional long-range strike to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence and to signal that such cooperation might be expanded in extremis to involve nuclear weapons should Australia’s security environment deteriorate.”
At the beginning of 2019, nine states – United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) – possessed approximately 13,865 nuclear weapons. Of these 3,750 are deployed with operational forces and nearly 2,000 of these are kept in a state of high operational alert, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).