22 January 2021: Nuclear weapons are BANNED!

Time for Scotland to divest from
nuclear weapons producers

After years of campaigning, and despite the vigorous opposition of “powerful” nuclear-armed states, the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons entered into force today (22 January 2021). All of the activities covered by the treaty, including the development, production, testing, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons are now prohibited under international law.

This is a tremendous achievement for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons and all those who worked tirelessly to make the treaty happen.

Unlawful and illegitimate

As well as plugging a gap in international humanitarian law, the treaty has shifted the narrative around nuclear weapons.

In the years leading up to the negotiations, proponents of the treaty focussed attention on the inherently indiscriminate and inhumane effects of nuclear weapons and highlighted the catastrophic impacts that a nuclear war would have on people and planet. Adoption of the treaty in 2017 represented a clear rejection by the international community of the argument – consistently put forward by nuclear-armed nations – that nuclear weapons keep us safe.

A risky investment

Companies involved with nuclear weapons production face greater regulatory and reputational risks as a result of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

The treaty has increased the stigma associated with nuclear weapons and it is anticipated that, over time, the demand for nuclear weapons will decrease. This is what happened when other controversial weapons, landmines and cluster munitions, were banned under international law.

In addition, companies that undertake nuclear weapons work will face growing damage to their reputation, which may affect their profitability and share value.

This makes nuclear weapons producers a risky long-term investment choice. It is not surprising, therefore, that a number of financial institutions have chosen to end their ties with the nuclear weapons industry – even before the treaty entered into force. Notable examples include major Dutch pension fund, ABP, which cited the ban treaty as a factor in its decision to exclude nuclear weapons producers from investment.

In Scotland, four local authorities have passed a resolution calling on their pension fund to divest from nuclear weapons since the treaty was adopted.

Disarmament through divestment

As Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow says, entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons “marks the beginning of the end of nuclear weapons”. Now it’s up to all of us to work towards universalisation of the treaty and the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

An easy way to do this is to contact your bank and pension fund to ask them to adopt a policy that comprehensively excludes nuclear weapons from investment. This simple action has the potential to be enormously effective if enough of us take part.

How does divestment work? Every decision to divest increases the stigma associated with nuclear weapons and thus advances the normative impact of the ban treaty. In addition, divestment has the potential to harm a company’s reputation and limit its ability to access financing. This will give the company an incentive to stop producing nuclear weapons, as we saw when cluster munitions producers were the subject of divestment a few years ago.

What you can do:

The more organisations that we persuade to divest, the greater the pressure will be on companies to stop producing nuclear weapons.

“We have a long path to cover until we reach our goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons”, as Setsuko Thurlow says. Divestment is a strategy that will help us get there.