Don't Bank on the Bomb illustration done by Mina Tocalini of 360 MAGAZINE.

Don’t Bank on the Bomb and Civil Society

By Susi Snyder

A vibrant civil society is an indicator of a healthy society. It encompasses many things, from the business sector to NGOs to coalitions and campaigns. Civil society can calibrate the moral compass we need to guide decision making. Often driven by a humanitarian imperative, civil society works consistently to strengthen international law, to protect civilians, and to advance our human development beyond old clumsy tools of indiscriminate harm. Civil society helps us hold our elected officials accountable to their commitments to disarmament and building just peace. I am honored to stand on the shoulders of those who came before me, who kept the fire burning for nuclear abolition.

In 2017 the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) won the Nobel Peace Prize for the Treaty to Prohibit Nuclear Weapons. One of the projects we are proud to implement as part of ICAN is Don’t Bank on the Bomb. Through our unique research and publication, we publicly identify the companies behind the production of nuclear weapons.

Because nuclear weapons are not only produced by government agencies, in most of the nuclear-armed countries, private companies produce the key components necessary to use nuclear weapons.

Don’t Bank on the Bomb identifies the companies involved, and also names the banks, pension funds and insurance companies that invest in them. These financial institutions are trying to make a profit by helping to build inhumane and indiscriminate weapons. We name them and actively engage with them to encourage them to end their investments. We also encourage the governments that are currently ratifying the treaty on the prohibition of nuclear weapons to include an understanding that the prohibition on production also prohibits any investment in the companies that produce them.

Don’t Bank on the Bomb is also a way for civil society to play another of its necessary roles–to keep offering hope and confidence that change is possible. We make it a point to also profile those institutions that have rejected any association with nuclear weapons producers–those that have excellent policies prevent investment. It is important to always have role models.

We know from other efforts that divestment, by even a few institutions, for the same reason can have a tremendous impact on the way a company operates. In 2017, two American companies decided to end the production of cluster bombs, despite the failure of the US to sign onto the Cluster Munitions Convention. The companies said they wanted to enable European investors to invest in them again.

Divestment activities are powerful, and they generate change. They are also something anyone who has a bank account or pension plan can do. The recipe for success is simple: a bit of information, a bit of courage, and a healthy dose of perseverance. Simply asking your bank if they have a policy on nuclear weapons and telling them if they don’t, they should, is a great way to start. Sending a message like that actively reinforces the idea that nuclear weapons are inhumane and unacceptable. They are not a sustainable industry, and the time to end investments is now. 

Hope is fuelled by the opportunity to take action. These opportunities are provided by civil society globally and they build on one another. A small success can build and grow and eventually become a world changing event.

Twenty years ago, when the treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines was signed, we witnessed the power of civil society and the potential of humanitarian disarmament. It continued with the prohibition of cluster munitions and now includes the prohibition on nuclear weapons. Civil society, working with States and international organizations, can and does harness the power to prevent unacceptable suffering and redirect energies towards building sustainable and just societies.

Civil society plays many roles. It elevates and amplifies the voices of those affected. It reframes and reshapes discussions. Civil society can move politicians to show leadership and advance policies to move mountainous agendas, at least a little bit. Civil society provides the evidence, the research, and the justification for acting to prevent harm, to disarm now–before it is too late. And civil society is creative. We come up with slogans and cheers, demonstrating in the streets, or dancing atop decommissioned missile silos. Civil society is a necessary partner in moving the abolition agenda, and through all our efforts, civil society continues to hope–hope that the goodness in every human heart will shine through the darkest of times and lead us to the light of a nuclear-weapons-free world.

Today we need that hope. The hope found in campaigns like the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). The hope portrayed by our partners around the world. And with that I hope we will continue to work together to achieve nuclear disarmament and integral human development.

Susi Snyder is the primary author and coordinator of the joint PAX and ICAN project, Don’t Bank on the Bomb. Her testimony for the Holy See is published in A World Free from Nuclear Weapons: The Vatican Conference on Disarmament (Georgetown University Press, 2020). It is published at the solemn 75th anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. 

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