This section is based on the publication Move the Nuclear Weapons Money: A Handbook for civil society and legislators published by IPB, PNND and WFC.
Table of contents
6. Examples of parliamentary actions
Parliaments have a critical role to play in challenging nuclear weapons spending through their mandate to scrutinize and approve funding and authorization of military programs, including nuclear weapon systems. While nuclear planning and doctrines often do not involve consultation of legislatures, the budgets and programs for acquiring and modernizing nuclear forces in many nuclear weapon states and nuclear sharing states are approved by parliaments. In some instances, parliaments or members of parliament have used this prerogative in attempts to cut nuclear weapons spending, re-order budget priorities and change the shape and size of nuclear forces.
For example, in the United States, a coalition of legislators from across the political aisle, supported by civil society groups and former military officials, worked in 2004 and 2005 to deny funding requests from the Bush Administration to develop the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator, a new type of nuclear weapon designed to penetrate the earth’s surface to reach tunnels, caves and bunkers. By cutting funding for the development of these ‘nuclear bunker busters’, the US Congress effectively shut down the controversial program. As US Congressman Ed Markey (Co-President of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament) noted at the time, “If we are to convince other countries to forgo nuclear weapons, we cannot be preparing to build an entire new generation of nuclear weapons here in the US.”
In mid-2016, congressional members in the United States launched a campaign to refuse the Air Force request to Congress to fund a planned new nuclear air-launched cruise missile. The senators, led by Ed Markey and Dianne Feinstein, oppose the new missile for security reasons. They argue that it would be destabilizing, would escalate the nuclear threat and would more easily lead to nuclear-weapons-use in a conflict. However, the tool they are using in their attempt to squash the cruise missile program is the Congress appropriation process. If Congress refuses the funds, the Air Force will not be able to build the missile.
Members of the US Congress have also initiated legislation and proposals for more comprehensive nuclear disarmament, and to redirect nuclear weapons funding towards meeting health and social needs and new security threats. Since 2012, Ed Markey has annually introduced the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act into the US Congress, initially in the House of Representatives and then in the Senate when he became a senator.
The SANE Act effectively highlights concrete possibilities to cut the bloated US nuclear arsenal. As the Washington-based Arms Control Association has noted, “Congress can and should pursue these proposals to avoid wasting taxpayer dollars on rebuilding a massive, Cold War-sized nuclear arsenal, which is poorly suited for today’s threats, including nuclear terrorism.”
So far, the SANE Act has not received sufficient backing to be adopted as law. However, if implemented it would save 100 billion USD over a period of 10 years by scrapping specific nuclear weapons programs and investing this money into education, health and social programs.
2016 campaign for US president nomination
“We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars maintaining 5,000 nuclear weapons…. The Cold War is over!”
Trident and its cost
“The government is in favour of replacing Trident at a cost of at least £205 billion. This money would be enough to improve the National Health Service by building 120 state of the art hospitals and employing 150,000 new nurses, build 3 million affordable homes, install solar panels in every home in the UK or pay the tuition fees for 8 million students.”
In the United Kingdom, the prohibitively high cost of the Trident submarine and its nuclear weapons delivery systems (missiles) has been raised publicly and in parliament as one of the reasons to oppose their replacement and renewal. Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament has run a public campaign condemning the government for being prepared to spend over 200 billion pounds on the Trident renewal, whilst at the same time cutting funding for social services.
PNND Council member Jeremy Corbyn has been one of the leading parliamentary voices opposing Trident renewal – partly on economic grounds and partly for ethical reasons. He initially did this as a back-bencher through Early Day Motions in parliament, and publicly as a leader of the CND campaign. More recently, as the new leader of the Labour Party, he has been pushing the party more directly to adopt policy opposing Trident renewal.
In France, the issue of the nuclear budget was traditionally a taboo topic and was never challenged publicly or in parliament. However, this is starting to change. Starting in 2013, PNND has organised a number of events in the Senate and National Assembly where nuclear weapons issues have been raised – including the nuclear weapons budget. In 2014, PNND Council member François de Rugy MP (Ecology Party) raised official questions in the French National Assembly regarding the issue of the French nuclear budget. Also, for the first time ever, two experts of civil society (including PNND French Director Jean-Marie Collin) made formal presentations to the Defence Committee of the National Assembly on the French nuclear weapons budget.
Election campaigns in the nuclear-armed States can be a good time to raise the issue of nuclear weapons spending and to encourage better policies from the candidates. In the 2016 campaign for the Democratic nominee for US president, young campaigners from Global Zero raised this issue at many of the public meetings. Senator Bernie Sanders, one of the co-sponsors of the SANE Act, responded by publicly criticizing the US budget for nuclear weapons.
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament ensured that the cost of Trident was an issue in the 2015 elections in the UK. The publicity generated by CND was probably a key factor in the huge increase in seats gained by the Scottish Nationalist Party, the only party other than the Green Party to oppose Trident renewal.
In other parliaments the possibility of channelling nuclear weapons spending towards addressing the real security challenges of the 21st century has also been raised. The Bangladesh Parliament, for instance, on 5 April 2010, unanimously adopted a resolution submitted by PNND Co-President Saber Chowdhury, which supports the UN Secretary-General’s Five Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament and notes that “the 100 billion USD spent annually on nuclear weapons should be channelled instead towards meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals as well as the urgent climate change adaptation funding needs of the most vulnerable countries.”
Parliaments can also challenge military spending commitments in states hosting nuclear weapons, thereby changing the shape of nuclear forces. For example, in 2001 Greece unilaterally decided to upgrade its fighter jets to types unable to carry the US B-61 nuclear bombs that were at the time deployed in Greece. As a result, the US was forced to remove its tactical nuclear weapons from Greek territory.
The Dutch Parliament attempted to end the hosting of US tactical nuclear weapons on Dutch soil in a similar manner. The parliament first adopted a motion rejecting the modernization of the B-61 nuclear weapons deployed in the Netherlands. Then in November 2013, the parliament adopted a motion calling on the government to ensure that the successor to the F-16 fighter not be equipped to deliver nuclear weapons.
In addition, a group of Dutch legislators representing a majority in parliament presented a letter to the US Congress urging it to decline to appropriate the funds necessary for the modernization of US tactical nuclear weapons stationed in Europe. The letter notes: “As your responsibilities include the authorization or appropriation of funds which could be used for the modernization of the B61- the tactical (or sub-strategic) weapons that are currently stationed in Europe, it was imperative to bring this decision of our national parliament to yours. In closing, we undersigned members of the Dutch parliament, encourage you to use the anticipated $664,580,000 B61 spending for other purposes.”
The parliamentary actions were not sufficient to move the Dutch government to follow the example of Greece and end the nuclear sharing arrangement in Netherlands. However, it did ensure that there was a public debate about the issue, and put pressure on the government to be more supportive of multilateral nuclear disarmament initiatives such as the UN Open Ended Working Group on Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament. In other countries hosting US tactical nuclear weapons, similar decisions on replacing fighter jets needed for their delivery are taking place. This gives an opportunity for civil society groups to support parliamentarians in influencing and overseeing the relevant procurement and budget decisions.
Role of Parliaments
“At a time when the international community is facing unprecedented global challenges, parliamentarians can take on leading roles in ensuring sustainable global security, while reducing the diversion of precious resources from human needs.
As parliaments set the fiscal priorities for their respective countries, they can determine how much to invest in the pursuit of peace and cooperative security.”
Divestment has been a popular and effective mechanism for many movements seeking to enact social change or prohibit and eliminate certain practices. It was used effectively by the campaign against apartheid in South Africa, as large numbers of colleges, cities, counties and state authorities around the world excluded companies doing business in South Africa from their investment portfolio.
More recently, the fossil divestment campaign has proven to be a crucial tool in taking the fossil fuel industry to task for its culpability in the climate crisis and breaking its hold on economies and governments.
In the area of arms control and disarmament, divestment policies have already been pursued with some vigour. The diplomatic efforts to obtain treaties banning cluster munitions and landmines were accompanied by moves to divest from companies involved in the production of these types of weapons. In some instances, divestment campaigns preceded the global treaties banning these weapons, with parliaments playing a crucial role. The Belgian parliament, for example, adopted landmines and cluster munitions divestment legislation before negotiations on the Mine-Ban Convention and Convention on Cluster Munitions had even started.
Nuclear weapons divestment has also been pursued in some countries, with parliaments playing a critical role in such initiatives. The Norwegian Stortinget (parliament) played a crucial role in the development and adoption in 2004 of ethical guidelines for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund Global to ensure the fund does not make investments which risk the fund or may contribute to unethical acts. This includes divestment from companies involved in “the development and production of key components for nuclear weapons.” Since then, ten such companies have been excluded from the fund’s portfolio.
Spurred on by the Norwegian precedent, in New Zealand a coalition of parliamentarians and civil society groups successfully called on the Government Superannuation Fund to divest from nuclear weapons producers. Similarly, in Switzerland legislators worked with civil society to revise the Swiss Federal Act on War Material in 2012 to, inter alia, prohibit the financing of nuclear weapons producers.
Nuclear divestment policies contribute to stigmatising nuclear weapons, thereby bringing about a normative shift towards their prohibition, as well as reducing the power of the nuclear weapons corporations by impacting on their share prices. They also highlight the application of international humanitarian law to nuclear weapons, and help ensure that government investments are in line with their obligations under international law.
In addition, some non-nuclear governments have established banks that have ethical investment policies which rule out investments in nuclear weapons corporations. Kiwi Bank, established by the New Zealand government from a parliamentary initiative, is one such example.
It is not surprising that none of the nine nuclear-armed States have a nuclear-weapons divestment law. However, within some of these countries there are banks with policies to not invest in nuclear weapons corporations. Parliamentarians and political parties in nuclear-armed States can therefore join the Don’t Bank on the Bomb initiative (see Chapter 9 below) and decide to only have bank accounts and banking transactions with such banks.
Care must be taken, however, to examine the policies and practices of banks that claim to be adhering to nuclear weapons divestment policies. The French bank BNP Paribas (third largest bank in the world), for example, claims to not invest in them. It notes that nuclear weapons have indiscriminate effects and cause undue harm and injuries. This looks good until one reviews the exception made by BNP Paribas, which allows for investments in “companies that only contribute to government controlled nuclear weapon programs in NATO countries that are authorized to possess nuclear weapons under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”.
Economic conversion (defence conversion, or arms conversion) relates to specific programs to utilize members of a military workforce in alternative work. The idea of economic conversion is that it minimizes job losses when cutting weapons or military systems.
One of the reasons that the majority of senators are not willing to support the SANE Act in the United States, is because the corporations manufacturing the weapons systems have production facilities in most of the US states. This gives the weapons corporations considerable political clout. They argue that a cut to the weapons programs would lead to job losses in their senator’s states, and this would be against the best interests of the senators.
In the United Kingdom, Jeremy Corbyn has faced a similar problem of strong resistance to cutting the funding for Trident replacement from parliamentarians and trade unionists concerned about job losses in areas where the submarines and other components for the Trident system are, or would be, built.
Parliamentary support for specific economic conversion programs would assist in building support for cuts in nuclear weapons budgets.
In the United States there has been some success in conversion of the tasks of some personnel at the national laboratories (Sandia, Los Alamos and Livermore) – moving from designing nuclear weapons to disarmament verification or to research and development of renewable energies. However, the failure of the US Congress to adopt a national conversion strategy has meant that such conversion in the labs is minimal, and is non-existent in the weapons corporations. PNND member Eleanor Holmes Norton is attempting to address this in a Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act she introduces annually into the US Congress.
In 2013, the US State of Connecticut began an attempt to move the conversion process in their state by adopting Senate Bill No. 619 which establishes the Connecticut Commission on Business Opportunity, Defense Diversification and Industrial Policy. If this process succeeds, it could be a good model for other states.
There are two other areas relating to nuclear weapons budgets that require action by parliaments. One is the requirement for funding for the implementation, verification and enforcement of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament agreements and organisations – such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation. Another is setting appropriate levels of budgets for clean-up of nuclear production sites and compensation for nuclear test victims.
This section is based on the publication Move the Nuclear Weapons Money: A Handbook for civil society and legislators published by IPB, PNND and WFC.