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Banking on the Bomb


“Most financial institutions don’t consider the social and environmental consequences of their investments. Unless members speak up and take action, they’re unlikely to take ethical considerations into account. Our research shows that teachers’ pension funds in the United States, Canada and Britain invest heavily in companies involved in the nuclear weapons industry. Yet polls show that teachers — the guardians of our future, in many ways — are overwhelmingly opposed to nuclear weapons. Through their daily work, teachers promote understanding, tolerance and cooperation. Nuclear weapons are the very antithesis of these virtues. Teachers should refuse to have their retirement savings invested in this horrible industry.”

— Daniela Varano International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.

“TIAA-CREF declines to comment.” 

The most open and forthright firm on this matter has been TIAA-CREF. Though they will be in the firing line they have tried to make decent investments.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons released an eye-popping report on 5 March 2012 titled Don’t Bank on the Bomb. In that report are listings of banks, financial institutions and funds that, in some form, fund the research, design, development, production, deployment and maintenance of nuclear weapons.

Nobel Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu penned the introduction to the report. He indicated that battling against the entrenched interests (government/military and banks/financial firms) that sustain nuclear weapons and fund their modernization will be a long and arduous struggle. But he points to the model of boycott and disinvestment used to pressure the apartheid government of South Africa as both inspiring and successful.

“Banks and other financial institutions should be called upon to do the right thing and assist, rather than impede, efforts to eliminate the threat of radioactive incineration by divesting from the immoral nuclear arms industry. In the long struggle to end racial segregation in South Africa, our freedom was won with the help of concerned individuals around the world who pressured their leaders and corporate actors to stop funding the racist regime. To those who invested in our country, we said: you are doing us no favor; you are buttressing one of the most vicious systems. Divestment was vital in the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa. Today, the same tactic can – and must – be employed to challenge man’s most evil creation: the nuclear bomb. No one should be profiting from this terrible industry of death, which threatens us all.”

Teach Your Children Well

Don’t Bank on the Bomb offers a treasure trove of data on the financial institutions that invest either directly or tangentially in the nuclear weapons industry. Some financial entities referenced are surprising. One of those is TIAA-CREF which the report describes as “TIAA-CREF: Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association,  College  Retirement Equities Fund is a financial services organization that is the leading retirement provider for people who work in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields. It has US$453 billion in combined assets under management, reported revenue of US$32.22 billion in 2010 and employs 7,200 people. It has major offices in Denver, Charlotte and Dallas as well as 70 local offices throughout the United States. It invests in: Alliant Tech Systems, Babcock & Wilcox, BAE Systems, Boeing, General Dynamics, Finmeccanica, GenCorp, Honeywell International, Jacobs Engineering, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman.”

TIAA-CREF manages the funds for thousands of K-12, college and graduate school educators in public and private/parochial-religious educational institutions across the United States. Arguably ironic, and certainly contradictory,  is that religious affiliated schools, whose leadership preaches peace and cultural unity at home and abroad, find that their retirement funds depend, in part, on the financial performance of the nuclear weapons industry and military strategists in Washington, DC, Moscow, Beijing, Tel Aviv, London, Delhi and Islamabad.

Landmines and Nukes

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) recently celebrated its 13th Anniversary in March 2012. Next to Bishop Tutu’s South Africa boycott and disinvestment model stands the ICBL’s tireless effort to ban the use of landmines around the world. The grassroots organization was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work which culminated in the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in “Ottawa, Canada, on 3 December 1997. It entered into force less than two years later, more quickly than any treaty of its kind in history.”

Unfortunately, the flaw in ICBL’s model is that the United States of America and 36 other countries refuse to become parties to the treaty. The USA has splendid company that includes Russia, China, Israel, India and Pakistan. Coincidently, these are the same countries that hold the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear weapons (the UK has signed the Ban Mine Treaty). If these countries are not willing to forsake the use of landmines, then the prospects for eliminating nuclear weapons seems dismal.

At the moment, President Obama has requested $11.5 billion for the FY2013 budget for the National Nuclear Security Administration. Only $2.5 billion of that amount is directed to nonproliferation with the remainder to be funneled to national security purposes.

Religion’s Role

For FY2012, according to the Arms Control Association, the situation was this: “The United States military maintains a modern arsenal of 1,790 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, according to the September 2011 accounting under the New START treaty. These warheads are deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers. The Departments of Defense and Energy currently spend approximately $31 billion per year to maintain and upgrade these systems. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, the Obama administration is requesting $7.6 billion in funding for weapons activities in the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the U.S. nuclear stockpile and production complex, a 10 percent increase over the FY 2011 appropriation of $6.9 billion.

In the next four years NNSA plans to spend $9.6 billion on maintaining, securing, and modernizing the nuclear stockpile, and $34 billion on all of its weapons activities programs.  The U.S. military is in the process of modernizing all of its existing strategic delivery systems and refurbishing the warheads they carry to last for the next 20-30 years or more. These systems are in many cases being completely rebuilt with essentially all new parts.”

And that’s big business.

Perhaps some flavor of religion as a stimulant to mobilize a campaign against nuclear weapons development and their haunting presence is necessary. Bishop Tutu is correct, of course. And so is the Ayatollah Khamenei, “…the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer specializing in national security matters. Reach him at

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer. Reach him at

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