The Nuclear Ban Treaty – hope and challenges ahead

ECCR trustee Steve Hucklesby writes on the new UN treaty and the role we can play in persuading banks and pension providers to shift finance away from nuclear weapons.   

Today our churches are celebrating as the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) enters into force.  So far, 86 states have signed the treaty and 51 have ratified it in national legislation.

Over the past decade, literally thousands of members across all churches in the UK have signed petitions or taken other actions to show their support for the global abolition of nuclear weapons. For many people, threatening the destruction of hundreds of thousands of lives represents a denial of the dignity of human life and is an affront to God, the creator and author of peace. Today, 26 leaders of various faith groups across the UK have come together in a visual show of unity to ask UK government to pursue constructive dialogue with the many governments who support this treaty.

States that sign up to the TPNW undertake never to develop, test, produce, manufacture, possess or stockpile nuclear weapons. Proponents of the treaty hope that in time it may establish a new international norm against the use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.

Challenges ahead

Currently, a new accepted standard of behaviour on the part of states looks challenging. The UK and some other states remain wedded to their nuclear arsenals and our government has stated its opposition to this new UN treaty. But there are ethical norms and moral sensibilities that have a life outside of state to state relations. They flourish within our communities, faith groups, town halls, city administrations and private sector. Mayors for Peace is a collaboration of 8,000 cities worldwide and assert that this treaty establishes an unambiguous international norm for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Many of these 8,000 cities have reserves invested in financial markets.

The more responsible banks and pension providers take note of the views of their customers and client base as well as developments in international law. For example, the Cluster Munition Convention entered into force ten years ago after widespread protest over the deaths of children, women and men from unexploded bomblets. In response, banks and pension funds have made efforts to disinvest from companies with an involvement in the production of cluster munitions.

Today, in the UK, the financial sector invests at least £23 billion in companies with an involvement in nuclear weapons. A key article within the TPNW bans ‘assistance’ with the development or maintenance of nuclear weapons. It uses language that is almost identical to that of the Cluster Munitions Convention. However, this alone will not be sufficient to bring about disinvestment.

Time to take action

Ultimately, banks and pension providers need to hear from their members and customers. For this reason, ECCR has supported a study of 15 major UK banks and pension providers on their policy and practice with respect to nuclear weapons. The Investing in Change project offers letters that you can easily adapt. If your bank or pension provider is one of those in the survey you can send your letter off with the click of a button via the dedicated online tool.

Over 30 years, members of ECCR have discovered that even when the challenge appears tough we can help to usher in new norms together. We pray that this will continue to be our experience and invite you to join us in this action.

Steve Hucklesby, ECCR Trustee and a Policy Advisor for the Joint Public Issues Team: Baptist, Church of Scotland, Methodist and United Reformed Churches working together.

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