Political retirement village built on nuclear weapons
Early this year, with minimal fuss, the government-owned Future Fund made a principled choice to divest taxpayers’ dollars from companies that produce cluster bombs and land mines – pernicious devices that kill and maim long after a conflict has ended. Their victims, overwhelmingly, are civilians.
Based on this decision, one might assume that the fund – which was set up in 2006 to cover the pension costs of retiring politicians, judges and public servants – has also excluded nuclear weapon companies. After all, these have grave humanitarian consequences too.
But not so. Documents obtained by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in May revealed that the Future Fund owns $135 million worth of stocks in 15 companies that build nuclear arms for the United States, Britain, France and India.
Since then the fund has been under mounting pressure to wind up these investments. The Greens have twice grilled its executives in the Senate, and last week Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced a review into whether he should have the extraordinary power to veto nuclear weapon investments.
So why does the Future Fund object to the financing of land mines and cluster bombs, but consider it fine to finance nuclear bombs?
Its justification is that nuclear weapons, unlike land mines and cluster bombs, are not subject to a universal prohibition, and therefore investing in them is legitimate. But this ignores the humanitarian and environmental case against nuclear weapons, and confuses their legal status.
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which has been ratified by all but a small handful of countries, prohibits the manufacture of nuclear weapons and imposes a legal obligation on the nuclear powers to disarm. While it doesn’t stipulate timelines for dismantling warheads, its clear object is the worldwide elimination of nuclear forces.
In the four decades since it came into force, several thousand nuclear weapons have been taken apart and disposed of. But some 20,000 warheads remain, and most nations are dissatisfied with the current rate of progress towards abolition. Last year US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton caused a stir when she suggested it might take centuries to reach zero.
In an effort to speed up the nuclear disarmament process, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has proposed negotiations on a complementary treaty – known as a nuclear weapons convention – which would include timetables and benchmarks for disarming, and put in place the legal mechanisms needed to achieve abolition quickly and securely.
The current absence of such a treaty, however, does not make it legitimate for nations to hold on to their nuclear weapons. Nor does it make it acceptable to invest in their modernisation. Every year the vast majority of nations vote in favour of resolutions at the United Nations condemning these ultimate instruments of terror and mass destruction.
The International Court of Justice – the highest legal authority in the world – has affirmed that all nations with nuclear weapons are legally obliged to disarm without delay, and that the threat and use of nuclear weapons violates multiple fundamental principles of international law.
But putting the legal issues aside, the Australian people surely don’t want their money invested in this dangerous, deadly industry. Polls show that as a nation we rate nuclear non-proliferation as a more important foreign policy objective than combating terrorism and halting illegal immigration.
When he was prime minister, Kevin Rudd visited the A-bombed city of Hiroshima and made an appeal to the world for a future without these wicked weapons. By investing in nuclear arms production, the Future Fund clearly has no vision for the future at all.
Tim Wright is the Australian director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons.
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