Joint Public Issues Team Blog

Joint Public Issues Team Blog

Counting the nuclear weapons money

Posted: 29 Oct 2019 06:40 AM PDT

A massive $1 trillion is being spent to maintain and modernize the nuclear arsenals of nine countries over the next 10 years. A trillion dollars is a difficult sum of money to imagine. The figure is a 1 with 12 zeros after it. To draw attention to this phenomenal spending on nuclear weapons, a group or people from different nations are counting out 1 trillion dollars in New York. It has taken them 7 days and 7 nights (completing on 30 October) counting continuously at a rate of $100 million per minute using 1 million dollar notes.

<img src="" alt="" class="wp-image-6446" width="524" height="394" srcset=" 960w,×225.jpg 300w,×576.jpg 768w” sizes=”(max-width: 524px) 100vw, 524px” />
Counting the Money at Jacobs Engineering in New York. Jacobs Engineering are a part of the joint venture that owns the Aldermaston Weapons Reserch Establishment in Berkshire

Another way to appreciate the scale of $1 trillion is to contextualise it with respect to other government spending priorities.  The planned global spending on nuclear weapons is twice that of the global spending on the whole of the work of the United Nations including its development projects and peace-making operations.[1]  Or put another way the spending on nuclear weapons is four to five times the total amount that 25 low income countries can afford to spend on their education of children and young adults.[2]  Pope Francis aptly describes the spending on nuclear weapons as “theft from the poor”.  Investment in ensuring secure access to water and health care, and in a literate and well-educated public, would be a much surer way to build long-term security.

The planned investment in new nuclear weapons by nine nuclear armed states is deeply unhelpful in another way. In the international community, there is a crisis of confidence around the repeated promises of the US, Russia, China, France and the UK.  Since 1995, these states have been insisting that they will decrease the prominence of nuclear weapons in their national security strategies and reduce their nuclear arsenals.[3] But $1 trillion of planned spending tells a different story. The UK is building new Dreadnought nuclear weapons submarines at a cost of £41 billion with an in-service life to at least 2065. Yet the UK Government refuses to state what would be done with these purpose-built submarines if, or when, we are successful in negotiating disarmament.  The UK government is knowingly painting itself to a corner.  There has been no attempt to articulate a ‘Plan B’.  This fundamentally undermines the government’s promise made over and over again to work to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons.  The planned spending of billions on new nuclear warheads and submarines by nuclear weapons states risks collapsing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that has been an effective piece of arms control since 1968.

A significant part of the $1 trillion will be allocated to major industrial and defence contractors such as Serco plc in the UK. As well as emptying bins and running the Caledonian Sleeper Service from Edinburgh to London, Serco is part of a consortium that is designing new nuclear warheads (worth a total £1 billion in revenue per year) at Aldermaston, Berkshire. The international ‘Move the Money’ campaign highlights the need for us all to play a part in tackling the investment in nuclear weapons.  Our pensions and savings must not prop up companies that are investing in nuclear weapons projects. 

The Baptist Union, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church have joined a multi-faith initiative to research into the investment of UK banks and pension funds in nuclear weapons producing companies. The findings will be published shortly. Your help in writing to banks and pension funds that handle your money will be vital. We want to ensure that these financial institutions do not finance the nuclear weapons industry.  We will launch a campaign in the coming weeks so watch this space! We may not all be able to get to London or New York for the ‘Count the Money’ demonstrations but we do have the opportunity to make our money count.

The best way to hear first when the campaign is launched is to subscribe to our newsletter, or follow us on twitter or facebook.

[1] The total of all regular and voluntary contributions to all the varied aspects of the work of the UN, totals about $48 billion per year.

[2] UNESCO –

[3] For example a statement from the meeting of the P5 in Beijing in 2019

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