Money Matters: Ensuring Financial Assistance Advances Humanitarian Disarmament

Bonnie Docherty and Lan Mei, Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative

Money plays a critical role in achieving humanitarian disarmament’s twin goals of preventing and remediating the harm inflicted by arms. To promote constructive use of finances, the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, and 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) all include provisions on financial assistance. By complying with these provisions, states parties can help ensure that economic resources are directed toward advancing rather than impeding humanitarian aims. In particular, countries should end financial assistance for developing and producing banned weapons and significantly increase financial assistance for clearing remnants of war and assisting victims.

Prohibiting Financial Assistance to Prevent Harm

The humanitarian disarmament treaties implicitly proscribe investing in antipersonnel landmines, cluster munitions, and nuclear weapons, respectively. As articulated in the Convention on Cluster Munitions, each instrument prohibits “assist[ing], encourag[ing] or induc[ing] anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.” Financing producers of banned weapons amounts to assistance in the weapons’ development and production—activities explicitly prohibited under these treaties—which makes financing also unlawful by implication. Most countries that have commented on the issue agree with this interpretation. At least 35 states parties to the cluster munitions convention have issued statements interpreting the prohibition on assistance to encompass investment in cluster munitions.

Civil society campaigns to end financial assistance to manufacturers of problematic weapons have achieved significant successes thus far. The Cluster Munition Coalition and Dutch organization PAX founded the Stop Explosive Investments campaign after the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in part to promote compliance with the new treaty. To date, at least 11 states have prohibited investment in cluster munitions in their national legislation. PAX reported that “since 2009 the number of financial institutions from States Parties to the [Convention on Cluster Munitions] that invest in producers of cluster munitions has been reduced by two-thirds.” Pressure from financial institutions has even led several weapons manufacturers located in states not party, including Lockheed Martin, Textron, and Elbit Systems’ subsidiary IMI Systems, to stop producing cluster munitions.

Credit: Don’t Bank on the Bomb.

The nuclear weapons divestment campaign Don’t Bank on the Bomb, a joint project of PAX and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, was launched before the negotiations on a nuclear ban treaty and bolstered efforts to achieve that goal. Now, to help strengthen the norm against nuclear weapons, Don’t Bank on the Bomb is focused on stigmatizing the provision of financial assistance to private entities involved in development, testing, manufacture, or production of nuclear weapons. Since the TPNW opened for signature in September 2017, dozens of financial institutions have ended their involvement with the companies associated with nuclear weapons. In 2018, Sustainalytics, an investment analysis firm, predicted “a potential acceleration of nuclear weapons as a no-go area for investors” due in large part to the adoption of the TPNW.

Similar efforts to discourage investment in the research and development (R&D) of fully autonomous weapons (also known as “killer robots” or lethal autonomous weapons systems) could help preempt the systems’ development and build momentum for an international ban. In approving a deal for the European Defence Fund in April 2019, the European Parliament specified that the fund could not invest in the R&D of killer robots or weapons already prohibited by international law. In addition, as of May 2019, almost 250 companies and organizations had pledged not to engage in the development, manufacture, trade, or use of killer robots. The support of companies involved in artificial intelligence (AI) research underscores that such measures need not stifle development of AI for other purposes. National governments should follow the lead of these regional and non-state actors and adopt domestic measures and an international ban treaty that prohibits financial assistance to the R&D of killer robots.

Despite such successes, further divestment is needed to advance humanitarian disarmament’s goal of preventing arms-inflicted suffering. According to PAX, in 2018, financial institutions still invested US$9 billion in cluster munitions producers. A Don’t Bank on the Bomb report released in May 2019 found that government contracts to private companies for nuclear weapons development, production, and stockpiling total at least US$116 billion. Without clear proscriptions against R&D directed at the creation of killer robots, some of the millions or billions of dollars invested in AI technologies could be used to develop this class of weapons. Removing financial assistance from these lines of research, development, and production would help to prevent the deployment and use of problematic weapons, thus reducing the risk of future humanitarian harm.

Providing Financial Assistance to Remediate Harm

While implicitly banning financial investment in the production of certain weapons, the humanitarian disarmament treaties explicitly mandate financial, along with material and technical, assistance for remedial measures. Each treaty includes an international cooperation and assistance provision that requires states parties to help affected states parties implement their positive obligations to clear remnants of war and assist victims. The Convention on Cluster Munitions and TPNW both list financial assistance among the types of support states parties should deliver.

In complying with the international cooperation and assistance provisions, states parties have made significant financial contributions. The 2018 Landmine Monitor reported that in 2017, 28 states parties to the Mine Ban Treaty donated US$269.2 million towards remedial mine action. The Monitor also documented that support from states not party and other organizations totaled US$404 million in 2017, a record year; US$309 million came from the United States, which has not joined the treaty. Eighteen states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munition reported having provided assistance in 2017.

Mine clearance workers come to village in Laos.
Credit: AusAID, 2009.

Insufficient funding, combined with the need for more efficient and coordinated assistance, however, poses a challenge for countries seeking to meet their positive obligations. According to the 2018 Landmine Monitor, 14 states declared that inadequate funding remained an obstacle to fulfilling their clearance obligations. For example, after 25 years of mine action, Cambodia reported that it still needed US$400 million of financial assistance to complete clearance of known landmine-contaminated areas by 2025, the target date for clearance in all states parties. Much more assistance needs to be given to develop and operationalize adequate victim assistance measures. While it is premature to judge the effectiveness of the TPNW’s international cooperation and assistance obligation because the treaty has yet to enter into force, current assessments of remediation costs suggest that significant amounts of funding will be required for nuclear environmental remediation. A 2019 report by the US Government Accountability Office indicated, for example, that future cleanup of contamination from the US’s Cold War-era nuclear program, including nuclear weapons production and energy research, will cost an estimated US$ 377 billion. To prevent the use of inhumane weapons that would increase both human suffering and remediation costs, states should ensure that their national obligations under humanitarian disarmament treaties include restrictions that prevent private financing to companies involved in the production of those weapons. At the same time, states can provide pathways for impactful investment in markets that support sustainable development and foster public-private partnerships to address remediation and cleanup from past use of prohibited weapons. This two-pronged approach to financial assistance will further the goals of humanitarian disarmament.