It’s winter in Russia, which is not a season for the faint-hearted. The pandemic is still hitting the country hard, with the number of new COVID cases hovering around 20,000 a day, which has cumulatively put the country in the global top five in terms of infections.
Under these inauspicious conditions, if you are brave enough to face down the cold and COVID to protest openly against the government of Vladimir Putin, your reward may well be a trip to jail. If you’re very good at your job of protesting, you might win the grand prize of an attempt on your life.
Yet, for the last two weeks, Russians have poured into the streets in the tens of thousands. Even in the Russian Far East, protesters turned out in Yakutsk (45 below zero) and Krasnoyarsk (22 below).
Media coverage of the Russian protests focus, not surprisingly, on Alexei Navalny. After recovering in Germany from an assassination attempt, the Russian opposition leader returned to Moscow on January 17. He was promptly arrested at the airport where his plane was rerouted. His close associates, who’d shown up at the original destination of his flight to welcome him home, were also detained. These arrests, and the government’s desire to lock Navalny away in prison for as long as possible, triggered the latest round of demonstrations throughout the country.
Vladimir Putin has ruled over Russia for more than two decades. Because of the constitutional changes he rammed through last year, he has effectively made himself leader for life. Will these latest protests make a dent in his carapace of power?
Meanwhile, the U.S. and Russian governments this week exhibited a modest form of engagement by extending the New START treaty on nuclear weapons for another five years. Despite this hopeful sign, no one expects anything close to a full reset of U.S.-Russian relations during a Biden administration.
But as Putin faces protests in the street and Biden deals with recalcitrant Republicans in Congress, the two countries might at least avoid direct conflict with one another. More optimistically – and can you blame a boy for dreaming? – the two countries could perhaps find common cause against the global scourges of nuclear weapons, climate change, and pandemic.
Putin vs. Navalny
Although they face each other across the Russian chessboard, Vladimir Putin and Alexei Navalny share some basic attributes. They are both adept politicians who know the power of visuals, symbols, and stories. They rely on the media to sustain their popularity, Putin using state-controlled media and Navalny exploiting social media.
And they have both been willing to adjust their messages to grow their appeal among everyday Russians by turning to nationalism. Putin started out as a rather conventional Soviet bureaucrat, with a commitment to all of the ethnic groups within the Soviet Union. Even when he became the leader of Russia in 1999, he thought of himself as the head of a multiethnic country. Particularly after 2014 and the conflict with Ukraine, however, Putin began to make appeals to russky (ethnic) Russians rather than rossisky (civic) Russians. He has made the defense of ethnic Russians in surrounding regions – Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics – a priority for his administration.
Navalny, meanwhile, started out as a rather conventional Russian liberal who joined the reformist party Yabloko. Liberalism, however, has never really appealed to a majority of Russians, and parties like Yabloko attracted few voters. Navalny began to promote some rather ugly xenophobic and chauvinistic messages. As Alexey Sakhnin writes in Jacobin:
He participated in the far-right Russian Marches, waged war on “illegal immigration,” and even launched campaign “Stop Feeding the Caucasus” directed against government subsidies to poor, ethnic minority-populated autonomous regions in the south of the country. It was a time when right-wing sentiments were widespread, and urban youth sympathized with ultra-right groups almost en masse. It seemed to Navalny that this wind would fill his sails — and partly, it worked.
Navalny used nationalism to wipe away any memories of his unpopular liberalism, but it was difficult to compete with Putin on that score. So, increasingly, the oppositionist focused on the corruption of the Putin regime, publishing exposes of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s wealth and most recently a video tour of a huge palace on the Black Sea said to be the Russian president’s (which Putin denies).
With these critiques of the ruling elite’s corruption, Navalny can bring tens of thousands of angry protesters, particularly young people, onto the streets. Unlike present-day Belarus or Ukraine 2014, the Russian protestors don’t represent the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens. Vladimir Putin remains a relatively popular figure in Russia. Although his approval ratings have dropped from the 80 percent range that were common five years ago, they still hover around 70 percent. U.S. presidents would be thrilled with those numbers. Approval of the Russian government is considerably less – around 50 percent – which suggests that Putin has successfully portrayed himself as somehow above everyday politics.
Still, the Russian leader is worried. In his latest speech at the World Economic Forum, Putin spoke in apocalyptic terms of a deteriorating international situation. “The pandemic has exacerbated the problems and disbalances that have been accumulating,” he said. “International institutions are weakening, regional conflicts are multiplying, and the global security is degrading.”
His comments on the global situation reflect more parochial concerns. Because of COVID, the Russian economy contracted by 4 percent in 2020. Although the government implemented various measures to cushion the impact, many Russians are suffering as a result of rising unemployment and falling production. The Russian economy depends a great deal on sales of oil and natural gas. Any further reduction in global trade – either because of the pandemic or tariff wars – would complicate Russia’s economic recovery and consequently undermine Putin’s political position.
The immediate challenge comes from the parliamentary elections later this year. Putin’s United Russia party currently holds a comfortable majority in the Duma. The other two top parties are led by nationalists who are equally if not more fanatical – Gennady Zyuganov of the Communist Party and Vladimir Zhirinovsky of the Liberal Democratic Party. But a political force coalescing around a figure like Navalny could disrupt Putin’s balance of power.
That’s why Navalny returned to Moscow. And that’s why the Russian court decided this week to lock Navalny away for more than two years – for violations of a parole that required him to report to the authorities that tried to kill him. Navalny has taken an enormous risk, while Putin is taking no chances. The Russian leader has long deployed a preemptive strategy against any potential rival. Those who dare to oppose him have been killed (Boris Nemtsov), poisoned (Vladimir Kara-Murza), jailed (Mikhail Khodorkovsky), or forced into exile (Garry Kasparov).
Civil society is also under siege in Russia, with activists vulnerable to charges of being, basically, spies and saboteurs under a “foreign agent law.” Yet the environmental movement, the women’s movement, the LGBT community, and others continue to protest against the country’s authoritarian system. And these protests are not just taking place in relatively liberal enclaves in the western part of the country like Moscow and St. Petersburg. Large-scale demonstrations took place at the end of 2020 in Khabarovsk, in the Russian Far East, over the arrest of the region’s independent-minded governor. While Navalny gets the press, civil society activists have quietly built up networks around the country that can turn people out onto the streets when necessary.
Like all authoritarians, Putin uses “law and order” arguments to his advantage. Russians have a horror of anarchy and civil strife. They have long favored an “iron fist” approach to domestic politics, which helps explain the persistent, posthumous fondness for Stalin, who had a 70 percent approval rating in 2019. According to polling conducted last year, three in four Russians believe that the Soviet era was the best period of time for Russia, and it certainly wasn’t the dissident movement of that period that made them nostalgic.
The protesters thus have to tread carefully to avoid losing popular support among a population fond of an iron fist but also deeply disgusted by the corruption, economic mismanagement, and social inequality of the Putin era. The Russian opposition also has to grapple with the distinct possibility that getting rid of Putin will usher in someone even worse.
The extension of New START, the last nuclear arms control treaty in effect between Russia and the United States, is a spot of good news in an otherwise dismal outlook for relations between the two countries. Biden has prided himself on his knowledge of and commitment to arms control. So, if the two countries can agree on terms of selective engagement, the next four years could be profitably taken up by a series of negotiations on military weaponry.
New START merely establishes ceilings on nuclear warheads for both sides and addresses only strategic, not tactical, nukes. So, as Stephen Pifer argues, a follow-on treaty could establish a ceiling on all nuclear warheads, for instance at 2,500, which would cover battlefield nuclear weapons and result in at least a 50 percent cut in the arsenals of the two sides. Another option for bilateral negotiations would be to focus on limitations to missile defense or, at the very least, cooperation to protect against third-party missile attacks. A third option would be to focus on conventional weaponry and constraints on weapons sales.
The Biden administration could even move more quickly with an announcement of a no-first-use policy of nuclear weapons – something Biden has supported in the past – and agreeing with Moscow to de-alert ICBMs much as Reagan and Gorbachev de-alerted another leg of the nuclear triad, strategic bombers, back in 1991.
This arms control agenda is only part of a larger potential program of selective engagement. The United States and Russia could return to their coordination around the Iran nuclear deal. They could explore ways to cooperate on global challenges like climate change and pandemics. They could even start addressing together the harmful effects of economic globalization, a topic Putin brought up in his recent Davos speech.
To do so, however, the two countries will have to manage the numerous points of friction in their relationship. For one thing, they’ve gone head-to-head in various proxy battles – in Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. Russia is legitimately furious that NATO expanded to its very doorstep, and the United States is legitimately concerned about Russian interventions in its “near abroad,” most recently in Ukraine. The United States has lots of evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election – not to mention Russian involvement in a coup attempt in Montenegro that same year and its meddling in the presidential election in Madagascar two years later – and Russia is pissed off at U.S. “democracy promotion” in the Color Revolutions and within Russia itself. Russia is eager to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring natural gas to Germany, while the United States is eager to sell its own gas to its European ally. Then there’s Russia’s penchant for assassinating Russians in other countries and repressing protestors at home.
Any of these issues could scuttle cooperation between Moscow and Washington. One way of negotiating around this minefield is to delink the agendas of cooperation and conflict. Arms control advocates have a long history of doing just that by resisting calls to link other issues to arms control negotiations. Thus, the Iran nuclear deal focuses exclusively on the country’s nuclear program, not its missiles, not its relations with other countries in the region, not its human rights situation. The same lack of linkage has historically applied to all the arms control agreements between Washington and Moscow.
This strategy of delinking doesn’t mean that these other issues are completely off the table. They are simply addressed at different tables.
Those who desperately want a new cold war with Russia will not be happy with such a practical solution. They don’t want to talk with Putin about anything. As repugnant as I find the Russian leader, I have to acknowledge that he heads up an important global player and he has the support (for the time being at least) of much of his population. So, even as we challenge the Russian leadership’s conduct at home and abroad, we must also work with Moscow in the interests of global peace, prosperity, and sustainability.
John Feffer is an author and director of Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies. He has been an Open Society Foundation Fellow and a PanTech fellow in Korean Studies at Stanford University. He has also worked as an international affairs representative in Eastern Europe and East Asia for the American Friends Service Committee.
Traffic police officer watches crowd of people who came out to protest and support Navalny. Novosibirsk, Russia - January 23, 2021 (ninaveter / Shutterstock.com).
Two years ago on Feb. 24, 2022, the world watched as Russian tanks rolled into the outskirts of Kyiv and missiles struck the capital city.
Contrary to initial predictions, Kyiv never fell, but the country today remains embroiled in conflict. The front line holds in the southeastern region of the country, with contested areas largely focused on the Russian-speaking Donbas and port cities around the Black Sea.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, having recognized the Russian-occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent days before the invasion, has from the beginning declared the war a “special military operation” to “demilitarize and denazify” Ukraine. His goals have alternated, however, between existential — bringing all of Ukraine into the influence of Russia — and strategic — laying claim to only those Russian-speaking areas in the east and south of the country.
It is in the latter that Russia has been much more successful. Yet after two winters of brutal fighting and hundreds of thousands of casualties on both sides, as of the end of 2023 Russia only laid claim to 18% of Ukraine’s territory, as compared to 7% on the eve of the war and 27% in the weeks after the invasion.
Meanwhile, the West’s coffers have been opened — and, as some say, drained — to help Ukraine’s government, led by President Volodymyr Zelensky, defend itself against Moscow.
Regardless, Ukraine’s military forces have been wholly depleted as they compete with a much more resourced and populous Russia. While Ukraine’s military campaign was able to take advantage of Russian tactical mistakes in the first year, its much-heralded counteroffensive in 2023 failed to provide the boost needed not only to rid the country of the Russian occupation, but also to put Kyiv in the best position to call for terms.
If anything, as Quincy Institute experts Anatol Lieven and George Beebe point out in their new brief, “there is now little realistic prospect of further Ukrainian territorial gains on the battlefield, and there is a significant risk that Ukraine might exhaust its manpower and munitions and lay itself open to a devastating Russian counterattack.”
The only and best solution, they say, is to drive all sides to the negotiating table before Ukraine is destroyed.
The narrative of the war — how it began, where it is today — is well documented. On the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, RS thought it might be instructive to look at the numbers — weapons, aid, polling, population, and more — that illustrate the cost and the contours of the conflict over 24 months, and counting.
The U.S. Congress has allocated a total of $113 billion in funding related to the war. The vast majority of this money went directly to defending Ukraine ($45.2 billion in military aid) and keeping its government and society functioning ($46 billion in economic and humanitarian aid). Other funds went to rearming allies ($4.7 billion) and expanding U.S. military operations in Europe ($15.2 billion).
After two years of war, that funding has dried up. The Biden administration, which once shipped two or three new weapons packages each month, has not sent Ukraine a major arms shipment since Dec. 27, 2023. As Congress struggles to pass an additional $60 billion in Ukraine-related funding, observers increasingly believe that aid package may have been the last.
The Pentagon has sent at least 3,097,000 rounds of artillery to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion. Most of those (2,000,000) have been 155 mm shells, the standard size used by the U.S. and its NATO allies. For perspective, that’s about 95,000 tons of 155 mm ammunition alone.
Despite ramping up military manufacturing, the U.S. still only produces about 340,000 155 mm shells per year, meaning that Ukraine has been firing rounds at three times the rate of American production.
Washington has also given Kyiv 76 tanks, including 31 Abrams tanks and 45 Soviet-era T-72Bs. Ukraine has received 3,631 American armored vehicles of various types, from infantry fighting vehicles to personnel carriers and medical trucks.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has made use of 39 American-made HIMARS, a mobile rocket launcher that has become famous for its utility in the war. As for smaller arms, the U.S. has sent at least 400,000,000 grenades and bullets in the past 24 months.
The war has killed at least 10,378 civilians and injured an additional 19,632, according to the UN. More than three in four non-combatant casualties occurred in areas held by the Ukrainian government, indicating that Moscow is responsible for the lion’s share of civilian harm.
When it comes to military casualties, good data still remains hard to come by and estimates are sometimes wildly different. Neither Russia nor Ukraine have offered detailed, public indications of the war’s impact on their soldiers.
The U.S. estimated in August that 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died and an additional 100,000 to 120,000 had been injured, putting the number of total casualties at over 170,000. Russia, for its part, claimed in November that 383,000 Ukrainian soldiers had been killed or wounded.
On the other side, the United Kingdom estimates that Russia has suffered at least 320,000 casualties, with 50,000 deaths among Russian soldiers and 20,000 deaths among Wagner Group mercenaries. Washington said in December that Moscow had suffered 315,000 casualties, though American officials did not provide a breakdown of deaths and injuries.
The United Nations estimates that the Ukrainian population (the entire country within internationally recognized borders), which totaled 43.5 million people in 2021, dropped to 39.7 million in 2022 as war swept through the country’s east. This trend continued into 2023, as the population dropped to 36.7 million — the lowest level since Ukraine became independent in 1990.
As of January, 6.3 million Ukrainians have become refugees abroad, with another 3.7 million displaced internally. As the frontlines have settled, Ukraine’s population has slowly started to grow again, reaching 37.9 million in early 2024. Meanwhile, demographer Elena Libanova estimates that only 28 million of those people live within areas currently under Ukrainian government control (outside of Crimea and the Donbas).
Two new polls that came out within the last week illustrate the complexities of Americans’ feelings toward the war in Ukraine and the U.S. role in it.
First, a Pew poll published February 16 found that a large majority of Americans (74%) see the war between Russia and Ukraine as somewhat (30%) or very important (43%) to U.S. interests. And another survey, from the Harris Poll and the Quincy Institute, which publishes Responsible Statecraft, found that Americans broadly support a U.S.-led negotiated end to the conflict.
But the past few months in Washington have been largely focused on U.S. aid to Ukraine, specifically whether Congress will pass President Biden’s request for roughly $60 billion for Kyiv’s fight against Russia.
According to Pew, in March 2022, 74% of Americans said U.S. aid to Ukraine was “just right” or “not enough.” In December 2023, that same survey found that just 47% said the same. The biggest change came from Republicans: 49% said in March, 2022 that U.S. aid was “not enough,” while just 13% said the same in December.
Meanwhile, Gallup found in August 2022 that 74% of Americans said U.S. aid to Ukraine was “about right” (36%) or “not enough” (38%). Those numbers came down slightly in Gallup’s latest track on this question in October, 2023, with 58% saying U.S. aid was about right (33%) or not enough (25%).
There have been several attempts to bring nations together to outline talks to end the war. Russia and Ukraine engaged in five rounds of talks in Belarus and Turkey shortly after the invasion, but the talks collapsed amid allegations of Russian war crimes and Western pressure on Kyiv to keep fighting.
Since then, the belligerents have spoken directly about secondary issues, like Black Sea shipping and prisoner swaps. Ukraine, meanwhile, laid out a “10-point peace plan” that has formed the basis for five international summits, none of which included Russia. These took place in Copenhagen, Denmark, in June 2023; in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in August 2023; in Malta in October, 2023; in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in December 2023; and Davos, Switzerland, in January of this year.
Since the start of the war, Congress has passed four aid packages for Ukraine, totaling $113 billion. While none of the four packages were identical and aid for Ukraine was sometimes bundled with other spending, the trends for support for Kyiv in Congress are similar to those we see in polling, particularly among congressional Republicans.
The 2022 supplemental, which became law in May 2022 and provided Ukraine with $39.34 billion in aid passed the House 368-57 and the Senate by a vote of 86-11. By September 2023, when the House voted on the Ukraine Security Assistance and Oversight Supplemental Appropriations Act, which provided Kyiv with $300 million in security assistance, it passed by a vote of 311-117, with a majority of Republican members opposing the legislation.
On February 12 of this year, the Senate voted 70-29 to pass a national security supplemental, which would provide approximately $60 billion in aid for Kyiv alongside money for Israel and partners in the Indo-Pacific. The bill has not yet been voted on in the House.
Ben Armbruster, Blaise Malley, Connor Echols and Kelley Vlahos contributed reporting. Graphics by Khody Akhavi.
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A woman lays flowers at the monument to the victims of political repressions following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, Russia February 16, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer
President Biden was entirely correct in the first part of his judgment on the death of Alexei Navalny: “Putin is responsible, whether he ordered it, or he is responsible for the circumstances he put that man in.” Even if Navalny eventually died of “natural causes,” his previous poisoning, and the circumstances of his imprisonment, must obviously be considered as critical factors in his death.
For his tremendous courage in returning to Russia after his medical treatment in the West — knowing well the dangers that he faced — the memory of Navalny should be held in great honor. He joins the immense list of Russians who have died for their beliefs at the hands of the state. Public expressions of anger and disgust at the manner of his death are justified and correct.
The problem comes with the other part of Biden’s statement, that “[Navalny’s death] is a reflection of who [Putin] is. And it just cannot be tolerated.” If he had said “approved,” “justified,” or “defended,” that would have been absolutely right. But “tolerated”? What can Biden do in response, that he has not done already?
The U.S. president has promised major new sanctions intended to “cut Russia off from the world economy” — but that requires Washington to control the world economy. Economic sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine have failed, and even strengthened the Russian economy and the state’s grip on it. They cannot be significantly extended, because this would damage and infuriate countries that are dependent on Russian energy exports, including India, a key U.S. partner. As to sanctions against Russian individuals part of or linked to the Russian regime, there are already thousands of them, and they have had no effect whatsoever.
Statements like Biden’s are both pointless and dangerous. For the spoken or unspoken implication is that it is impossible to deal with Putin. But like it or not, Putin is the president of Russia. To all appearances, he will remain so for a considerable time to come, and will hand over to a successor of his own choosing. The Biden administration has said that it wants Ukrainian victory (whatever that now means), but it has also said that it believes that the war will end in negotiations, and following the failure of last year’s Ukrainian offensive, is now reported to be moving in this direction.
Who does Biden think that he will negotiate with, if not Putin? Seeking talks on an end to the Ukraine war does not imply approval of Putin’s crimes or his invasion of Ukraine, any more than the Eisenhower administration’s negotiation of an end to the Korean War implied approval of the North Korean regime and its invasion of South Korea.
By its own account, the Biden administration has supposedly made the promotion of democracy around the world a central part of its diplomacy, with the clear implication that only democratic governments that respect human rights are truly legitimate. Actual U.S. diplomacy does not work like this and never has; not because of American imperialist or capitalist wickedness, but because the world does not work like this.
Nobody should be required to like or admire the governments of Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Mohammed Bin Salman or Narendra Modi (though we might well wish that U.S. officials had been less effusive in their praise of them). Like Putin, they are however the heads of their countries’ governments, and likely to remain so. You deal with Saudi Arabia and India — and you have to deal with Saudi Arabia and India — you deal with MBS and Modi.
The other thing to be wary of in the outpouring of outrage at the death of Navalny, is that this is already being used to build a strategy of greatly increased Western official support for the Russian opposition. Many (not all) people and groups in the Russian liberal opposition are personally and politically admirable. Some, like Navalny, have shown tremendous courage. To say this is quite different from believing that they are ever likely to form the government of Russia, and that the U.S. should base its policy towards Russia on the hope that this will be so.
The sad truth is that the Ukraine war has placed the Russian liberal opposition in a politically impossible position. Having been largely chased into exile by Putin, they are dependent on Western support. This means however that their principled opposition to the Russian invasion can be portrayed by the Russian government — and is seen by many ordinary Russians — as treason in time of war. As with the Iranian, Chinese, and other oppositions, official support from Washington only allows the ruling regimes to paint the name “traitor” in brighter colors.
A combination (differing from individual to individual) of idealism, dependence on the West and hatred of Putin means that instead of advocating a compromise peace in Ukraine, many Russian oppositionists have — willingly or unwillingly — identified themselves with Ukrainian and Western positions that explicitly demand complete Russian defeat.
And while not many Russians wanted the war, not many Russians want to see Russia defeated. As I have remarked before, even many Americans who strongly opposed the war in Vietnam were outraged when Jane Fonda went to Hanoi. If she stood a chance of being elected to any office in the U.S. before that trip, she certainly didn’t afterwards.
Any hope of rebuilding liberalism in Russia (and indeed Ukraine, albeit to a much lesser extent) therefore requires an end to the war. For some degree of authoritarianism is a natural accompaniment to every war, and regimes all over the world have exploited this to increase their own power. Equally importantly, mass support for Putin is critically dependent on the general belief that the West intends not just to defeat Russia but to cripple it as a state, and that to prevent this it is essential to support the government.
For the moment at least, this has eclipsed previously widespread resentments —which Navalny channeled — at regime corruption. No amount of Western or Russian opposition propaganda can change this Russian picture. Peace might, if it is given a chance.
For the third year in a row, globally, the number of investors in nuclear weapons producers has fallen but the overall amount invested in these companies has increased, largely thanks to some of the biggest investment banks and funds in the U.S.
“As for the U.S., while there is, like past years, indeed a dominance, and total financing from U.S.-based institutions has increased, the total number of U.S. investors has dropped for the third year in a row (similar to our global findings), and we hope to see this number will continue to fall in the coming years,” Alejandar Munoz, the report’s primary author, told Responsible Statecraft.
In 2023, the top 10 share and bondholders of nuclear weapons producing companies are all American firms. The firms — Vanguard, Capital Group, State Street, BlackRock, Wellington Management, Fidelity Investments, Newport Group, Geode Capital Holdings, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley — held $327 billion in investments in nuclear weapons producing companies in 2023, an $18 billion increase from 2022.
These companies are also profiting from the enormous government contracts they receive for developing and modernizing nuclear weapons.
“All nuclear-armed states are currently modernizing their nuclear weapon systems,” says the annual “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” report from PAX and ICAN. “In 2022, the nine nuclear-armed states together spent $82.9 billion on their nuclear weapons arsenals, an increase of $2.5 billion compared to the previous year, and with the United States spending more than all other nuclear powers combined.”
American weapons companies are some of the biggest recipients of contracts for nuclear weapons. Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics are “the biggest nuclear weapons profiteers,” according to the report. Combined, the two American weapons manufacturers have outstanding nuclear weapons related contracts with a combined potential value of at least $44.9 billion.
Those enormous government contracts for nuclear weapons, alongside contracts for conventional weapons, have helped make nuclear weapons producers an attractive investment for American investment banks and funds.
“Altogether, 287 financial institutions were identified for having substantial financing or investment relations with 24 companies involved in nuclear weapon production,” says the report. “$477 billion was held in bonds and shares, and $343 billion was provided in loans and underwriting.”
The report notes that while the total amount invested in nuclear weapons has increased, the number of investors has fallen and trends toward firms in countries with nuclear weapons.
ICAN and PAX suggest that concentration may be a result of prohibitions on nuclear weapons development for signatories to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), a 93 signatory treaty committing to the ultimate goal of the total elimination of nuclear weapons. The report says:
The TPNW comprehensively prohibits the development, manufacturing, testing, possession, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons, as well as assistance with those acts. For companies that build the key components needed to maintain and expand countries’ nuclear arsenals, access to private funding is crucial. As such, the banks, pension funds, asset managers and other financiers that continue to invest in or grant credit to these companies allow for the production of inhumane and indiscriminate weapons to proceed. By divesting from their business relationships with these companies, financial institutions can reduce available capital for nuclear weapon related activities and thereby be instrumental in supporting the fulfilment of the TPNW’s objectives.
Susi Snyder, managing director of the Don’t Bank on the Bomb Project, told Responsible Statecraft that even U.S. banks, like Pittsburgh based PNC Bank, are facing shareholder pressure to divest from nuclear weapons and that the tide may be shifting as shareholders in U.S. companies grow increasingly sensitive to investments in nuclear weapons.
“For three years shareholder resolutions have been put forward at PNC bank raising concerns that their investments in nuclear weapon producers are a violation of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), and that they are not in line with the bank's overall human rights policy guidelines,” she said.