The following reflection is from Deja Kemp-Salliey ’22, a former Pace University student who participated in the POL297L Global Politics of Disarmament and Arms Control class in Fall 2021. Students were given service learning assignments with disarmament advocacy organizations working in and around the UN and New York City. Deja’s assignment was with the New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (NYCAN), NYC-based activists associated with 2017 Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
Deja Kemp-Salliey ’22, wears an ICAN mask outside City Hall to advocate for local action on nuclear disarmament. Photo: George de Castro Day
My assignment with NYCAN involved contacting New York City Council Members to advocate for important nuclear disarmament legislation (Res. 976 and Int. 1621). This consisted of calls and emails to sitting Council Members to convince them to vote in favor when the bills came to the floor.
May 2018 Protest by New York City Activists Calling for Divestment from Nuclear Weapons. Photo by Robert Croonquist, 2018.
The majority of the world’s governments – along with many faith leaders, Nobel Prize Laureates and civil society voices around the world – see nuclear weapons as morally abhorrent. On 7 July 2017, 122 states adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of the Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which comprehensively bans nuclear weapons, including assistance to those engaged in prohibited actions like production, manufacture and stockpiling. As a result, there is growing momentum for divestment from nuclear weapons, with some of the world’s largest pension funds already disinvesting.
According to a new report published by the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University, disinvestment is not simply a moral stand; it is a prudent and perspicacious assessment of the significant long-term downside risk and stigmatization inherent in nuclear weapon production. Nuclear weapons investments strongly conflict with fiduciary responsibility given their increasing regulatory, reputational and environmental legacy risks. Further, nuclear weapons themselves pose catastrophic risks to the global economy that have no simple technocratic fixes. Removing investments in nuclear weapons producers, which are limited to about 0.25% of New York City’s pension fund assets, is a wise course of action with respect to both future returns and the progressive reputation of New York City. Divestment captures the long-term externalities created by nuclear weapons production.
Download Nuclear Weapons are Risky Business: Divestment as Financial Prudence for New York City’s Retirement Systemshere.
Readers may be interested in a more general review of New York City’s policy and practice on nuclear weapons, available here.
The New York Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (NYCAN) also published a report on divestment in January 2019, which is archived here.
Nuclear submarine USS Nautilus (SSN-571) entering New York harbor in 1958. US Navy photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy Arctic Submarine Laboratory.
New York City is a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ), both as a normative stance and in fact; all nuclear weapons bases within its territory have been decommissioned and the Navy reportedly avoids bringing nuclear-armed and/or -powered ships into the Harbor. This is an impressive achievement, given the City’s role as a key node in the Manhattan Project, as a former base for nuclear missiles and as a former nuclear-capable Navy homeport. In 1983, the City Council passed a resolution establishing the City as a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone and prohibiting nuclear weapons from the City’s territory.
A new background paper published by Pace University’s International Disarmament Institute provides a historical overview of the development of New York City’s NWFZ and other relevant policy protecting New Yorkers from the humanitarian and environmental consequences of ionizing radiation. It outlines practical efforts taken, including the removal and barring of nuclear weapons from the City limits and remediation of contaminated legacy sites. This is followed by consideration of several challenges facing the NWFZ, including the continued investment of the City’s pension funds in nuclear weapons production, low public awareness of the NWFZ and the Trump administration’s unravelling of constraints on nuclear weapons.
Emerging humanitarian, human rights and environmental norms on nuclear weapons offer potential models to reaffirm and revitalize the City’s nuclear-free status, notably the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), adopted by 122 governments at the United Nations in New York in 2017. Pending New York City Council legislation (Res. 976 and Int. 1621) addresses policy challenges facing the NWFZ by drawing on emerging global norms, including the TPNW.
Download From Manhattan Project to Nuclear Free: New York City’s Policy and Practice on Nuclear Weaponshere.
Readers may also be interested in a more focused discussion paper regarding divestment of New York City’s pension funds from nuclear weapons production, available here.