Nuclear-armed states spent $72.6 billion on their nuclear weapons as the pandemic spread in 2020, an increase of $1.4 billion from 2019, according to a new report by the Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).

The report, Complicit: 2020 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending, released as the Biden Administration unveiled its 2022 budget requests, highlights how, during a pandemic with devastating health and economic consequences, governments are increasingly channelling tax money to defence contractors. These defence contractors spend growing amounts on lobbyists and think tanks to encourage a continued increase of spending.

Out of the $72.6 billion spent on nuclear weapons in 2020 globally, $27.7 billion went to less than a dozen defence contractors to build nuclear weapons, which in turn spent $117 million lobbying, and upwards of $10 million funding major think tanks writing about nuclear weapons.

“The companies lobbying to keep nuclear weapons in business are complicit in preventing disarmament, and stealing resources from the real threats we face. While these 17 CEOs took home more than $200 million in salaries last year, nurses used garbage bags as PPE. This report shows that the real incentive behind nuclear deterrence is not protecting people, but making a large profit for a few companies,” said Susi Snyder, report co-author.

Global spending on nuclear weapons:

  • United States: $37.4 billion
  • China: $10.1 billion
  • Russia: $8 billion
  • United Kingdom: $6.2 billion
  • France: $5.7 billion
  • India: $2.4 billion
  • Pakistan: $1 billion
  • North Korea: $667 million

The top five companies profiting from nuclear weapon contracts:

  • Northrop Grumman ($13.6 billion)
  • General Dynamics ($10.8 billion)
  • Lockheed Martin ($2 billion)
  • Raytheon Technologies ($449.5 million)
  • Draper ($342 million)

The United States spent more than half the global total and its spending increased more than any other country. The report notes that nuclear weapons were banned by the 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) making global nuclear weapon production contrary to international law.

In 2020, for every $1 spent lobbying, an average $236 came back to companies in nuclear weapons contracts. Contractors even lobbied to authorise funding for defence in COVID-19 relief bills: much of Boeing’s defence lobbying was bundled with lobbying around the CARES act (the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act) in the United States.

“While most of the world has banned nuclear weapons, a handful of countries and a dozen companies and think tanks are complicit in an ever-growing cycle of spending on weapons of mass destruction. They must be held accountable for their actions”, said Alicia Sanders-Zakre, co-author of the report.

* Read: Complicit: 2020 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending here.

* Source: International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons