February 1, 2017
By Ron Read
Pittsburgh’s downtown business district holds offices for several major banking institutions that have been in existence for over a hundred years. Three institutions worth noting are PNC Bank, Bank of New York Mellon, and Key Bank (formerly First Niagara Bank). These are three of the largest banks operating in Pittsburgh. They hold billions of dollars in cash and checking deposits and play a major role in providing credit for the economy. But, in addition to being major players in the western Pennsylvania financial industry, these banks are also heavily involved in supporting the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal.
A 2015 report made by PAX and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons called “Don’t Bank on the Bomb” detailed how banks and insurance companies support war. The report explains how companies provide loans, investments, and financial services to large defense contractors that deal in the nuclear weapons industry. Major financial institutions named by the report include Goldman Sachs, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, and UBS. From January 2012 to August of 2015, these companies and others had loans and investments worth close to $493 billion dollars with defense contractors. Some of those contractors included Northrup Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, General Dynamics, and others who deal with nuclear weapons and military accessories.
Interestingly enough, several banks as well as insurance companies with offices in Pittsburgh were also named by the report. These financial institutions and their investments in defense contractors included PNC Financial Services ($928 million), BNY Mellon ($7.6 billion), First Niagara Financial ($108 million), All-State Insurance ($504 million), Fidelity ($7.6 billion), and State Farm ($871 million). And keep in mind that the defense contractors who are receiving financing, such as General Dynamics and Bechtel, also deal in other war materials like submarines, defense software systems, and drones. So the report shows not only how Pittsburgh’s financial institutions promote the existential threat of nuclear weapons, but also how they finance conflicts that are fought around the globe.
Along with providing credit, financial institutions also assist defense contractors in the financial logistics of running an organization. PNC, for example, has a web page that is designed specifically for government contractors. It shows how financial institutions can have a hand in every aspect of a defense contractor’s finances, from the bonds they issue to the money their employees spend at the grocery store. Even major universities like Carnegie Mellon and the University of Pittsburgh, which also work for the military by doing research for the Department of Defense, have Virtual Wallet access for students through PNC.
What makes things come full circle is that both the financial institutions and the defense contractors invest heavily in politics, which prevents any real effort at disarmament by the federal government. PNC Bank, All-State Insurance, State Farm, and BNY Mellon gave hundreds of thousands of dollars to political candidates in the 2016 election cycle according to OpenSecrets.org. And the defense contractors who work in the nuclear weapons industry such as Babcock & Wilcox and Boeing each gave millions of dollars to congressional campaigns in 2014 according to Physicians for Social Responsibility.
When we look at the recent vote by the United Nations General Assembly to begin negotiations for a ban on all nuclear weapons, it seems like these corporations have invested wisely. The United States didn’t just abstain from voting on the resolution, they voted “No” and cited security concerns over the enactment of a prohibition. Yet notice how the over 100 smaller, weaker countries voted “Yes” with no such fear. And if anyone should be afraid of nuclear weapons, it’s these countries with no deterrent capability whatsoever.
Looking through the list of companies and candidates who receive money from the banks, we see the chief crime of the financial service industry: indifference. These institutions will invest in any politician or company as long as it helps their bottom line. However the real question is “Will Pittsburgh continue to be indifferent to what these companies invest in and the threat of nuclear weapons? Or will we as a community ask that these institutions stop funding and assisting the military industrial complex to make weapons of mass destruction?” I hope we choose the latter.
Ron Read is a law student at the University of Pittsburgh.