The independence of Britain’s top think tanks working in the area of nuclear weapons policy has been brought into question, after an academic survey found they had accepted funding from companies who manufacture or maintain nuclear weapons.
Researchers from Sciences Po in Paris contacted 45 of the world’s leading think tanks specialising in foreign policy and national security, asking about financing from nuclear arms contractors and/or governments that include nuclear weapons as part of their defence policy. All answered in the affirmative, raising questions about how these financial links colour the discussion and debate around nuclear weapons, and potentially scupper efforts for real reform towards disarmament.
The British think tanks included in the survey were Chatham House, the European Council on Foreign Relations, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), and the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). Companies who donated to these think tanks include BAE Systems, Boeing, Airbus, Lockheed Martin, Leonardo, and Rolls-Royce. For some of these think tanks, total donations for one year were in the region of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Think tank analysts who contributed to the wider survey said these financial links often led to self-censorship or tailoring of the agenda. In some cases, projects were dropped entirely after an injection of cash from a nuclear weapons-linked firm. Others said they were scared off pursuing more radical ideas around nuclear disarmament for fear of losing funding.
The researchers added the caveat that these institutions often don’t reveal the full extent of their donations, and could make up a small fraction of their overall funding. However, the scale of the funding to these think tanks dwarfs that of those looking to challenge the pro-nuclear arms agenda.
Responding to the research, CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said:
“This research is a shocking revelation of the far-reaching influence arms companies have in the debate around nuclear weapons and security policy – just like how fossil fuel firms have tried to use academia to push back against the realities of climate change.
At a time when the increasing risk of nuclear war is regularly featured in the news, it’s important for journalists and those in the media to be aware of these potential biases when featuring contributions from so-called independent think tanks – and to make sure to give a voice to those speaking out against nuclear.”