How much is a trillion dollars?

And why the world shouldn’t spend it on nuclear weapons

By Linda Pentz Gunter

How much is a trillion dollars? An unimaginable amount? Uncountable?

Not the latter. That’s exactly how much money will be counted out, in front of the United Nations in October. It will take seven days and seven nights to count it all. (And you can help count it).

Why one trillion? That is the staggering amount of money that the world’s nuclear armed countries plan to spend on the nuclear arms race over the next ten years. The action is an offshoot of the campaign — Move the nuclear weapons money — and is designed to let the world know just how obscene a number that is. And all the far better things that money could be spent on.


A version of the bank notes to be counted envisions better use of one trillion dollars. (Image courtesy of Counting the Nuclear Weapons Money)

“Those manufacturing the nuclear weapons will make a killing,” say the action’s organizers. “But everyone else suffers. Imagine how this money could help reverse climate change, fund sustainable development goals, and support peace, education, health and welfare.”

Indeed, as the campaign handbook states: “Most of the nuclear weapons money goes to private companies which are awarded contracts to manufacture, modernize and maintain nuclear weapons and their delivery vehicles. For these companies, the bloated budgets are in their interests. Indeed, the companies actively lobby their parliaments and governments to continue allocating the funds to nuclear weapons. And they support think tanks and other public initiatives to promote the ‘need’ for nuclear weapons maintenance, modernization or expansion.”

Who are those companies. NuclearBan.US and others keep track. Top offenders are Boeing, Honeywell International, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman. But there are others listed. Seventeen of them are U.S. based.

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Move the Nuclear Weapons Money calls for divestment, and this includes the banks. A new edition of Don’t Bank on the Bomb  — Producing Mass Destruction — was released in June 2019, and shows how the private sector is involved in making nuclear weapons.

The Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign website lists where else that money could be spent. At the top of the list are:

$280 billion feeding all 780 million malnourished people in the world for ten years.

$200 billion building 2-100 million houses.

$100 billion building 400-400,000 hospitals or clinics.

Even on the low end, huge changes could happen. Rounding out the same list are:

$8 billion planting and growing 20 billion trees in Africa.

$8 billion eliminating malaria in 10 years saving half a million lives per year.

$5 billion, providing one million fresh water wells in Africa.

And yes, climate change remedies are in the calculations as well, with billions for solar panels, wind turbines and electric cars.

Enough for everyone, and a far more certain way of securing peace in the world than clinging onto nuclear weapons and their myth of deterrence. Because no, contrary to illogical claims that all this obscene spending on nuclear weapons has led to a more peaceful world, that isn’t actually the case. As Serge Stroobants, Director of European Operations at the European Institute for Economics and Peace illustrated during his presentation at the Move the Nuclear Weapons Money conference in Basel, Switzerland this past April, violence globally has increased and is costly.

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Slide from presentation by Serge Stroobants (courtesy of the Institute for Economics and Peace)

To bring all this spending down to a (slightly) more relatable scale, take a look at the UK government’s plans to replace its Trident nuclear missile-carrying submarines. As the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which has campaigned vigorously against this policy since its inception, states:

“The government is in favour of replacing Trident at a cost of at least £205 billion ($258 billion USD). This money would be enough to improve the National Health Service by building 120 state of the art hospitals and employing 150,000 new nurses, build 3 million affordable homes, install solar panels in every home in the UK or pay the tuition fees for 8 million students.”

The counting will take place October 24-30, 2019, also United Nations Disarmament Week, outside the UN in New York City and at other venues around the city. Campaigners will count “$100 million per minute in $1 million dollar notes.” The event will be live streamed.

The notes themselves, fakes of course, will be designed by artists from around the world.


The more ominous side of the One Million Dollar note. (Image courtesy of Count the Nuclear Money)


The Move the Nuclear Weapons Money campaign was launched in October 2016 by the Basel Peace Office, International Peace Bureau, World Future Council and Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament. It now includes a number of other organizations and networks including the Global Security Institute, UNFOLD ZERO, World Federalist Movement and the Abolition 2000 Working Group on Economic Dimensions of Nuclearism.

The campaign works in close cooperation with the Go Fossil Free divestment campaign and the Global Campaign on Military Spending. It lists its goals as: cut nuclear weapons budgets; encourage divestment from companies manufacturing nuclear weapons and their delivery systems; and reallocate these budgets and investments to meet economic, social and environmental need – such as ending poverty, protecting the climate, supporting renewable energy, creating jobs, and providing adequate healthcare, housing and education for all.

Among those endorsing the campaign are Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters who said: “It is our choice. We can either spend the millions and millions of dollars on nuclear weapons and MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction – or on our future, the planet, kids, education, equality. This is what Move the Nuclear Weapons Money is about.”

Headline photo: Ronja Jansen and Kristýna Chyňavová count the money during a smaller Counting the Nuclear Weapons Money action in Basel in January 2019. Courtesy, Basel Peace Office.

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