Issue Brief: Weapons

The nature of warfare and the weapons used in conflicts have changed dramatically in the post-Cold War and 9/11 era. Violent regional conflicts exact horrifying civilian casualties, and terrorist acts have affected regions around the world, blurring national borders. From Rwanda and Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan— to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa to the heart of Europe in Bosnia—millions of people have been killed or displaced by the actions of oppressive regimes or as a result of ethnic conflict.

Warfare and the devastation it entails are deplorable. The far-ranging, destructive impact of war on populations, local and indigenous cultures, the environment, and regional economies, is self-evident. Yet, Calvert believes that under certain circumstances—including in response to threats to national security, terrorism, and humanitarian crises—military intervention may be necessary when diplomacy has failed. Moral ambiguities arise, however, when defensive or humanitarian missions employ the same types of weapons and force that are used in conventional warfare.

In view of these complexities, governments and people may question, in any given conflict, whether armed force and the types of weaponry used are necessary or justified. Sustainable and responsible (SRI) investors and others who wish to avoid supporting certain aspects of war may find it difficult to consider investing in companies involved in weapons-related businesses, such as weapons production, weapons technology, chemicals, or the production of other materials used in conflicts. This difficulty is compounded when these products also have commercial or scientific applications that generally advance society.

International Treaties Offer Guidelines

That’s why, at Calvert, we evaluate companies according to several objective, internationally accepted standards, including international humanitarian law (IHL).* We also follow the guidelines under the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) and the UN Register on Conventional Arms that relate to “inherently offensive weapons.” Also known as the “law of war,” IHL issues from the Geneva and Hague Conventions and is adhered to by the 192 member states of the United Nations. IHL seeks to protect civilians, property, medical personnel, and others not directly involved in fighting and discourages or bans outright certain methods of warfare—such as land mines, cluster bombs, blinding laser weapons, and weapons of mass destruction. IHL states that the use of these weapons causes injury or suffering beyond what is necessary to achieve a legitimate military objective.

Inherently Offensive Weapons

In terms of inherently offensive weapons, Calvert has determined that both the CFE and the UN Register are the appropriate international standards upon which to base our analysis of different forms of weaponry. The CFE has the force of law because it has been ratified by the US government and dozens of European countries. The UN Register fills the gaps in the CFE and also carries with it the imprimatur of the United Nations. Together, they provide Calvert with criteria grounded in law and foreign policy custom.

From both a sustainability and investment perspective, the issues surrounding global conflict are clearly complex and this complexity will grow with the increasing use of drones, robots, and other new technologies. Calvert believes the international “laws of war” provide a valuable framework for helping investors sort through the difficult issues surrounding modern-day weaponry and warfare—and for evaluating companies involved in these areas.

*It is important to note that IHL is distinct from, but complementary to, international human rights law. While human rights law protects individuals at all times, IHL only applies in situations of armed conflict.

An important note on firearms and nuclear weapons: Calvert believes that civilian firearms, including hand guns, are a separate issue from weapons of warfare and fall under the umbrella of Calvert’s product safety criteria. Nuclear weapons are not covered under IHL since they can’t distinguish between military and civilian targets. Calvert has determined that nuclear weapons violate the spirit of IHL and therefore does not invest in companies that produce, manufacture, or distribute them.

See an overview of how Calvert’s sustainable and responsible investment (SRI) criteria are applied to Calvert’s mutual fund offerings »

SRI criteria will vary from fund to fund. Please see a fund's prospectus for details.

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Calvert Investment Management, Inc. serves as the investment advisor and provides sustainability research for the Calvert mutual funds and institutional investment strategies.

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