Arms Control in the Time of COVID-19

As the world reels from the coronavirus outbreak in the first half of 2020, the global community is being forced to reckon with the consequences of privileging, for decades, short term profits over long term investments in areas such as healthcare and education. For years, governments around the world have prioritized militarization in the name of national security and profited from the multi-billion dollar global arms trade. Human security – one of the fundamental pillars of a healthy, functioning society – has been largely neglected, despite warnings by UN bodies, NGOs, and research institutions of the changing nature of international challenges and threats. The negative consequences of this misalignment in priorities is being laid bare today, as highly militarized nations that continue to measure their security by the size of their arms supplies, now struggle to adequately respond to the global health crisis posed by COVID-19.

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Articles and Resources on Disarmament and Arms Control Issues in the Context of the Coronavirus Pandemic

NGOs, research institutions, politicians, celebrities, the UN, and countless others are calling in full voice for governments worldwide to revisit longstanding practices of filling weapons caches at the expense of human security and to reprioritize spending in line with current and future security challenges and threats to health and wellbeing. Yet, business continues as usual with a number of governments declaring the arms industry as an “essential” sector:

    • the Indian government decided to proceed with an arms deal with Israel, worth a $116 million despite complaints from medical professionals of shortages of masks and protective equipment   
    • Canada announced on April 9 that it will resume a $10 billion arms export deal with Saudi Arabia which came under review following the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi 
    • Germany announced a €43.5 million increase in its arms sales during the first three months of 2020, compared to the same period last year. This increase is due to an arms deal with Egypt, a member of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, worth €290 million.

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Articles and Resources on Arms Exports/ Arms Industry in the Context of the Coronavirus Pandemic

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The Global Campaign on Military Spending illustrates (Figure 1) how resources spent on militaries and weaponry could have been used today to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) shared similar research, comparing the spending of nuclear arsenals vs. healthcare infrastructure. Several other organisations and individuals have weighed in on the issue, including Control Arms member Project Ploughshares on “Arms control diplomacy a worrying casualty of Covid-19” and the Women’s International League for Peace & Freedom (WILPF) in its ongoing Covid-19 blog series.

As ever, irresponsible arms transfers and diversion of arms fuel conflicts and armed violence and enable terrorism and organized crime. Unregulated arms deals perpetuate conflict, facilitate human rights violations and abuses, exacerbate refugee crises and hamper development efforts. However, when coupled with the global health crisis, unchecked arms transfers to conflict zones and beyond result in even more devastating consequences.

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Articles and Resources on Conflict in the Context of the Coronavirus Pandemic

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In Yemen for instance, airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition and the use of hospitals for military purposes by the Houthi forces resulted in a limited number of functioning healthcare facilities and severe shortages of medical supplies. Additionally, high levels of malnutrition and low levels of immunity due to outbreaks of cholera and diphtheria along with the fact that nearly 18 million people do not have access to clean water, are just a few indicators that a widespread COVID-19 outbreak would have a particularly devastating impact on Yemeni civilians.

That is why on 17 April, UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, warned states that for the 250 million children around the world living in the “waking nightmare [of conflicts] a ceasefire could mean the difference between life and death.” She called on warring parties to make and respect ceasefire agreements, stressing that “a global ceasefire would serve as a model of cooperation and solidarity to push back against COVID-19“. 

Millions of people have now supported the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire, with over 2.2 million signing an online petition. Similarly, in his call for peace, Pope Francis reminded states that

“[T]his is not a time for continuing to manufacture and deal in arms, spending vast amounts of money that ought to be used to care for others and save lives.”

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This webpage will stay up-to date on the global discourse regarding the deficiencies exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, primarily the impact of investments in militarization and the arms trade on healthcare, education and sustainable development.