Amid the coronavirus pandemic and ahead of the International Day of Peace, over 170 global and U.S. peace-building organizations have issued a statement urging governments to recommit to peace in the response to Covid-19 and a world torn apart by war.
The public health emergency and corresponding economic crisis have underscored the magnitude of inequality and hardship in the world today, yet “some action by governments and others are making things worse,” explained the authors of the statement (pdf).
As Common Dreams reported at the outset of the coronavirus calamity, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres sought to turn the disease outbreak into an opportunity to create a more peaceful planet. On March 23, he called for “an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world,” saying that “it is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives—the Covid-19 pandemic.”
In mid-August, Guterres lamented to the U.N. Security Council that not all parties had heeded his earlier plea to “end the sickness of war and fight the disease that is ravaging out world.”
He warned last month that the pandemic “risks exacerbating conflicts or fomenting new ones,” as Common Dreams reported. While the global catastrophe demonstrates why “a commitment to sustaining peace is more urgent than ever,” Guterres added, “hard-won development and peace-building gains” were being threatened by diminishing public trust in governments and civic institutions, worsening “socio-economic vulnerabilities,” and a “weakening of the social fabric.”
The most recent call to action—spearheaded by the Quaker United Nations Office and supported by dozens of faith-based groups, international development agencies, policy organizations, and others—takes the baton from Guterres to advance identical objectives.
“Responses to crisis that increase violence, injustice, and exclusion” the statement said, “will exacerbate… human suffering, leaving many behind.” What is needed instead, the authors continued, is a “focus on peace, justice, and inclusion, both during crises and longer-term.”
Referring to the lessons of the 1945 U.N. Charter as well as to the goals articulated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the statement urged countries to use the response to Covid-19 as a chance to:
- “Mainstream peace” by prioritizing “conflict-sensitive and risk-informed approaches in the planning and monitoring” of the distribution of resources related to overcoming the pandemic and its economic aftermath;
- “Prioritize inclusion in analysis and action” by eradicating gendered and racialized patterns of violence and by protecting access to civic participation;
- “Make space for building peace” by avoiding “all forms of violent coercion… as a shortcut to achieving political and economic ends”; and
- “Reaffirm multilateralism and international norms as a safeguard for the most vulnerable” by reducing arms flows and promoting constructive forms of investment, taxation, and trade that “bolster adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.”
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While the signatories to the statement support the secretary-general’s call for a global ceasefire, they said that “governments and other international actors can do more to step aside from the machinery of war.”
Eliminating nuclear weapons and cutting military spending would, they argue, “free up critical resources to save lives and support the most vulnerable.”
Mandy Smithberger, director of the Straus Mlitary Reform Project at the Project on Government Oversight, recently made a similar point about the need to reduce U.S. military spending and curtail the power of defense contractors in the post-coronavirus economy. Smithberger wrote that Covid-19 has “provided far greater clarity about just how misplaced the priorities of Washington have been all these years.”
“There’s more reason than ever,” Smithberger said, “for Congress to reassess its philosophy… that the desires of the Pentagon invariably come first, particularly given the need to address the significant economic damage the still-raging pandemic is creating.”
According to Smithberger, “A genuinely new discussion of budget priorities would mean, as a start, changing the very definition of ‘security’ to include responding to the many risks we actually face when it comes to our safety: not just pandemics, but the already increasing toll of climate change, a crumbling infrastructure, and a government that continues to disproportionately benefit the wealthy and well-connected over everyone else.”
The statement backed by over 170 pro-peace organizations stressed that the use of “state violence as a response to large-scale unemployment and displacement” must be rejected.
Surveying the contemporary world and looking ahead to the near-future, the authors of the statement said: “Our hearts go out to those suffering today, in the sober knowledge that this may turn out to be but a foretaste of the disruptions that may arise in the years to come, including from climate change and environmental degradation, and growing inequalities and exclusion.”
“If we are to meet the challenges of tomorrow,” the call to action added, “we must recommit to peace today.”