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Peace and ‘security’ in the face of COVID-19


Martina Fischer

This article was originally published by Brot für die Welt


The global crisis is hitting the poorest hardest. That is true of  the Western countries and it is true in the global South. Fragile states, war zones and post-conflict areas are the least prepared to deal with the pandemic. The economic repercussions, social upheavals and potential for conflict cannot be realistically gauged at present. Security must be redefined and disarmament is urgently called for.

Many experts and politicians share the belief that the world is today facing the greatest health, socio-economic and financial crisis since the Second World War. The novel coronavirus has now reached less favoured parts of the world, including Africa, where the COVID-19 epidemic comes on top of food crises, climate change, violent conflicts and persecution in countries with some of the weakest health systems in the world. In many regions, the steps taken locally to stem the pandemic will not be sufficient to cover the needs. Numerous African states need financial assistance for their health systems, and possibly also debt relief.

War zones and post-conflict areas are the least prepared to cope with a pandemic like this. After years of violent conflict, countries like Syria and Yemen have practically no operational health facilities left. Here the assistance of international aid organisations is crucial, and they must be granted access to reach the people who need help. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire is thus highly significant and an important precondition for overcoming the coronavirus crisis.

There is also the risk of the virus being politically instrumentalised in many different ways. Autocratic regimes around the world are exploiting the opportunity to consolidate power, to blame others for the infections, or to silence the opposition by declaring a state of emergency (as we have seen in Thailand, Bangladesh and the Philippines).

‘Security’ needs operational health systems, not more arms
‘I have not felt so furious, helpless, depressed and bewildered in a long time,’ a peace researcher from Australia wrote recently. He is engaged in peacebuilding in the Pacific region. ‘It is bitter to see the desolate state of public health in many places in such wealthy societies (thanks to neoliberalism), while “defence” budgets are massively increased on the pretext that this is in the interests of “our” “security”. Our security depends on an operational health system, not on more arms and troops. It is equally bitter to see how the situation of people in the global South is slipping out of sight and off the radar.’ (Dr Volker Böge, Brisbane, Australia)

The concept of ‘human security’ that emerged 25 years ago in the context of the UN and was widely accepted by the international community, embraces the right to health and physical integrity. It is astonishing, indeed, that even in relatively prosperous parts of the world face masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) are in short supply, while military budgets are being raised significantly to meet the NATO spending targets. This gross imbalance should once again prompt us to take a critical look at the ‘security’ debate, in the public domain and on all political levels.

‘Human security’calls for cuts in military spending
The question how to implement  the 2017 guidelines of the German Government entitled “Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts, Building Peace” should be discussed again, under the new premises. Along with the UN, the EU, the OECD and the OSCE we must develop new, innovative tools in economic, social and health policy, to counter the social dislocation and potential for conflict the corona crisis might bring along. The need to support the UN in this regard, and revaluate its role has  been recognised by the German Development Minister Gerd Müller. However, the international financial and economic institutions in particular must open up ways of dealing with the repercussions of the crisis. International  actions need to be based on the principle of solidarity, in order to protect low-income countries from further shocks.

In addition, we need mechanisms that can help to effectively prevent any comparable disaster in future, that take ‘human security’ seriously, and define security  in a global scope and in line with environmental transformation. The EU too must change its policies and gear its neighbourhood policy to sustainable economic development rather than military potential. And all these initiatives must be financed by re-allocating defence spending. It would be timely and necessary to reject any military build-up – to turn our backs on the NATO 2% target and the excessively expensive European Defence Fund.

Links and literatur:

ARD Monitor
April 2020

wie afrikanische Länder in die Krise geraten
Robert Kappel | March 2020

Es wird kein zweites Italien geben
Gisela Schneider (DIFÄM) | Weltsichten March 2020

Duterte droht mit Erschießungen
Spiegel article | April 2020

Guterres: Aufruf zu einem Globalen Waffenstillstand
United Nations | April 2020

Stellungnahme des EU-Außenbeauftragten Josip Borell zum Aufruf des UN-Generalsekretärs
Josep Borrell | April 2020

Darum hat Deutschland ein Maskenproblem
Jörg Blech, Matthias Gebauer, Kristina Gnirke, Julia Amalia Heyer, Christoph Hickmann, Christiane Hoffmann, Nils Klawitter, Martin U. Müller, Cornelia Schmergal und Christoph Schult | April 2020

Human Security Know
Commission on Human Security | 2003

Entwicklungsminister Müller für „Weltkrisenstab“ in Corona-Krise
Gerd Müller | April 2020

"Krisen verhindern, Konflikte bewältigen, Frieden fördern"
Government of the Federal Republic of Germany | September 2017

Zahl der Hungernden im Sahel steigt während COVID-19 ausbricht
World Food Programme | April 2020

Die Sahelzone: ein Gewaltmarkt vor den Toren der Europäischen Union
Bodo Schule | Friedrich Ebert Stiftung | February 2020

CCSD's Letter on COVID-19
Center for Civil Society and Democracy | March 2020

Reaktion der EU: Abschottung und Versicherheitlichung
Martina Fischer | Brot für die Welt | April 2020

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Dr. Martina Fischer is policy advisor for peace and conflict transformation for Brot für die Welt.