SOAS Students call for freeze on weapons production, trade and supply amidst Covid

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Propelled by the devastating impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus globally, the SCRAP Weapons team at SOAS is building on the United Nations Secretary General’s call for a Global Ceasefire in all corners of the world.  As a complementary measure to the call, we are calling on all States and corporations to completely freeze the production and supply of Weapons. As both a Digital Ambassador at SOAS and the Operations Manager at SCRAP Weapons, I decided to write a little bit about why we are calling for this freeze. 

We believe it is important to address COVID-19 with the seriousness it deserves, both in terms of minimising the spread and protecting people, but also in terms of how it has changed our lives now in the short-term, and will continue to do so long-term – and how we can make sure to foster positive outcomes.

This pandemic is propelling us to re-examine the way we work, to find additional and novel ways to reimagine global governance, and to find additional means to engage and meet our commitments to human security. That is why it is important that States and corporations harness their capability to divert military modernization, procurement and operational budgets. We suggest that States and corporations, individually and in cooperation, implement moratoria on weapons production and supply.

Why focus on arms expenditure? 

The toll on communities, business and service providers, particularly first responders, is already profound. The impact on vulnerable groups such as refugees and the displaced, prisoners, the disabled and homeless could be devastating. During this international crisis, the scourge of weapons has not gone away, and neither have the terrible consequences of their daily use, and the even greater risks of general war associated with them. 

Every year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) publishes global military spending figures, as well as those of the international trade in conventional Armaments. A 2017 study from SIPRI found that 12.6 percent of the gross world product was devoted to containing all forms of violence. More than $1.7 trillion was spent on militaries and their equipment. This is vastly disproportionate with contemporary sources of national and human insecurity, especially now that we face the threat of Covid-19. Not only is much of this spending economically unproductive, but excessive military spending by one nation also multiplies throughout the international system, prompting excessive spending globally.

Budgetary allocations of States for the procurement of weapons are excessive and vastly disproportionate with the nature and scope of the threat posed by COVID-19. Now is not a time for continuing to manufacture and deal in arms, spending vast amounts of money that should be used to care for others and save lives. The COVID-19 pandemic exposes that governments all over the world have failed to sufficiently invest in public health infrastructure to face such a crisis. Meanwhile, extensive research into military spending has proven that higher military spending negatively impacts health expenditures, and therefore is an important risk factor for population health and individual wellbeing. 

Research shows that a 1% increase in military spending results in a 0.62% decrease in health spending in developed countries, and a 0.962% decrease in health spending in poorer countries. This is why some NGOs and humanitarian groups continue to point out that, for example, the annual spend on nuclear weapons in the United States ($35.1 billion) could pay for 300,000 intensive care unit beds, 35,000 ventilators, 150,000 nurses or 75,000 doctors. The international community has devised structures which have had demonstrable successes in managing and reducing the risks of harmful, war-fighting technologies, and we must now leverage these structures for the purposes of delaying, containing and eliminating COVID-19.

Why a moratorium? 

A moratorium in international law is a suspension or postponement of normal practice. Generally, a moratorium is established either by legally binding agreement or international resolutions, or by non-binding unilateral or collective declarations, and they have the effect of freezing the status quo or banning specific activities. As a practical instrument, a moratorium is usually considered in situations where countries are unable to perform their obligations for a time period, or an extraordinary situation which requires countries to take exceptional measures deemed necessary for achieving policy goals.

Moratoriums have a record of past success, notably in the UN General Assembly Resolutions – “A Path to the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons”, where “a moratorium on nuclear-weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions” was treated as a practical step for the “systematic and progressive efforts” to implement the NPT, and the creation of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test–Ban Treaty (CTBT). 

We strongly urge concerned parties to consider providing or declaring moratoria, within or outside the UN system through resolutions, treaties or even by unilateral acts of declaration. The moratoriums can be self- selecting, synergistic and mutually supporting. This proposal can be attractive to traditional national security practitioners, finance ministers and heads of government desperate to re-allocate the much-needed resources which are often trapped in destructive military industrial complexes.

What are the implications of the weapons freeze? 

While there may not be a simple solution to the eradication of the virus, there is clear room for improvement and continued innovation in a number of areas, and a freeze on weapons production, trade and supply is one of them. A freeze on weapons production and supply can free resources for the global medical effort, and the Sustainable Development Goals strategy for human security.

The Freeze is needed to tackle the key issue of the impact of weapons all over the world. Interstate confidence and security building measures, and a global public access weapons tracking system, can accompany and grow with Freezes in production and supply, using OSCE, AU and OAS practices to build on. Proven mechanisms for the mutual recognition and limits on weapons deployments – large and small – across the armed services can be seen in the OSCE agreements and these can be implemented promptly. Nuclear and other Weapons of Mass Destruction can be verifiably eliminated under a supervision mechanism built on the UN mechanisms developed for Iraq in the 1990s and various current and prototype systems associated with existing non-proliferation and disarmament treaties.

We have the opportunity to transform our economies in a manner that will result in greater investment in health, safety and social security in existing institutions and in new mechanisms, that protect public goods, address humanitarian needs and strengthen international cooperation and leadership to address the common threats to human security.

It is our belief that international peace and security cannot be divorced from development – that global security is not achievable when disproportionate resources are diverted towards the acquisition and multiplication of destructive capabilities; while more than a billion people around the world continue to suffer from hunger and deprivation.

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How can you get involved?  

We are calling on civil society organisations, youth networks, and non-governmental organisations to support SCRAP Weapon’s initiative by signing a declaration in support of moratorium on weapons production and supply. We all have a role to play in demanding greater accountability and direct public engagement on matters of security priorities, especially in relation to military spending. Every citizen has the power to ensure that complacency, silence and apathy do not assist, encourage or sustain the untenable status quo.

We have witnessed the successful efforts to mobilize public engagement to ban landmines and cluster munitions, we are witnessing successful efforts to ban nuclear weapons, and now we must call for a freeze in military spending to free up resources to tackle COVID-19. We must encourage our governments to support the Global Ceasefire and sign this Moratorium, and we must do so swiftly.

Support our online campaign by sharing our content on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on your social media platforms, sign the #FREEZEWEAPONS Declaration on behalf of your organisation, invite your partner organisations to sign the civil society declaration, and encourage governments and arms producing corporations to implement a moratorium on weapons production, trade and supply. 

SCRAP is empowered by the volunteer energy of students at the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy (CISD) at SOAS University of London, as well as academic, administrative staff and alumni. It forms part of the Disarmament and Globalisation Project.

Rut Einarsdóttir is a SOAS Digital Ambassador and Operations Manager for SCRAP Weapons, a project for global disarmament in the CISD Department at SOAS, currently pursuing a MSc in Violence, Conflict and Development.

For the latest campus updates and vital information regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) for SOAS staff, students and current applicants, please visit our Covid-19 page.

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