Burying the hatchet in times of coronavirus

Reading Time: 3 minutes

by Tonio Galea – Editor

Almost four months since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the world is still getting to grips with a pandemic that has overturned every sphere: medical, social and economic. Every country finds itself in a thick cloud of uncertainty during this unprecedented time.

Although governments are trying to collaborate in the fight against the coronavirus, the situation has also thrown them into competition over vital medical equipment and supplies. Moreover, there have been serious accusations and of diplomatic tensions leading to fears of new possible military conflicts.

Nevertheless, the more optimistic are looking at the pandemic as a catalyst toward peace.

In March, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for an immediate cessation of hostilities in all the world’s violent conflicts, allowing authorities to focus on the prevention of the spread and deal with the humanitarian consequences. His appeal started to gain some traction, but an immediate ceasefire in as many as 12 countries from the Philippines to Colombia is never going to be easy, let alone in these uniquely difficult circumstances. There were some encouraging signs in the Yemen conflict, even if with dubious success, and a tenuous attempt in Afghanistan. The message fell on deaf ears in Libya.

Until going to press, the 15-member U.N. Security Council was expected to vote on a resolution that demands an “immediate cessation of hostilities in all countries on its agenda” as well as calls for armed groups to engage in a 30-day cease-fire. Such an ambitious resolution may not be expected to pass smoothly given the current and past tension between the member States, but we are living in extraordinary times and, without throwing caution to the wind, there is room for hope. If the resolution is blocked, the impact on countries could be devastating.

War is expensive and a situation like the current crisis is damaging national economies, the ultimate source of military power.  Regardless of modern military technology, conflicts still require the engagement of bodies and nations can ill-afford the risk of losing more resources.

Military machines, as the French and American cases clearly illustrated, are not immune to the Covid-19 disease and a conflict would only expose armies to the possibility of a crippling contagion. History has shown that even if a pandemic is not present at the time of going to war, military conflict creates accommodating conditions for the disease to flourish, both among armies and the civilian population.

Another factor on the minds of generals and is food supply. The United Nations gave a stark warning that the ongoing pandemic is endangering the world supply of foods, raising the possibility of a famine of “biblical proportions”.

Despite the challenges, there still is no guarantee that countries might not take steps towards armed conflicts; but fighting in these circumstances would certainly not produce any great victory parades afterwards. The coronavirus is fundamentally changing the way governments are thinking about national security, particularly because many health experts predict that this will not be the last pandemic the world will endure.

Tonio Galea

Once you're here...