Propelled by the devastating impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus globally, and inspired by the United Nations Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire to help save lives  in current conflict prevent their escalation; the SCRAP  Weapons team at SOAS University of London suggests that States and corporations, individually and in cooperation, implement moratoria on weapons production and supply.

From individuals’ homes to peoples’ homelands, COVID-19 is increasing conflict, economies are collapsing and resources are ever scarcer. In these unprecedented times, States and corporations must harness the potential of diverting military modernization, procurement and operational budgets as a necessary complementary measure towards the delay, containment and eradication of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

A novelty of the present crisis is that the Covid 19 pandemic is accelerating an already perilous global security situation of the impact of  climate change, nuclear weapons, revived militarist xenophobia and economic inequality. 

We suggest a formal text draft for nations, parliamentary bodies and international organisations such as the G20 and the UN. This freeze can be self-selecting, synergistic and mutually supporting. Similar initiatives have a record of past success leading to wider achievements – notably in the creation of the nuclear test ban (CTBT). 

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.

An agenda of successive and overlapping phases of Ceasefire, Freeze, Track, Report, Limit and Eliminate can be attractive to traditional national security practitioners and especially to finance ministers and heads of government desperate to re-allocate resources but often trapped in long-standing confrontations. 

His Holiness Pope Francis highlighted that budgetary allocations of States on procurement of weapons are vastly disproportionate with the nature and scope of the threat posed by COVID-19. “This 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.” The COVID-19 pandemic exposes that governments have failed to sufficiently invest in public health infrastructure to face such a crisis, with the knowledge that higher military spending “negatively impacts health expenditures, and therefore [becomes] an important risk factor for population health and individual well-being.”

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. 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. 

With declining budgets and revived nationalisation of key sectors, military production should be removed from the “with profit” sector because the incentive for financial gain has long distorted national security, and undermined international security.

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 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. We must encourage our governments to support the Global Ceasefire and implement moratoria on weapons production and supply, and we must do so swiftly.

COVID-19 is precipitating increased confrontations at a time when the fuel of two world wars in militarised nationalism and economic inequality have returned to a world already destabilising through climate change and where nuclear weapons make the consequences of incompetence terminal. Action on weapons control must accompany medical, economic and social measures.

“This 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.”