(Updated) We can and we must learn from this global catastrophe

UN chief calls for global ceasefire

On March 23rd in virtual format, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued a plea for a global ceasefire:

The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war….That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.

Passblue.com, a website that provides detailed, timely, independent commentary on the work of the United Nations, outlines the following positive responses to the ceasefire call:

  • The [opposition] Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced “their commitment to avoid engaging in military action.”
  • In Yemen both the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi leaders indicated support for the ceasefire.
  • Communist guerillas in the Philippines said they would observe a ceasefire in “direct response to the call of UN Secretary-General for a global ceasefire between warring parties for the common purpose of fighting the Covid-19 pandemic”.
  • In Cameroon, one of several opposition groups, The Southern Cameroons Defence Force (Socadef), stated they would maintain a ceasefire as “a gesture of goodwill”.

Tragically, Libyan warlord General Haftar has rejected the appeal.

What kind of society do we want to have in future?

At the end of an extraordinary interview on Talk to Aljazeera with Dr. Michael Ryan, the head of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, interviewer Mohammed Jamjoon asked the following question:

Dr. Ryan, are you getting the sense that people are changing as a result of this [pandemic] and that populations around the world will be changed as a result of this, that they will start to have a different outlook when it comes to all of this?

Dr. Ryan replied in part:

When this is done, we need to sit down and see what kind of society we want to have in future…. Are we to be defended from foreign armies, [or] are we to be defended from viruses; where are we putting our investment in society… our civilization and way of life…?

On the issue of spending priorities, Daryl G. Kimball, head of the prestigious Arms Control Association, penned an April editorial entitled Pandemic Reveals Misplaced Priorities (April 2020):

The U.S. government spends tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to maintain a massive nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the planet many times over. Meanwhile, it does not have a stockpile of masks large enough to protect front-line health care workers who are battling COVID-19 and is proposing to cut programs that help provide for early disease detection….

If we are to survive well into this century, there must be a profound shift in the way we deal with global security challenges and how we align our scientific, economic, diplomatic, and political resources to address the health, climate, and nuclear dangers that threaten us all.

Ed Yong, writing in The Atlantic, foresees an America with Trump as a second-term President which turns even further inward. But he also envisages another future where America learns a different lesson from the pandemic:

A communal spirit, ironically born through social distancing, causes people to turn outward, to neighbors both foreign and domestic. The election of November 2020 becomes a repudiation of “America first” politics. The nation pivots, as it did after World War II, from isolationism to international cooperation…The U.S. leads a new global partnership focused on solving challenges like pandemics and climate change.

The concept of human security is being revisited

Others, like Jonathan Granoff and Barry Kellman, are revisiting expanded notions of security. Their recent article in Newsweek begins with the headline:

‘National Security’ is Too Crude to Protect Us From Pandemics. It’s Time to Shift to Human Security Instead

And they go on to argue:

Coronavirus is a wake-up call to stop ignoring our common human condition. It’s telling us that chasing security with an inordinate adversarial perspective, without recognizing the value of cooperative and collective security, has left us unprepared and insecure before this very real global threat.

Human security is a concept that Canada pioneered and promoted globally, with much success, in the wake of the end of the Cold War.

See for example, Human Security and the New Diplomacy Protecting People, Promoting Peace, eds. Rob McRae and Don Hubert, Introduction by Lloyd Axworthy, foreword by Kofi Annan (McGill Univ Press, 2001). A description of the book reads:

Human Security and the New Diplomacy is a case-study of a major Canadian foreign policy initiative and a detailed account of the first phase of the human security agenda. The story of Canada’s leading role in promoting a humanitarian approach to international relations, it will be of interest to foreign policy specialists and students alike.

Tragically, it was all but abandoned in the wake of the September 11th attacks even as the unanimous UN Security Council resolution 1377 (2001) called for a

sustained, comprehensive approach … in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law… [including] efforts to broaden the understanding among civilizations and to address regional conflicts and the full range of global issues, including development issues….

One of the most prescient voices at the time, cautioning against a primarily military-led response to the terror attacks, was Professor Paul Rogers of Bradford University. And he has never given up making the case for a human security-centred approach. In his 900th column for Opendemocracy.net, he writes:

The West has applied the control paradigm to the world since 9/11 and it has proved a disaster. It has left a trail of weak and failing states, hundreds of thousands of people killed, millions displaced and a legacy of bitterness and resentment. Yet few military and political leaders recognise this failure.…

What is actually required is a human-rights dimension to security, the need to see it as a common right to freedom from fear and want, rooted in socio-economic and ecological awareness.

Even some commentators on the right are highlighting the absolute need for stronger international organizations and closer international cooperation, See for example, David Frum’s recent article: The Coronavirus Is Demonstrating the Value of Globalization (theatlantic.com, March 2020):

If we build a world of trust that’s efficient and attractive enough, we may find that we can inspire better behavior from China too. Great nations do not react well to threats, and they react even worse to insults and name-calling of the empty Trumpian kind. But they do sometimes respond to positive incentives…[such as] a partnership of trusted partners in global health….

Update on 30 Mar, 2020.

Back to Professor Paul Rogers and a riveting interview he gave on CBC’s Sunday Edition on Sunday, 29 March 2020. He sums up the global imperative as follows:

There is no alternative whatsoever to greater international co-operation and trying to have economic and social health systems which can cope with this particular issue. We are not remotely there at present…

And how well we do in managing this crisis could be an indication of how equipped we are to deal with the much larger issue of climate breakdown….

Let that be our guiding light once we emerge from the dark days still ahead!

Whither Canada?

We call on our government to deepen its cooperation with other nations, through the WHO, the G20 and other multilateral bodies to ensure that developing countries get the assistance they desperately need to help us all fight COVID-19.


Photo credit: UN Images


Tags: Arms Control Association, CBC Sunday Edition, coronavirus, Dr. Michael Ryan, Ed Yong, Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, global ceasefire, Human security, international cooperation, Michael Enright, Professor Paul Rogers, rethinking security, September 11 terrorist attacks, Talk to Aljazeera, The Atlantic, U.N. Security Council, UN Secretary-General António Guterres, UN Security Council Resolution 1377 (2001), WHO, World Health Organization (WHO)