Students react to COVID by calling for a freeze on weapons production, trade and supply

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By Rut Einarsdottir

One Young World Ambassador Rut Einarsdóttir from Iceland is the Operations Manager of SCRAP Weapons, a student-led organisation at SOAS University of London that brings a holistic approach to global disarmament by proposing an international legally binding agreement for general and complete disarmament.

Propelled by the devastating impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus globally, the SCRAP Weapons team 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.

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. 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.

Further, 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. 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.

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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).

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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.

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.

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 the 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.

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.

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