On March 23, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for a global ceasefire so the world could direct its attention to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. He pointed out that “the most vulnerable — women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced — [and health professionals] were at the highest risk of suffering devastating losses from COVID-19.
"Meanwhile, armed conflict rages on around the world. ... "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 coronavirus pandemic]."
Guterres' call received widespread support. By March 30, 53 nations had pledged support. Support came from people as diverse as Pope Francis and musicians Stevie Wonder, Yo Yo Ma, and Daniel Barenboim. Hundreds of organizations, including the NY Times Editorial Board, the European Union, and 3 organizations I trust: the American Friends Service Committee, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and the Nonviolent Peaceforce, with its U.S. office in St. Paul.
Avaaz, a U.S. based non-profit working on global issues, started a petition of support signed by people from all over the world. When I signed on April 18, the petition had 2,218,857 signatures.
Some critics have pointed out that a ceasefire may embolden extremist groups. On April 2, in his 10-day assessment of the effect of his call, Guterres recognized that risk and emphasized the need for strong concomitant diplomatic efforts. By then, 70 member nations of the UN had indicated support. A small part of his April 2 talk follows:
“We know the pandemic is having profound social, economic and political consequences, including relating to international peace and security. In addition, terrorist or extremist groups may take profit from the uncertainty created by the spread of the pandemic. A substantial number of parties to conflict have expressed their acceptance for the call ... These include Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.
"But there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds— between translating words into peace on the ground and in the lives of people. There are enormous difficulties to implementation as conflicts have festered for years, distrust is deep, with many spoilers and many suspicions. We know that any initial gains are fragile and easily reversible. And in many of the most critical situations, we have seen no let-up in fighting — and some conflicts have even intensified.”
The world overall spends about $2 trillion dollars a year on war, with the U.S. accounting for nearly half of that. The U.S. is spending around $32 billion yearly on nuclear weapons. Beside increasing the risk from these weapons themselves, those monies could be spent on working to control the pandemic: providing needed personal protective equipment, obtaining the needed testing materials, and ministering to those affected.
As I write, the U.S. and Russia are the two nations opposing approval of the ceasefire in the UN Security Council. The U.S. instead has threatened Venezuela and Iran with military action and plans a large international maritime war exercise in Hawaii this coming June with 26 nations involved.
This is an opportunity for our country to be a leader in this effort of the UN secretary-general. I would urge our members of Congress, Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Reps. Jim Hagedorn and Angie Craig, to indicate support for the ceasefire and urge their colleagues to do likewise.
Rich Van Dellen is a member of the Rochester Friends (Quaker) Meeting