It’s Time to Stop Using Wartime Language and Call for a Global Ceasefire Instead
Claudia Webbe MP: The coronavirus outbreak offers our government a unique opportunity to step away from conflicts
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a tendency for world leaders to adopt military language. French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly declared that “we are at war”. Donald Trump calls himself a “wartime president”. Boris Johnson has talked of fighting a second Battle of Britain.
At a time of societal upheaval and collective national effort, it is perhaps understandable that war-like rhetoric has become commonplace. Yet rather than transport us to an imagined past of common endeavour, this bellicose language ought to remind us of the unimaginable suffering caused by present-day conflicts across the world.
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres recently called for a global ceasefire to combat the rapid spread of the deadly virus. He said, quite rightly, that “there should be only one fight in our world today, our shared battle against Covid-19.” A ceasefire is necessary to create the conditions for the delivery of lifesaving aid and to bring hope to war-torn places that are among the most vulnerable to the pandemic.
The UK government has endorsed this call for peace, along with 70 other nations involved in conflicts in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.
Yet, as Guterres correctly argued, “there is a huge distance between declarations and deeds… to silence the guns, we must raise the voices for peace.”
There are currently thousands of British forces in at least 35 countries around the world, including 1,000 in Afghanistan and more than 1,000 in Middle Eastern countries such as Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Their continued presence in these areas is only serving to prolong conflict and heighten tensions.
For instance, in Yemen, despite expressed support for a ceasefire, the conflict has spiked. The British military and government are intimately involved in this conflict. The UK, alongside the US, supplies weapons and crucial military support to the Saudi-led coalition, which is responsible for the highest number of reported civilian fatalities. In January, the death toll in the war in Yemen passed 100,000.
The Yemini conflict is one of the worst humanitarian crises of the modern era. It is shameful that Britain is complicit in such an atrocity. The coronavirus outbreak offers our government a unique opportunity to step away from the conflict, as well as other theatres of war which cause so much suffering across the globe.
For instance, thousands of British citizens are still stranded abroad due to transport restrictions. In my constituency of Leicester East alone, I have been helping hundreds of residents who are stranded in remote locations across the world, primarily in India.
I have repeatedly urged the government to consider using RAF and military aircraft to shuttle British nationals, who are locked down in remote parts of the world, to the nearest appropriate international airports.
This would, of course, be an unprecedented step that would need to be undertaken in the spirit of international solidarity. But we are living through an unprecedented crisis.
Unfortunately, the government has been unwilling to engage the armed forces to bring our loved ones and family members home. This is just one way in which the military, in which we invested around £40 billion in 2019, could be used in service of peace.
From this pandemic to the existential threat of climate change, the global community is facing increasingly common enemies. Rather than appropriating the language of war, our governments should use this moment to end the intolerable suffering caused by global conflicts. Now is the time for a true global ceasefire.
Claudia Webbe is MP for Leicester East
Source: The Independent