‘Healthcare not warfare‘, Pearls and Irritations, 6 April 2020 updated
Update 11 May 2020: Sue Wareham on the need to prioritise health care over defence spending.
Update 23 April 2020: Allan Behm in Guardian Australia argues for a broader definition of national security.
Quite apart from the public health imperative [bringing all those service people into close contact], the cancellation of military exercises could be a powerful step towards the de-escalation of tensions that is needed to address not only COVID but a host of other global problems.
Australia should support the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire. There are steps that our nation could take in the very short term and beyond to prioritise healthcare over warfare. We are spending vast sums on equipping ourselves for the next war while our frontline health workers struggle to find enough face masks to protect themselves and others. As even greater health threats loom, this is unsustainable.
The article proposes six steps: cease our (Australian) involvement in wars of choice; stop profiting from wars; stop sanctions and blockades that impede health care; restore Australia’s overseas aid; promote cooperation; address looming health threats that are far worse than Covid.
Australia is spending over $200 billion over the decade to 2028-29, over and above the annual defence budget, on military hardware. Our “security” is defined in terms of our capacity to go to war, and far less attention is paid to threats that can’t be bombed or shot at. The notion of “human security” is marginalised. As we spend upwards of $80 billion on new submarines (and $225 billion over their lifetime), our frontline health workers are struggling to find enough face masks to protect themselves and others against a deadly virus.
Sue Wareham is President, Medical Association for Prevention of War, and was a foundation member of the committee of the Honest History association.