Pieces of Broken Humanity: Bombs vs. Breath

Coronavirus COVID-19 Health Humanity arms race

Judith Lewis Herman in The Aftermath of Violence writes

Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds between individual and community.

Judith Lewis Herman, Excerpt from The Aftermath of Violence

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has done the same: people are dying on the streets of Iran, in the towns of Italy, at the health facilities of Spain and in the hospitals of New York. Our lifestyles have changed; markets are emptied and cities are locked down. Well, the scale of tragedy is unthinkable.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has created a public health emergency. Till date, the humanity is lucky to have and to be able to rely on the best health care professionals throughout the world. However, the health professionals are facing shortage of resources including testing kits, ventilators and protective equipment. Most significant and expansive of the equipment is a ventilator – a machine that helps patients with severe respiratory conditions to breathe easily as their lungs have been impacted by the disease to function without external support. As one of the signs of COVID-19 includes respiratory illness, it necessitates the use of ventilators to ease the patient’s suffering. According to the media reports, the hospitals around the globe are short of ventilators. As number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increases, more resources will be required.

Pieces of Broken Humanity: Bombs vs. Breath

Also Read: End of “The End of History”: The Democracy Delusion

It is not only poor states that are presenting the excuse of fewer resources; even developed countries are making the same pretext. There is also another debate on social media that every nuclear power in the world is facing a shortage of ventilators. The belief is that the countries spending on arms are insane and the testing of lethal weapons in face of claims of shortage of resources invested in the destructive weapons could have been used for much-needed medical equipment.

But as Pascal said “man’s sensitivity to little things and insensitivity to the greatest things are marks of a strange disorder” – the claimed leaders of world are engaged in arms build-up amid virus fears. Most recently, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to go ahead with an arms deal with Israel worth $116 millions. The deal came at a time when doctors on the frontline in India continue to complain of a shortage of masks and protective equipment to deal with the virus crisis. The Indian administration is also under fire for the partial communication blockade in Indian administered Kashmir, which during COVID-19 will have dire consequences for eight million people already living under a military occupation.

Before Indo-Israel deal for arms supply, the US also tested in March an unarmed prototype of a hypersonic missile, a nuclear-capable weapon that could accelerate the arms race among US, Russia and China. In its fiscal 2021 budget, the US Defense Department has also requested US$ 3.2 billion for hypersonic programs. Its goal is a deployable hypersonic capability by 2023. Similarly, Russia also plans to test launch the hypersonic 3M-22 Tsirkon from its Project 855 Yasen-class multipurpose nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine. Russian officials have pitched nuclear-armed hypersonic craft as a hedge against future US prowess at shooting down ICBMs, which could undermine nuclear deterrence. According to 2020 data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the largest exporters of arms during the past five years were the US, Russia, France, Germany and China, while India was the second-largest arms importer in the world. The arms control treaties, are hardly in fashion and with Russia and the US egging each other on with one high-profile test after another, the hypersonic arms race seems likely to accelerate.

Amid the COVID-19 spread fears, fatalities and increasing shortage of medical equipment across the globe, these deadly weapons are highly destabilizing and presage a new debate on humanitarian consequences of lethal weapons. The countries which collectively spend almost $3 trillion a year on arms feel it hard to arrange the basic medical equipment. Though, in a recent move announced by American President Mr. Donald Trump on March 27, the Defense Production Act (DPA) of USA is ordered to force General Motors to carry out federal contracts to make ventilators and give those contracts priority over any other orders. But it still does not guarantee that US will have enough ventilators by the time patients across the country need them. The US administration is already advocating the cuts over health insurance and there are millions of US citizens who need free medical care in case of a severe pandemic. Yet the administration insists that it does not have enough resources. A country which presents itself as a role model for the entire while possessing thousands of nukes cannot find enough medical staff, hospitals and equipment to deal with the corona outbreak adequately. The lack of ventilators is one of the reasons each country facing virus spread has gone in for complete lockdown, including Pakistan, in a bid to prevent the healthcare system from being overburdened by sick patients. The past pandemics have offered humans the precautions about how to manage their spread. Whether humans are following those lessons today is a different story.

Along with major powers, India and Pakistan are also among the biggest defense spenders. The story of other states, except a few, in the world is not very different. COVID-19 outbreak underscores the need to put arms race and political interests aside. In these apocalyptic times, leaders must be mindful that the harder times are ahead and the decisions they take today will be remembered. The outbreak and the lockdown are set to roil the world economy for months to come. The IMF has already said that the world has entered a recession. As there is a saying: ‘Making ventilators is hard but the harder is getting politicians to agree on paying for them’ yet, the public and healthcare professionals pushing the leaders to make health policies a priority is a hope to save lives.

Gulshan Rafique_Author

Ms. Gulshan Rafiq is a Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI). She holds an M. Sc and M. Phil degree in Defence and Strategic Studies from Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad. Her research areas cover contemporary international affairs, traditional security threats and nuclear nonproliferation issues. She regularly contributes in national/international dailies and renowned academic journals and can be reached at gul.quaidian@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are authors own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Reader’s Review.

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