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COVID-19: Militarise or Organise?

In the last week as cities around the world have entered into lockdown, and as fear of the many uncertainties associated with our latest global crisis mount, some people have turned to what they have been told by their leaders always brings security and solutions to crisis and fear: guns.

Image credit: WILPF
Ray Acheson
23 March 2020

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In the last week as cities around the world have entered into lockdown, and as fear of the many uncertainties associated with our latest global crisis mount, some people have turned to what they have been told by their leaders always brings security and solutions to crisis and fear: guns.

Looking for safety through violence

In the United States and Canada, people are buying guns and ammunition in record numbers. Some governments are exacerbating this by increasingly using militarised language in a poor attempt to try to calm people, choosing the wrong analogy for what we collectively need to do in these perilous times. “Waging a war against an invisible enemy;” “we will defeat;” and “patriotic duty” are some of the phrases we have heard used by governments around the world.

But militarism is one of the things that got us into the situation. Not to the virus itself, but to the unconscionable amount of money that is spent on weapons globally—money which is now not available for things we actually need.

Misspent resources

Collectively, governments around the world are investing nearly two trillion dollars a year on militarism at the expense of public health infrastructure and research and every other aspect of social well-being.

In 2018, US military spending reached $649 billion—more than the next top eight spenders combined. And that figure does not include nuclear weapons. The cost of maintaining and expanding nuclear forces in the nine nuclear-armed states is budgeted to run into billions—and in the US case, one trillion—dollars over the coming decades. Even those countries that do not have a nuclear arsenal or those that do have decent social systems and health care, such as some of those in Europe and Canada, have spent increasing amounts of money militarising their borders and manufacturing weapons for export.

Equipped to fight wars, not pandemics

We are a world equipped to fight wars, not pandemics. The militarised systems designed to keep people from crossing borders cannot keep a virus from doing so. The nuclear bombs that we are told are meant to “deter” adversaries will have no effect on deterring diseases.

But having invested so much for so long, financially and intellectually, in militarised security, we now face the situation where militarism becomes the answer to every perceived or actual threat. In Serbia, for example, the government has enforced curfew hours and deployed its fully equipped army to the streets to maintain order, although there is nothing that indicates that regular police forces could not do the job. The army is further tasked with “protecting” the hospitals and medical staff. But the reality is that the medical staff don’t need guns to protect them, but adequate equipment, staff, and infrastructure.

Escalating militarism

Furthermore, the turn to militarism in situations like this escalates what levels of militarism we are willing to accept in our lives. It impacts what becomes the new normal. In the US, for example, before 9/11 there were not soldiers with machine guns in airports and train stations; now that is part of the every landscape: automatic weapons as you commute to work.

It also exacerbates racism, xenophobia, and an outsider-insider mentality. The vast economic investments in militarism have always relied on tensions between communities and groups. In a time of crisis, these are easy tropes to fall back on and reinvest in, or create anew. Doing violence to others to protect one’s self or one’s group is portrayed as a natural, even noble response. But in reality, it is just allowing the worst of the human spirit to prevail at the expense of what could be collective good.

Inequality kills; solidarity builds

Instead of militarism, we need redirection of funds to social and environmental well-being. But we also need a radical reimagining of our security infrastructure and ideas. We are all in this together (separately). We cannot overcome this crisis—or any of the future crises waiting for us in our highly interconnected, interdependent world. We cannot wall ourselves from others. We cannot kill those who we think threaten what is “ours”.

This is also the time to recognise that inequality kills and that solidarity, as a proactive, political act, is what will help us overcome this crisis and those that await in the future. We share a common fate—if nothing else, this pandemic should help illuminate that for us all.

Everyone everywhere in the world is suffering and will suffer, to greater or lesser extents, from the health, economic, social, and psychological impacts of this virus. It is a global, shared experience, and requires a global, shared response. Some countries are better equipped to deal with the aftermath of the pandemic, while some countries are already depleted of resources and ridden with problems. Their ability to respond to the pandemic and the inevitable economic crisis will greatly depend on the level of solidarity we manage to muster.

Organising for peace and prosperity

Part of that global response of solidarity means investing in the local: local food production, local systems for support. It means investing in preventative healthcare, community health and human well-being so that we create resilient communities. But local does not mean isolationist. Local does not mean we cut ourselves off or reinforce an us vs. them mentality. Instead it means a turn away from the exploitation of humans, animals, and the environment that goes along with our current overreliance on transnational corporations that put profits over people and planet. It means a turn towards developing more resilient local economies and food production. It means a turn away from the production and sale and use of weapons and violence to “secure” states or citizens, towards disarmament and demilitarisation.

Compassion, care, and collective action will see us through this crisis, and will be the bedrock upon which we can build a world beyond capitalist exploitation, militarised security, and environmental destruction. The time to start imagining and structuring that world is now.

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Ray Acheson Speaking for Reaching Critical Will at a conference

Ray Acheson

Ray Acheson is the Director of WILPF’s Disarmament Programme, which provides analysis, research, and advocacy across a range of disarmament issues from an antimilitarist feminist perspective. Acheson represents WILPF on the steering committees of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, and the International Network on Explosive Weapons.

Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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