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Ventilators Not Bombs, Humanitarian Aid Not Sanctions, Cooperation Not Regime Change

The pandemic has shown how unsustainable our economy is, particularly continuing to forego investment in our human, physical and environmental infrastructure to feed a voracious war machine.

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We need more ventilators and protective equipment for our doctors and nurses, not more bombs, economic sanctions against people who do us no harm, and futile attempts at regime change.  (Photo: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

US Navy warships are currently surging to the Caribbean to menace Venezuela, when the government cannot surge desperately needed ventilators to New York City, New Orleans and Detroit. This should surprise no one, as the US has long prioritized war and preparations for war over public health, but it is particularly outrageous at this time as we face the Covid-19 global pandemic.

To boot, the US military is the biggest polluter and consumer of fossil fuels in the world.

Contrast the Trump Administration’s trumped-up drug running charges against the government of Venezuela, and military threats against Iran, with the recent call by United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire in order to concentrate resources on the health crisis. That is what leadership looks like. Reports are encouraging from a number of strife-torn countries; warring forces in over a dozen countries have accepted the ceasefire call. These actions need to be encouraged and expanded, so diplomacy and humanitarian aid can surge. 

Trump’s wag the dog move against Venezuela is likely an expensive ruse, or a risky escalation aimed at a longshot regime change attempt to remove President Nicolas Maduro. That is bad enough, but even worse given the devastating impact US economic sanctions have had in exacerbating the economic and health care crisis in the country. The situation in Iran is even worse. In both cases (and others including North Korea), whatever the disputes between governments, it is ordinary Venezuelans and Iranians who suffer the effects of sanctions’ decimation of economic and health security. 

China, Russia, Nicaragua, Cuba, North Korea and Syria joined Iran and Venezuela in a statement to Guterres and other high UN officials demanding an end to US economic sanctions. The eight countries together represent one-quarter of the Earth’s population. The letter stated US sanctions are “...illegal and blatantly violate international law and the charter of the United Nations,” and severely hamper efforts to combat the coronavirus crisis. Sanctions, meant to be a tool, not a policy, have unfortunately become Washington’s go-to tactic of choice that some consider better than war, while many think they are a means of economic warfare that harm ordinary people rather than affecting the behavior or policies of government officials or elites.

Over-investment in the military is how we got to this point, and the Covid-19 crisis throws into stark relief both the opportunity cost of prioritizing the Space Force, F-35s, 800 foreign bases and nuclear weapons over public health, and also the futility of the world’s most gargantuan military machine’s weapons against a virus. 

Over-investment in the military is how we got to this point, and the Covid-19 crisis throws into stark relief both the opportunity cost of prioritizing the Space Force, F-35s, 800 foreign bases and nuclear weapons over public health, and also the futility of the world’s most gargantuan military machine’s weapons against a virus. We need more ventilators and protective equipment for our doctors and nurses, not more bombs, economic sanctions against people who do us no harm, and futile attempts at regime change. 

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Speaking of which, the endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost over $6 trillion dollars. Trump campaigned on ending those disasters and on avoiding new wars, but now his Administration foolishly threatens to ignite, on purpose or by accident, armed conflict in South America and the Middle East. Does anyone think those are the right priorities? I’m sure our medical personnel on the front lines, the patients they treat, and a nervous populace don’t think so. 

Pentagon spending, almost $750 billion per year (and “national security spending” including our myriad “intelligence” agencies is now well over $1 trillion annually), stands at the highest mark since World War II. In each of the last two years, the Pentagon budget increase was larger than Russia’s entire military budget. Under the Obama Administration, the US committed to upgrading our entire nuclear arsenal at a price tag likely to exceed $2 trillion over the next three decades. Predictably, each of the other eight nuclear weapons states followed suit in announcing their own arsenal upgrades, igniting a new nuclear arms race decades after the end of the Cold War. So our tax dollars pay for policies spurring a new arms race, making the US and the whole world less safe.

Somehow this is all a normal state of affairs for the world’s leading military, economic and political superpower. And it’s all worthless to combat pandemics and climate change. Actually it’s worse than worthless, in terms of misspent resources. To boot, the US military is the biggest polluter and consumer of fossil fuels in the world.

Once we get past the Covid-19 crisis, things cannot go back to “normal.” The pandemic has shown how unsustainable our economy is, particularly continuing to forego investment in our human, physical and environmental infrastructure to feed a voracious war machine. New priorities and new leadership are required. Returning to business as usual won’t do. 

Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin

Kevin Martin is President of Peace Action and Peace Action Education Fund, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with approximately 200,000 supporters nationwide.

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