It may take a pandemic to change the idea of national security

A peace rally in Washington DC in March 2003. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Germany license

Even in lock-down the “make love not war” brigade must be high-fiving each other across Zoom in the appropriate socially distant fashion.

When this is over — one, two or three years from now — countries may be too broke to spend their cash on tanks and guns. The people, meanwhile, might be asking — fiercely and urgently — for reassurance their governments are prioritising health and welfare spending.

Might it take a pandemic to take us some way towards George Washington’s fervent wish to “see this plague of mankind, war, banished from the earth”? There are good reasons to think along those lines.

Firstly, Germany has been arguing for overseas development aid to be included as part of traditional defence spending as helping poorer countries offers a measure of national security.

The coronavirus pandemic shows if the disease is rampant and entrenched in, say, Africa, it would blight the lives of millions of people, according to Oxfam.

Accordingly, German development minister Gerd Mueller has been urging members of the European Union to commit to a €1 billion covid-19 programme for low-income countries.

He argues if the Middle East and North Africa becomes destabilised by coronavirus, it could cause “famine, outbreaks of violence, and civil wars”, which would force refugees to head towards Europe.

‘Just as the world looks very different from the way it did just a few weeks ago — so must our budget’

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen

Secondly, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has admitted the bloc’s seven-year spending plan will now tack heavily towards a fund for medical equipment and virus testing. “Just as the world looks very different from the way it did just a few weeks ago — so must our budget,” she admitted.

Clearly, the European Union will have stopped dreaming of being a superpower and turned to providing succour to its own people. Daniel Hamilton, of Johns Hopkins School Of Advanced International Studies, recently said the European Commission would be the “coronavirus commission for its tenure”. That sounds about right.

Then there’s the most obvious reason of all — countries will be too poor to fight. They may fight anyway but won’t be able to shower it in gold as they did in the past.


Post-war Germany has always spent less on its military than the UK. Even the US, the unchallenged military superpower, may not be able to afford its current spending — 3.4 per cent of economic output or roughly $730 billion last year.

Donald Trump’s jihad against Nato allies that spend less than 2 per cent of GDP on defence may be pretty ineffective now. Can anyone seriously see Spain, Italy, Germany or even the UK scaling up defence spending while their people plead for unemployment benefits, healthcare and the assurance medical equipment is available?

Martin Luther King said: “War is a plague, the greatest plague that can afflict humanity.” He went on to add “any scourge would be preferable to war”. Not everyone will agree — but one can see the logic.

Originally published at on April 15, 2020.

PhD. Journalism by trade & inclination. Sign up for free email updates on email me at