It’s time to turn swords into ploughshares, bombs into bread, and soldiers into good Samaritans*


It is blatantly obvious that there is no military response that can defeat the COVID-19 virus. It should be equally obvious that military spending can’t deal with the other two great long-term, slower-acting pandemics – climate change and biodiversity loss. It is also clear that the way we run the world and today’s global “leaders” are far from adequate to address these challenges.

We see the fragility of today’s food systems revealed, and hear calls for fundamental change to our food systems after we get through the current pandemic – for example, see IPES paper COVID-19 and the Crisis in Food Systems. What will be the response throughout the world as we come out of this pandemic – will it be a return to business as usual as far as is possible, or a recognition that now is the time to seize the opportunity for fundamental change? The latter is what is needed to address the challenges in the food system and far beyond.

At their best the world’s governments can come up with clear and sensible goals, such as the Sustainable Development Goals the first of which is to end poverty and the second to end hunger. But to achieve this we need to put our resources to work in the right direction. And for this to happen we need to see a worldwide commitment from every country to redirect its military spending away from mechanisms and technologies to better kill each other with into life-enhancing and environment sustaining activities. It is only by doing this that we will achieve the sustainable development goals, conquer hunger and poverty and make a fairer, healthy and sustainable world for this and future generations.

Now it is unrealistic to expect a complete redeployment of military spending to occur over night, it needs to be done in stages. So from 1 January 2021 every government in the world should shift 10% of its military spending into other areas that address the food, health, environment and climate destabilisation challenges that we face, that address the growing inequity in the world and aim to reduce it. These redirected resources must support new forms of business and productive activities which enhance our ability to mitigate and adapt to the climate disruption that is already underway. This annual 10% reduction should continue until world military spending is negligible. The valuable logistical and organisational skills found in the military should be redirected into international and national rescue services, peacekeeping and peacemaking. This redeployment of the brainpower and resources is aimed at achieving and going beyond the sustainable development goals.

This requires vision, leadership of the kind that we have not currently seen, and a ground swell from the bottom up, building on the kind of help and support we have seen being given throughout the world in many countries to those affected by COVID-19. The United Nations charter begins “We the peoples” and it is we the peoples of the world demanding this change, and to be part of it. We need to see every different means of calling on our governments and businesses to do this, including through the online types of petition such as 38Degrees, SomeofUs, WeMove, AVAAZ, and others. If governments and businesses can take unprecedented steps in acting to fight COVID-19 they can do this.

On April 16, 1953, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower said “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense.” It is time to stop that theft. Let us begin a better way of life and save millions from the consequences of the two great long-term, slower-acting pandemics – climate change and biodiversity loss.

*I come from a background in which Biblical stories permeated my childhood and this refers to a story of a man from a different and despised group (a Samaritan) from the dominant one but who helped a stranger in trouble when those you might have expected to do so from the religious and dominant group did not.”

About Geoff Tansey

I curate the Food Systems Academy, a free, on-line, open education resource to transform our food systems. I was also a member of the Food Ethics Council from 2000-2021 and chaired the independent Fabian Commission on Food and Poverty, which reported in 2015.
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4 Responses to It’s time to turn swords into ploughshares, bombs into bread, and soldiers into good Samaritans*

  1. Pingback: Food, Climate Change, and COVID-19 – QUAKERS & CLIMATE CHANGE WORLDWIDE

  2. Colin Archer says:

    Great to see this piece Geoff. We spoke on tel some years back. I am now retired from International Peace Bureau. But our Global Campaign on Military Spending is still going.
    We also have used the 10% reductions target. I live in Leeds now.
    Colin Archer

  3. Pingback: Geoff Tansey: It’s time to turn swords into ploughshares, bombs into bread, and soldiers into good Samaritans* | Civilisation 3000

  4. Pingback: Geoff Tansey: ‘It’s time to turn swords into ploughshares, bombs into bread, and soldiers into good Samaritans’. | Some Quakers

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