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PPU view on use of troops during coronavirus outbreak

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PPU view on use of troops during coronavirus outbreak

The Peace Pledge Union has said that the potential help of military personnel with tasks such as food deliveries should mark the beginning of diverting military resources to civilian use.


Logistical help, not social control

Like most people, the Peace Pledge Union is very thankful for medical, nursing and social care staff, and all others working in paid or voluntary capacities to help out at this disturbing time. We are grateful for all people who help with practical tasks such as food delivery during the crisis, including members of the armed forces.

However, attempts to involve the armed forces are sometimes accompanied by shrill demands on social media to “send in the army” without being clear about the tasks they are suited to, as if the armed forces were in themselves the solution to all problems. The PPU welcomes the help of armed forces personnel in this crisis with tasks such as logistical support, the transporting of food and the provision of medical resources. It is extremely unhelpful for media such as the Daily Mail to talk of using troops for police functions and to guard supermarkets. Such policies would add to social tension and panic. Troops would in any event be unable to carry out such functions as they quite rightly have no legal power to arrest civilians. Most armed forces personnel are sadly not trained in nonviolent forms of conflict resolution.

A better use of military resources

The use of military personnel for logistical work should be a first step in diverting military resources and funding to civilian use to tackle major problems such as the coronavirus pandemic. With the UK maintaining the seventh highest military budget in the world, this would free up billions of pounds, as well as the armed forces' own medical resources, to tackle the virus and the problems it brings.

While some troops may be helping with vital supplies in the UK, other British troops will sadly be taking part in a major NATO training exercise across much of Europe, increasing military tensions with Russia. No-one will be made any safer by the behaviour of NATO and Russian troops in stirring up tensions with each other; in all countries, we need to focus on what really makes people safe, and this is not armed conflict.

Long-term plans

The involvement of armed forces personnel in logistical tasks in civil crises is a reminder that it would be preferable to fund a body of people to do such vital work without them being trained in warfare or being part of an armed force. The coronavirus outbreak illustrates the reality that armed force cannot keep us safe. We need to fund the NHS, social care, civilian rescue services, education, community support services and international mediation work to tackle threats to our safety and security; we cannot be made safe with bombs and bullets.