‘War and disease travel together’: Why the pandemic push for a global cease-fire is gaining ground

WASHINGTON – When the head of United Nations first called for a “global cease-fire” on March 23, it seemed like a quixotic quest that would fall on the deaf ears of warring guerrillas, militant terrorists and belligerent governments across the globe.

But over the past month, fighters from Colombia to Ukraine have signaled a willingness to put down their weapons as the world confronts a deadly pandemic that could devastate civilian populations and armies alike.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council may vote as early as this week on a resolution that demands an “immediate cessation of hostilities in all countries on its agenda” and calls for armed groups to engage in a 30-day cease-fire, according to a draft of the measure obtained by USA TODAY.

Its fate is uncertain, and experts say it comes with many caveats and exceptions – including a loophole that could allow Russia to continue bombing civilians in Syria.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (C) speaks at a UN Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York on February 26, 2020.

Right now, world powers are still quibbling over several provisions. The Trump administration has objected to any language expressing support for the World Health Organization, among other provisions – disputes that could sink or stall the effort. President Donald Trump has blasted the WHO being biased toward China and accepting Beijing's statements about the coronavirus outbreak at face value.

A State Department official declined to comment on the draft, citing ongoing negotiations. The official, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said the Trump administration supports the call for a global cease-fire but wants to ensure it will not hinder U.S. counterterrorism missions.

If it passes, experts say its impact could be significant – albeit not sweeping – during an otherwise bleak moment of global crisis.

“This is not a piece of paper that’s going to save the planet, and it’s not even going to stop some of the nasty wars that are burning out there,” said Richard Gowan, an expert on the United Nations and peacekeeping with the International Crisis Group, a nonpartisan organization that seeks to prevent conflict.

“But it’s at least something which could help ease middle-sized and smaller conflicts in countries ranging from Colombia to Sudan, where we know that armed groups are actually interested in pausing violence and talking about peace during the COVID crisis.”

It could also help staunch the flow of refugees in some war-ravaged countries – and thus slow the spread of COVID-19, said Barry Posen, an international professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"War and disease travel together and are usually causative," Posen said.

While a global cease-fire may sound lofty and idealistic, he said, it's also quite practical, particularly in places like Syria and Yemen, where health care is scarce and civilians are extremely vulnerable to disease.

"The intrusion of COVID into that situation would make what's already a horror show into an even bigger horror show," he said. "If you can do a little something to suppress these wars at the moment, you would also be doing a little something to suppress the disease." And because these conflicts are also producing refugees, it could help limit the further spread of the illness if civilians are not forced to flee conflict zones.

U.S. coronavirus map:Tracking the outbreak

In this handout image released by the United Nations, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres holds a virtual press conference on April 3, 2020, at UN headquarters in New York. Guterres Friday renewed his call for a global cease-fire, urging all parties to conflict to lay down arms and allow war-torn nations to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 100 countries, 16 armed groups already endorse cease fire

The United Nation's secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, has used both lofty rhetoric and harsh reality in his pitch for the cease-fire.

"There should be only one fight in our world today: our shared battle against COVID-19," he said in an April 3 news briefing on his effort. French President Emmanuel Macron has also championed the cease-fire proposal.

So far, about 16 armed groups and more than 100 countries have endorsed the measure, according to an informal tally kept by U.N. officials. A few examples:

• In Colombia, a left-wing rebel group known as the ELN agreed to a cease-fire starting April and said it would consider reviving peace talks with the government.

• In Yemen, one side of that brutal war – the Saudi Arabia-led coalition – agreed to a unilateral cease-fire for at least a month, to help control the spread of coronavirus in a country already ravaged by starvation and other diseases. The Houthis, backed by Iran, have not yet signed on.

• In Syria, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces agreed to a cease-fire, saying its fighters would defend themselves against attacks but not engage in offensive military action. “We hope that this humanitarian truce will help to open the door for dialogue and political solution and to put an end to the war in the world and Syria,” the SDF said in a statement.

Guterres hailed these moves but noted there is "a huge distance between declarations and deeds."

P. Terrance Hopmann, a professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University, said there's a stark power imbalance among those who have signed onto the cease-fire proposal and those who have not – with rebel groups far more willing to end fighting than they governments they are trying to topple.

"Rebels don't have access to hospitals, they don't have access to medical care generally," he noted. "They're often in the jungle or the desert or something."

What does coronavirus do to your body?:Everything to know about the infection

Governments, even those under attack, may see an advantage in the pandemic "because they already have a power asymmetry in their favor" and therefore may try to push forward to try to win a conflict rather than negotiate a truce, he said.

One surprising exception is in the Philippines, Hoppman said, where a communist rebel group said it had ordered its fighters to observe a cease-fire amid the pandemic after Philippine's hard-line president, Rodrigo Duterte, had declared his own unilateral cease-fire. The conflict has caused an estimated 40,000 deaths in that country.

"We'll be lucky if this appeal works in one or two cases," Hoppman said. "But if it does,

it would be a significant accomplishment because thousands of people were being killed every day in many conflicts around the world."

Cease-fire pitch comes as peace talks become difficult amid social distancing

Gowan noted that the push for a cease-fire comes as U.N. mediators and envoys cannot travel to conflict zones, making peace talks even more difficult. He also said some groups that have endorsed the cease-fire have already started fighting again, while others have less-than-altruistic motives.

"In Yemen, the Saudis have for some time been trying to see if they can find a way to get out of this quagmire," Gowan said, and the pandemic may offer "a face-saving way" to exit a war that has damaged the kingdom's reputation and drained its military.

Smoke fills the sky at the Abqaiq oil processing facility on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 in Saudi Arabia.   Drones claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels attacked the world's largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oilfield operated by Saudi Aramco early Saturday, sparking a huge fire at a processor crucial to global energy supplies.

But even as the Saudis embraced the U.N. proposal, another faction on Monday broke a peace deal it had signed in November, highlighting the intractability of the multicountry conflict.

Gowan said the peace push may gain more traction as the pandemic spreads.

"In places like Libya and eastern Ukraine, where fighting goes on, the disease hasn’t had its full effect yet in terms of infections or economic damage," he said. "As the disease plays out, you’re going to see more military groups really feel the pain to resources and fighters ... and that could inspire a sense of exhaustion that might inspire more countries to take this seriously."

For major world powers, Posner said the coronavirus outbreaks on the USS Theodore Roosevelt and a French aircraft carrier should serve as a stark warning about how the disease could weaken military prowess. In both cases, hundreds of sailors became infected as the virus swept through the ships.

"The disease caused by the coronavirus is weakening all of the great and middle powers more or less equally," he said. He said with no country likely to gain a meaningful military advantage from the pandemic, "the odds of a war between major powers will go down, not up."

That doesn't mean the U.S. and its foes aren't flirting with conflict. After a dozen Iranian speed boats brazenly swarmed U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, Trump last week threatened to "shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea."

Gowan and others said the Trump administration has objected to at least two elements of the resolution. U.S. officials are pushing for language calling for "transparency" about the origins of the virus, which first emerged in China, and they are fighting supportive language for the World Health Organization, which Trump has accused of mishandling the pandemic and favoring China in its public statements.

The draft resolution currently has a placeholder provision on the WHO: "compromise related to the language on WHO to be decided at the end of the negotiation," it reads.

Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/04/28/coronavirus-un-secretary-wants-global-cease-fire-amid-pandemic/5163972002/

News Related


Trump’s ‘mission accomplished’ moment is premature and deadly. We have not defeated COVID.

Desperate for crowds and adoration, Trump has put his most fervent supporters at risk of getting a deadly disease. Future historians will be astonished. Read more »

NFLPA president JC Tretter says NFL is putting season, players at risk with its coronavirus approach

NFL Players Association president JC Tretter said Tuesday the NFL is putting the 2020 season at risk with its coronavirus approach, calling on the league to better “prioritize player safety.” “Like many other... Read more »

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says he tested positive for the coronavirus

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro says he has tested positive for COVID-19 after months of downplaying the virus’ severity. Bolsonaro confirmed the test results while wearing a mask and... Read more »

Venice Film Festival forges ahead amid COVID-19 pandemic with reduced lineup

The show will go on for the Venice Film Festival in September, but with a few modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizers said Tuesday that they are pushing forward with plans for... Read more »

Amtrak offers buy-one, get-one promotion on its sleeper trains amid COVID-19 — with a catch

Amtrak wants you to have sweet dreams the next time you travel — so much so that it’s sweetening the deal on its sleeper “roomettes.” The rail service is offering a buy-one-get-one-free discount... Read more »

Florida teen treated with hydroxychloroquine at home before dying of COVID-19, report says

FORT MEYERS, Fla. – The family of a 17-year-old Florida girl who died last month from COVID-19 treated her symptoms at home for nearly a week before taking her to a hospital, a... Read more »

Mookie Betts worried MLB coronavirus testing woes could prevent him from ever playing for Dodgers

During nearly four months away from the game, Mookie Betts said he “stayed away from baseball to keep myself sane.” It’s not hard to understand why. The 2018 American League Most Valuable Player... Read more »

Tom Hanks doesn’t get ‘how common sense has somehow been put into question’ with coronavirus

Read more »

Can Gov. DeSantis force Florida schools to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic? Some school leaders seem doubtful.

PALM BEACH, Fla. — As concern about the state order spread online, some school leaders said: Not so fast. As Florida educators puzzle over how to start the new academic year, Gov. Ron... Read more »

Texas surpasses 200,000 coronavirus cases after 4th of July holiday weekend

AUSTIN, Texas – Texas reached 200,000 total COVID-19 cases Monday, just 17 days after crossing the 100,000 threshold, a figure that took the state nearly four months to hit. The grim milestone came... Read more »