On the 23rd of May, 2020, the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons held its Annual General Meeting online for the first time due to the coronavirus pandemic.  A large part of the meeting was dedicated to reflecting on the implications of covid-19 on the work of nuclear abolition. Dr Tarja Cronberg, a distinguished associate fellow with the SIPRI European Security Programme, from Finland, shared her views in a pre-recorded 10-minute interview.  We share it here for readers of Pressenza.

Transcript below:

Pressenza: How do you think the world will look like when we start to emerge from this covid-19 pandemic?

Tarja Cronberg: I think it’s a very interesting question. I read a lot of things about security and Middle East, and everybody is speculating on what will happen, and my feeling is that those speculations or visions are sort of on two different lines. One is the kind of ‘we should cooperate, we are all in the same boat and the Gorbachev appeal that the world should come together after this virus.’ And there are a lot of thoughts in this because this is a common enemy, and we should fight it together. But on the other hand there’s this other side which is about a new wave of competition, and competition among the superpowers; China and Russia. Already the virus has become a sort of an arena for this competition: Where did it start? What was the role of the Chinese? And at the same time, among this new competition there will be also a lot of failed States, a lot of maybe extremist groups that will all sort of be emboldened. So, it’s a very two deal picture, two parts which are sort of very different.

If you then go on to the security question. I mean, what will this mean for security and maybe even the NPT? I think it will mean a lot of unemployment, a lot of poverty probably in the world, and it’s difficult to know what will be the consequences of this for violence. I mean, will people just accept and survive in the current environment? Or will there be much more dissatisfaction, much more violence? And one of the factors that could increase this violence is the question that, like there was the Cold War, and the Soviet Union could hold the other side in peace and the US could hold the other side. And after there was the hegemony of the US. Now there’s sort of a lack of global leadership and China and the US are fighting, superpowers are fighting. The EU is not very well placed to take any leadership role, and I think there are a lot of middle powers like Australia, maybe some of the Nordic countries also that see their chance of becoming a kind of leader. So, we see from the security environment point of view a lot of changes.

If you then think about disarmament work in general, I think there’s one very positive sign which is I think it will be impossible, if I look at increase in military budgets, in the SIPRI figures for 2019 and the increase. I think it will be impossible after the virus or even during the virus to invest more money on the military. I think we will see less money spent on modernization of nuclear weapons and hopefully less money spent on arms transfers. It’s difficult to say. I mean in the political field, if I look at this as an old politician I think it will be difficult for the military to sort of increase budgets a lot. If you think for example in the Scandinavian countries, all are looking at buying fighter aircraft, and I think it may be at least delayed and maybe even turned down.  So this is in a way for “Moving the Nuclear Weapons Money” there will be less money to be moved, hopefully.

Another thing is that the US will have less influence. I think of course there’s been all these histories about less US influence for a long, long time, but I think now we see actually that also on the transatlantic EU-US relationship, it’s impossible to keep a relationship if the other part never even deals with you as an ally. So, less influence for the US. What this will mean for arms reductions and multilateralism is—it’s not easy to say—but I hope that it will increase multilateralism. The problem is that the UN is not in a in a very good position to take the leadership in multilateralism and probably after this virus. I think it’s been very interesting that there was not, a ceasefire, as the General Secretary of the UN was asking for. So in a way it’s a bad sign for the UN. And the question is how the new forms of multilateralism then will emerge.

I think the task for our work will be very much a question of building trust. I think the virus crisis also shows that countries that have trust and where the leadership has been trusted, or also people trust each other, have been better off than other countries. So I think that’s an important thing. Another positive possibility is of course that always in turbulent times there’s space for new ideas, that there’s the possibility of finding new ways. Things that were impossible just two weeks ago are suddenly more possible and I think one of the things that, if you can see the curves right now, is the use of oil and fossil energy, it’s just going directly down. And if you had asked somebody whether this was possible, everybody would have said it’s not going to be possible, and now we have this example.  So, maybe even on climate change there are some positive conclusions.

PZ: And how do you think that all of this will affect the work of people in the anti-nuclear movement around the world?  Do you see it as an opening of something positive? Or do you see it something which is kind of dark and dangerous?

TC: I think it has been quite dangerous until now. I think the past couple of years have been very dangerous in terms of increases of risk of nuclear wars and so forth, but in the future, if you think that the economies will be very tight and people and states will have to look at their national budgets, I think that one of the positive signs could be that less money will be available and particularly for nuclear weapons. And also that if there is some violence, violence as a consequence sort of the aftermath of this virus crisis, it’s not violence that can be fought with nuclear weapons. On the other hand, the fact that maybe increased risk of nuclear weapons use is the competition among the superpowers but this may be a risk factor, but hopefully I think our work can sort of get the new wave of activities in terms of actually seeing the military budget decreasing, and also the role of nuclear weapons decreasing.

PZ: and on the whole would you say that you’re optimistic or pessimistic going into the next few months?

TC: I must say that I am optimist and I’m currently writing a book on how to renegotiate the nuclear order. So in this way I have to look at the positive signs and the kind of changes that are needed and how we promote disarmament.

PZ: Tarja, thank you so much for talking to us.