Confronting the Covid 19 Crisis-Danger and Opportunity







Confronting the Covid-19 Crisis:
Danger and Opportunity
Kevin P. Clements
Director, Toda Peace Institute

The Coronavirus has now spread around the planet, sending billions of people and states into “lockdown” and “self-imposed isolation”. Everyone is practicing physical and social
distancing. The virus has stressed health services everywhere and caught many states
off-guard and unprepared to deal with its malign consequences. National economies and the integrated global economy are in freefall. Political systems, social resilience and obedience to political authority are all being tested by Covid-19. 2020 is developing into a
transformative moment in human history. The challenge will either result in innovative
systemic change or a reassertion of a status quo that has proven incapable of dealing with this pandemic and with increasing economic, political, social and environmental dysfunctionality.

At the time of writing, there are over 2.8 million recorded cases of Covid-19 worldwide; 194,000 people have died, with half a million in recovery. Coronavirus presents an existential challenge to humanity and a global security threat for which few states or peoples were prepared.

It’s a reminder that human beings do not have total mastery of nature and, unless we are more attentive to what the natural world is telling us, this will be the first of many preventable catastrophes. It is critical, therefore, that we do not let short term fixes blind us to the longer-term challenges.

The mortality rate from Covid-19 is much higher than that for global terrorism yet, over the past 20 years, states have directed more resources to military threats than to health threats and to State Security rather than Human Security. The U.S., for example, which is currently the epicentre of the crisis, spent an average of $180 billion annually on counterterrorism efforts, compared with less than $2 billion on pandemic and emerging infectious–disease programmes. In retrospect, this bias now seems to be totally misplaced.  The military budget is also way out of line with the more dangerous and probable 21st century threats.  The U.S. Congress, for example, appropriated $685 billion in 2019 for the Pentagon, compared with $7 billion for the Centre for Disease Control.

This pandemic, therefore, provides us with a unique opportunity to debate the nature of 21st century threats and to reorder political and economic priorities to meet the real rather than the imagined threats to human existence.

Crises are both dangers and opportunities.  We are aware of the dangers but what are the opportunities?

In the first place, we need to start rethinking the nature of risk, threat and danger for the 21st century.  Covid-19 will make it very difficult for 21st century states to elevate military threats over health, global pollution, mass migration, refugees, climate change, and inequality. It is imperative that people and policy makers start thinking about the integrated nature of these threats to human well-being and survival.  In particular, it is important to frame these challenges in terms of Human Security, despite concerns about the analytical utility of this concept. Its normative purpose is more imperative now than when it was first mooted and it is not beyond the wit of theorists to give the term more analytical precision.

As the Brundtland Commission put it, “The Earth is one but the world is not”[1]. Much more attention, therefore needs to be dedicated to nurturing and building on global commonalities rather than exacerbating national differences. The Human Security framework is the one that seems to offer most promise for altruistic and compassionate politics. It has been derided in the past and scorned for being too inclusive and too focused on
individual and collective wellbeing rather than national security. But Covid-19 has underlined the limitations of military national security frameworks which are clearly of no help to medical catastrophe, climate change or the elimination of poverty.
Nuclear weapons and conventional arms races cannot solve today’s global problems. On the contrary, they exacerbate and complicate them.

Military force is a sign of defeat, a failure of politics and is totally unhelpful to the existential threats we are facing in the 21st century.  The Human Security framework starts with the satisfaction of basic human needs for welfare, recognition, and safety. These needs require food, clean water, unpolluted environments and a major focus on health and educational systems that will enable everyone to live healthy and
productive lives. To develop strategies that can promote this vision will require a significant reordering of national and global priorities away from military security to the security of the planet.

Dealing with global pandemics is one thing but looming behind it are the medium to long term consequences of climate change which arguably will generate as much chaos as Covid-19 over the next 50 years. The Lancet, for example, predicts up to 500,000 deaths from climate change by 2050. The world has plenty of clear warnings (e.g. melting ice caps, adverse weather events and pollution) that climate change has to be accorded as much significance as nuclear warfare. If we do not move to low carbon economies and a diminished reliance on fossil fuels, we will be subject to nature’s full climate fury.   Like Covid-19, this too will affect land, livelihoods, housing, refugees and forced migration as well as economic and social wellbeing and the probable deaths of millions.

The challenges of the 21st century, therefore, are going to require the best minds focusing on the diverse ways in which our social, economic and political systems are all linked, and the ways in which individual and inter-connected threats can and will disrupt political and social equilibrium. According priority to Human Security requires systemic and holistic thinking if we are to make our homes, neighbourhoods and nations safer places to live, move and be in.

Second, there are no national solutions to any of these integrated threats. They require
regional and global co-operation to deal with them. The appeal of the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, for a global ceasefire to meet the more important threat of the coronavirus is an important reminder that we need to start thinking about 21st century risks in terms of their probability and lethality. This  will focus minds on problems that have nothing to do with traditional security threats.   As Guterres said when announcing his call, “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.”[2]

A post Covid-19 world, therefore, needs to revitalise the multilateral project for the 21st
century. Instead of withdrawing from agencies like the WHO, states and peoples need to
focus on making them more efficient, effective and relevant to global decision making.
Similarly, national and global political leaders have to start focusing their attention on the effectiveness and relevance of institutions, strategies and goals that will advance
humanity instead of narrow concepts of the national interest.

Progress toward the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by the U.N. in 2000, or more recently the Sustainable  Development Goals, has been extremely uneven. This
pandemic is hitting the poor particularly hard, thus exacerbating the problem of
poverty and inequality. This pandemic is forcing us to rethink social, economic and political priorities. The Human Security and revitalised multilateral institutions will enable innovative policy making.

Third, it is clear that this pandemic is going to result in some fundamental changes to national, regional and global economic activity. A total of 81% of the global workforce of 3.3 billion people have had their workplaces fully or partially closed. Social isolation strategies have led to the closure of many companies and the laying off of staff – either
permanently or temporarily. We have not as yet seen the full impact of this pandemic on the economies of the global south.  As Ramesh Thakur puts it:

The poor countries, including India, are at risk of getting the worst of both worlds: failure to check the epidemic and failure to check economic collapse. Why? First because of lack of state capacity, they lack the administrations and health systems to implement and enforce ‘test, isolate, treat and trace’ regimes. What exactly does social distancing in conditions of the sprawling Dharavi slum in Mumbai mean? Second, the dominance of the informal sectors and extreme dependence on daily wages to keep families afloat mean that economic disasters will deepen the misery of millions and multiply illnesses and deaths.[3]

It is important, therefore, that new economic thinking focuses attention on ways to revitalise sustainable economic activity in the South as well as in the industrialised North. It would be very reactionary to reassert old economic models in a post Covid-19 world.  States and peoples have to think boldly about new economic systems for the 21st century. In the global north, for example, as people are allowed to resume normal economic activity, there will be some big changes.  Online shopping will probably expand and more remote working will become permanent.  Because of all the robust economic packages that have been put in place by governments anxious not to generate total economic collapse, it will be very
difficult for states to argue for a return to an old neo-liberal agenda based on small government and economic austerity. This crisis has demonstrated that budgetary decisions to cut back on the welfare state to balance the budget are a political and ideological choice not economic necessity.  There is no reason, for example, why notions of a Universal Basic
Income cannot be contemplated since many states have already guaranteed something equivalent to tide people over the crisis. Let’s work to ensure that the economic systems that flow out of this crisis have social welfare at their heart rather than the wellbeing of the major corporations.

Fourth, it is vital to build on the revitalisation of community and social solidarity (that has emerged in response to the virus) to ensure the development of resilient and robust social institutions.  When the crisis is over, it’s important that politicians and peoples do not forget that the people who got us through this calamity are the essential service workers, the front line health professionals, and all the often
ignored and unrecognised people who are critical to maintaining the fabric of modern urban living. It’s not the tycoons and celebrities who are getting us through; it’s checkout counter operators, doctors, nurses, plumbers etc. This, therefore, is a chance for us to reassess who we are rewarding with high salaries and why. But most of all, it’s important to build on the resilience of the family and household unit as the cornerstone of sustainable community. This means going with the grain of locality and making sure that neighbourhoods, towns and cities are more self-reliant, more sustainable and more sensitive to the needs of all rather than the needs of a few.

Finally, it is vital that autocratically inclined leaders do not use this pandemic to put in place permanent emergency authoritarian powers. There is evidence of this
happening in Hungary, Poland, Israel and Brazil. The pandemic is a wakeup call to all of us to revitalise democratic institutions, promote equality under the rule of law and to devise mechanisms that will generate higher levels of political capacity and
probably a more central role for the state in economic direction decision making.  This centralisation of power should, however, be accompanied by higher levels of participation in political decision making. This crisis should be used to transform politics in a progressive direction everywhere so that everyone has womb to tomb security, with free education for all and health systems that will meet whatever
challenges the 21st century throws at us.

So, while this pandemic is creating fear, chaos and anxiety (including disrupting our Toda office work and programme) it is a unique opportunity for new visions, and  new opportunities to build a world that is more empathetic, more equal, less fearful, less polluted and more in tune with, rather than opposed to, nature. This is a moment of creative possibility. Let’s work to ensure that what emerges from this crisis is a world fit for the rest of this challenging century.

The Author

Kevin P. Clements is Director of Toda Peace Institute. He is the Foundation Chair of Peace and Conflict Studies and former Director of the New Zealand National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (NCPACS) at the University of Otago, New Zealand. For several years, he served as Secretary General of the International Peace Research Association (IPRA), President of the IPRA Foundation and Secretary General for IPRA’s Asia-Pacific region (APPRA). He was also Secretary General of International Alert, London, Lynch Professor and Director of Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution (ICAR) at George Mason University, and Head of the Peace Research Centre at Australian National University. He has been a regular consultant to a variety of non-governmental, governmental and intergovernmental organisations on conflict resolution, peacebuilding, disarmament and arms control, and Human Security issues. Dr. Clements received the New Zealand Peace Foundation’s 2014 Peace Award.





[1] Brundtland, G. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future.

[2] Guterres, Antonio (2020).  Statement by the U.N. Secretary General, 23 March 2020.

[3] Thakur, R.  Personal correspondence, 21 April 2020.

Posted in Active Citzenry, Covid 19, Global Civic Culture, global economic challenge, Human Security, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quaker Contributions to building a Culture of Peace in an Unpeaceful world

The United Nations’ (UN) International Day of Peace has been  celebrated on September 21 each year (since 1981)to recognize the efforts of those who have worked hard to end conflict and promote peace. This year many people’s and nations marked the day with nationwide appeals to governments to see climate change as a major existential threat to humanity and as a major source of conflict  in the future.


When we (a group of London Based Civil Society Organisations and the UN)  were thinking about how to  make International Peace Day more than just a talk fest, we focused on the idea of personal and political ceasefires for one day,  to enable the delivery of humanitarian and medical assistance to  people living in war zones.


This  idea  of delivering humanitarian  and medical assistance on the 21st September   has been realised in a number of different conflicts  The reality, is, however, that there will not be lasting stable peace anywhere until we accord more weight to cultures of peace than cultures of militarism and war . This requires each  one of us working to ensure that each day of the year is a peace day. The  promotion of harmony  and non-violent resolution of conflict has to become deeply ingrained in each of us for this to happen.


One religious group that has made a vocational commitment to peace for over 350 years is the Religious Society of Friends, Quakers. They have something to teach us as we grapple with current global turbulence.


Their peace testimony as articulated by  Margaret Fell in a letter to  King Charles II  stated that

“We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love, and unity; it is our desire that others’ feet may walk in the same, and do deny and bear our testimony against all strife, and wars.”

This 17th century  Peace Testimony is exactly what is needed in a world  of autocratic, atavistic nationalism. The commitment to peace, love and unity   flows from the Quaker belief that there is ‘That of God in everyone’ . This simple belief generates a   need to respect and honour “the other “ irrespective of ethnicity, creed,  and divergent values and beliefs.   But more particularly it has resulted in a refusal to bear arms or  take part in military service over the years.  Many Quakers,  have  conscientiously objected to war through the years and have either been imprisoned for their beliefs or been  given permission to develop  medical and humanitarian assistance to all side of the conflict. ( e.g The Friend’s Ambulance Units of the First and Second World Wars) . This silent witness has made important contributions to  civil liberties -the right to dissent on grounds of conscience-  and has generated  an alternative to those who say that war is the only way to solve global problems.

Quakers recognise  that there are evils that need to be resisted, however, and choose to do so through non violent rather than violent action. They were early supporters , for example, of the Gandhian Independence movement in India, the Civil Rights Movements in the US and  in  non violent resistence to oppressive rule everywhere.

The peace testimony has also been harnessed to help victims of wars and conflicts  in a totally non partisan fashion.  Quakers have been deeply involved in providing relief and rehabilitation to victims of violence everywhere and have done  so systematically ever since the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and in every major conflict since. They were honoured for their relief work  with a Nobel Prize in 1947.

Quakers have also realised, however the centrality of developing activities that are aimed at the prevention of conflict. During the cold war, for example, the Quaker Conferences for diplomats  brought together diplomats from across  the East -West divide for  meetings aimed at  looking at national interests in the context of international responsibilities. This track 1.5 diplomacy was enormously helpful in clarifying perceptions and for creating confidence and mutual understanding between warring parties. It  was estimated that  10% of the world’s diplomatic community met each other under Quaker-sponsored auspices in the 1970s. These off the record meetings provided  diplomats and experts with  opportunities to discuss issues, weaken stereotypes, and have their concerns heard.  The Quaker position in this work was defined as  ‘balanced partiality’. Participants in these meetings knew that Quakers would  not take sides but   seek to help everyone equally out of the impasse and the violence.

In recent years more attention has been given to peace education and to building cultures and institutions of peace, capable of providing  alternatives to cultures and institutions of war,militarism, masculinity and patriarchy. These programmes have been aimed at providing individuals and groups with strategies and techniques for the addressing aggressive and violent attitudes at the inter-personal, intergroup and international levels.

If New Zealand wishes to keep burnishing its peace credentials it is vital that  our leaders  intentionally and deliberately  promote a culture of peace at the UN and in all bilateral and multilateral diplomacy. The government also needs  to ensure that the  causes of war; inequality, exclusion, marginalisation, humiliation and nationalism are replaced with more positive values and programmes that promote  multilateralism, sustainable  and inclusive development and global order under agreed rules.  Quakers have quietly promoted these ideas over the years. It is vital that their testimonies of peace, simplicity, equality and   environmental sustainability  come into the mainstream  as viable alternatives to 21st century pathologies.

Posted in Aid and development, Conciliation, Conflict Resolution, Conflict Transformation, Love and Mutuality, Nobel Peace prize, Nonviolence, Pacifism, Pacifist, Quakers | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Observing the International Day Against Nuclear Tests.

The International  Day Against Nuclear Tests -29th August 2020

Kevin P Clements

Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies,

University of Otago





As Albert Einstein said  “ A nuclear war can never be won and must never be fought”. Its vital that every generation accepts this piece of sage advice, especially when political leaders are once again contemplating whether nuclear weapons have any tactical military utility .  Most nuclear experts agree, that we will never be totally  safe from nuclear weapons  until are all totally abolished . This is because   their presence anywhere is destabilising , deterrence theory  has been exposed  as a cpnstant danger since there is some probability that they will beused either accidentally or intentionally and the theory collapses . But more  importantly  it is now widely agreed by nuclear scientists that  any exchange of nuclear weapons anywhere in the world  would  be directly and  indirectly devastating, through the nuclear winter that would  follow.


This is why the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW was adopted two years ago. There is  no  nuclear safety without nuclear abolition. New Zealand played a critical role on the negotiation of this Treaty and  has both signed and ratified its provisions.


This Treaty  will only have an impact , however, if all nuclear powers sign it and  renounce their  arsenals. In addition  would be proliferators like Iran and Saudi Arabia  need to  be persuaded never to develop them. One small step in this direction would be for all states to  agree not to develop and certainly not to test nuclear weapons.


Since nuclear weapons testing began on 16 July 1945, 2,065 nuclear tests  have taken place. In the early days of nuclear testing little consideration was given to its devastating effects on human life and e dangers of nuclear fallout from atmospheric tests. We now know  the tragic consequences of  such testing especially when atmospheric conditions went wrong .  The  radiation effects  of all atmospheric tests  generated  higher incidences of cancer and genetic mutations in all places that hosted them..  New Zealanders remember well the impact of all the French, American and British Testing in the Pacific. We were able to observe the glow from larger hydrogen bomb tests in the Pacific from New Zealand and   levels of caesium and   strontium 90 rose all over the country.  Our servicemen  and women who observed the British tests  have suffered the harmful consequences ever since.

On 2 December 2009, the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 29 August to be the International Day against Nuclear Tests by unanimously adopting resolution 64/35. This resolution calls for increasing awareness and education “about the effects of nuclear weapon test explosions or any other nuclear explosions and the need for their cessation as one of the means of achieving the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” The resolution was initiated by the Republic of Kazakhstan, together with a large number of sponsors and cosponsors with a view to commemorating the closure of the Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test site on 29 August 1991.

Its particularly vital that we focus some attention on this day  in 2019  as the President of the United States  is asking  whether “small tactical   nuclear weapons might be used in warfare” . In  the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review he  set aside funding for the modernisation and miniaturisation of nuclear arsenals which would require both laboratory and field testing of  such weapons.

As  we observe  this day against nuclear tests. It is important to remind ourselves that there  already exists  an international instrument to put an end to all forms of nuclear testing. It  is the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT). New Zealand and many other countries spent a lot of time negotiating this treaty and put  in place rigorous verification measures to ensure that it was complied with. Unfortunately, despite NZ ( and like minded country) efforts   to get this treaty signed and ratified by the nuclear powers, this has not happened and  it  has yet to enter into force.

As the Secretary-General  of the UN recognized in his disarmament agenda “Securing our Common Future” in  24 May 2018, the norm against testing is   a measure that serves both disarmament and non-proliferation objectives. By constraining the development of advanced new types of nuclear weapons, the CTBT puts a brake on the arms race. It also serves as a powerful normative barrier against potential States that might seek to develop, manufacture and subsequently acquire nuclear weapons in violation of their non-proliferation commitments. Because of this it is critical to continue pushing   all  remaining States whose ratifications are required for the CTBT   to sign the Treaty at an early date   and to accelerate the completion of their ratification processes.

We are living in dangerous times. The international arms control and disarmament agenda is unravelling. The United States  has just pulled out of the INF Treaty and has tested a new Cruise Missile. The ABM Treaty has ended and if the United States does not agree  to an extension of the New Start Treaty there will be no bilateral or multilateral  constraints on the development or deployment  of nuclear weapons. The forthcoming NPT Review Conference looks as though it might end in failure  and if the norm against proliferation weakens,  all sorts of countries might try and develop such weapons to improve their bargaining power  in the international community.

All of this means that at  minimum we need to bring the CTBT into force and at maximum  we need to shame the nuclear powers into signing on to the Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons. The weapons  generate fear and have no military or political utility . We will only be truly safe when all 17,000 such weapons have been abolished and when all countries renounce their current arsenals and commit to not testing new weapons  in modernisation programmes.

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Love and Terror in the Third Reich:A Tale of Broken Integrity

I Launched Peter Matheson and Heinke Somer Matheson’s book ,

Love and Terror in the Third Reich:A Tale of broken Integrity

2019 Cascade Books Oregon

on Friday the 24th May .
Its a disarming book that documents the love, faith ,national socialism and war of two ordinary Germans during the 1930s. This is what I said about it at the launch.

Launch of Peter Matheson and Heinke Sommer-Matheson’s book

Love and terror in the Third Reich : A Tale of Broken Integrity.2019
Cascade Books, Eugene Oregon.

Kevin P Clements

• After the lovely cello music I am inclined to suggest that we stay silent. The world is in greater need of music and silence at this time than text and words. But I have been asked to say a few words about the evolution of this book and its meaning to me.
• In the first place, it is a book that has been a long time in gestation and there were many anguished conversations between Peter and Heinke about whether or not it was appropriate for them to publish such intimate letters which were never intended for public consumption. I am and you should all be deeply relieved that, in the end, they did decide to publish so my first task is to give thanks to Heinke and Peter for their labour of Love which revealed a deep love between Lilo and Ernst (Heinke’s parents) as well as insights into the meaning of life for an ordinary German family caught up in the global struggle between fascism, communism, and the western democratic project.
• Second, this box, which held Lilo and Ernst’s letters accompanied Lilo for her entire life. It was a material reminder of and the repository for her love, her marriage, and the war. The letters were the outward and visible reminder of a lively , sensual, spiritual and political relationship that gave birth to Heinke and Hartmut who were the living results of this union.
• I wish that my father had been as attentive to memory and history as Lilo. When my mother died and my father was about to remarry he went into our garden to our incinerator and burned all my mothers letters to him and his letters to her. This was a record of their war and their separation but it was also a window into their relationship and how each endured the pain of separation and death. My mother had a breakdown when her favourite brother was killed in Libya. These letters would have given me and my siblings insight into their relationship just as Lilo and Ernst’s enabled Heinke and Hartmut to understand the father that neither of them new. My father’s destruction of these letters meant that neither I nor any of my siblings would ever know anything about our parents love and care for one another, what they felt about or how they survived the war, their separation, traumas, breakdowns and eventual reunification.
• We are very fortunate that Lilo Sommer, Heinke’s mother chose differently. She preserved this extraordinary treasure trove of letters that form the basis of this book. They not only document the deep love between Lilo and her husband Ernst they help all of us understand a tumultuous moment in time from 1935-1942 .
• They do this not through the eyes of political leaders or military commanders but through the eyes of ordinary middle class well educated Germans who managed to combine their love for each other with deep religious faith and an enthusiastic and willing embrace of Hitler and Nazi ideology. Lilo saw Hitler Face to Face when dressed in the uniform of the Landjahr. Ernst was thrilled to be an infantry flag bearer at a Nuremburg rally.
• In Ernst’s case his religious faith and belief in National Socialism were mutually reinforcing. This is as it has been for millennia. God is always invoked by one side against the other in war .God, in the form of military chaplains and bishops blessed British tanks and on the other side the very same God gave succor and support to German soldiers as they occupied most of Europe. Lilo’s was also in a swoon to all that National Socialism had given them and initially had a strong belief in Hitler’s ability to ensure that past German humiliations would be redeemed in German dominance of Europe and the world. Quote from Lilo on page 16.
• But the war itself tested their love, their political commitment and their sense of all that made life decent and worthwhile. This was particularly so for Lilo but Ernst too had moments of doubt even as he declared his willingness to sacrifice himself for the country to defeat Bolshevism and the British. Ernst’s quote p44
• Heinke and Peter have blended these love letters into a political and military narrative that enables us to contextiualise the mundane , the ordinary and the everyday with the architechtonic themes of the mid 20th century. They weave discussions of fascism, and war with deep mutual concern on the part of both Lilo and Ernst for their beloved Heinke and her brother Hartmut.
• It’s a book that proceeds swiftly to its inevitable conclusion, the death of Ernst, his brother Hans and Lilo’s brother Dieter It is a book that also addresses the death of all the lofty ideals of 1930s fascism; the death of a marriage –the post death continuity of love- the survival and flourishing of two lovely children who carve out their own identities in a post war world with only the dimmest understanding of their father under the care of a mother whose life was challenged by the war that she had initially believed in.
• So what are some of the deeper themes that come through this volume.?
• In the first place, the letters which start out so hopefully are contradicted and challenged by the ultimate futility of the Second World War, or for that matter any war, to solve political, economic and social problems . War is organized slaughter.These letters are a testimony to the foolishness and destructiveness of state sponsored and legitimated , organized murder. The scars and pain that Lilo had to live with after the war were reproduced in the families of millions of others. There were 20 million Russians who suffered pain, loss, and death and more than 60 million people overall lost their lives in this conflict. The grief and anxiety so poignantly reflected in these letters and book were reproduced millions of times across the world. They weren’t often talked about but they created the traumatic base for the post war world.
• The second theme that came through was that of displacement. War displaces people, Lilo returned to her parents, Ernst was frog marched through Poland to the Russian front. But the displacement is more than physical, it is mental, emotional, familial, religious and existential. These dislocations create profound existential angst . It is displacement that enables military commanders and dictators to control the population by promising order to a totally chaotic world. These letters, therefore wer an effort to grapple with displacement by reminding Ernst and Lilo of their home and its safety and security.While there was much chaos, however, we have to pay a huge compliment to the efficiency of the German Military postal system which miraculously preserved all these letters which enable us to understand what dislocation and chaos meant to all those who were dislocated.
• The third theme which flows from the first is the way in which war displacement and separation generates an aching loneliness on the part of those who are left behind and by those who are fighting . Or in my father and mother’s case a loneliness generated by conscientious objection to war, separation, and the loneliness of dissent in patriotic environments. Whether the separation was at home ( as in my parent’s case) or abroad as in Lilo and Ernst’s the separated have to endure the tedium, alienation, estrangement, and constant danger of war alone. Lilo’s displacement to her parent’s home and anxiety about Ernst ,meant that she felt that she was “hanging between the tree and the bark” she was anxious,depressed, and felt completely incapacitated by forces beyond her control. Like some worrying illness, war confronts us all with our own mortality and reminds us that we are born into the world alone and will leave it alone. What makes this aloneness, loneliness bearable are those who assuage it by their love, presence, care and compassion. For Lilo and Ernst as for all who fight it was the love of spouses, lovers, families, comrades in arms that enabled them to deal with their loneliness. But essentially war reminds us of the fact that we are all inexorably marching to our deaths with a variety of religious and political banners ( of greater or lesser value) to sustain us.
• The fourth theme that came through the book was the power of belief (whether religious or political) to overcome rational comprehension of the parlous state that both found themselves in. It was religious faith and belief in the fatherland that sustained Ernst. I’m not so sure that this was totally sustaining to Lilo but she believed in the healing power of love, family, duty, and work. They both yearned for Christmas, for music, for walking in nature, for each other and these beliefs nurtured them through good times and bad. Their beliefs, however, are a reminder to all of us that what we believe, what we imagine, what we hope for enable us to BE in the face of all the forces challenging our being. Heinke and Hartmun’s return to the Russian battleground of their father and their search for his grave ( which was unsuccessful) gave them both a material sense of where he spent his last days. They brought back soil and apples from this place to Lilo so that she too had some material reminder of where her dreams were extinguished.
• The fifth theme that came through was the way in which ideology can blind us to what is happening around us . In the end Lilo was more skeptical of Nazi ideology than Ernst , but both were wiling to suspend their critical consciousness in pursuit of a “noble” cause which retrospectively turned out to be quite ignoble. The surprising element of the letters, however, is that both Ernst and Lilo were in their own ways decent, loving, caring and compassionate human beings trapped in a war and in a system that was exactly the opposite.
• The final theme that comes through has to do with whether or not we are currently living ( in 2019) in a world that is the equivalent of 1935 in Germany. We are confronted by some huge problems that will require the imagination of the whole world to address and resolve them. Yet people are scared and are looking for simplistic and utopian solutions. These forces of autocratic populism are generating a willingness to cede personal responsibility to leaders on metaphorical white horses. The challenge of the letters and this book is whether those of us who seek to preserve our own kith and kin in the face of life threatening forces are also willing to stand against the tide and not defer to the neo fascist equivalents of those who reigned supreme in 1935. If we remain passive by standers to autocratic impulse, hate speech, intolerance we will undoubtedly find ourselves supporting the 21st century equivalent of the Reich with all that this will mean in terms of nightmares instead of dreams , truncated love instead of love fulfilled and a disposition to violence that has even less place in the 21st century than it did in the middle of the 20th. So this is a love story for the 20th century that is also a morality tale for the 21st.
• I thank Lilo and Ernst for writing these letters and for Lilo preserving them. I want to reiterate my thanks to Heinke and Peter being “stubborn” enough to translate them and to weave them into a meaningful narrative. I hereby launch the book and urge you all to buy a copy.

Posted in # Honouring the War Dead by abolishing War, Building Peaceful Community, Costs of Violence and War, Pacifism, Patriotism, Russia, Uncategorized, Violence | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Submission to the Arms Amendment Bill Select Committee-New Zealand Parliament.

Submission to the Select Committee on the 2019 Arms Amendment Bill.

Professor Kevin P Clements,
National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Otago.

My name is Kevin P Clements, I am the Foundation Director and Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago. I have been a strong advocate for tighter controls of Military Style Semi Automatic Weapons and Assault weapons ever since I returned to New Zealand from Australia in January 2009. Having seen how Prime Minister John Howard, after the Port Arthur Massacre, courageously and resolutely banned the ownership and use of such weapons in Australia, I have always had difficulty understanding why successive New Zealand Governments have lacked the political will to do the same. In particular,following the mass shootings at Aramoana and the extraordinarily prescient findings of Judge Thomas Thorp, (in his comprehensive review of New Zealand’s Gun Laws in 1997), it distresses me that it took the Christchurch massacre to galvanise the political will necessary to take action.
Although I deeply regret the circumstances that prompted this Amendment Bill, however, I warmly welcome the fact that, this time, Parliament has united across party divisions to back the banning of these weapons and the magazines and parts that enable lower capacity semi-automatic weapons to be turned into military style semi-automatics capable of generating mass murder. Banning this entire category of weapons is significant and will go a long way to ensuring that events such as the Christchurch massacres will not happen again. Removing the 24,584 MSSA’s and assault rifles that are owned by licensed owners, and therefore known to the Police, will be a major first step in reducing the total amount of lethal capacity in the community. Locating illegally held MSSA’s and assault rifles will be more problematic but hopefully there are enough provisions in this Bill and in existing law for the police to engage in search, discovery and retrieval of weapons held illegally by either licensed or unlicensed gun owners. It is important that this legislation reduces the exemptions for possessing such weapons.
Although the proposed legislation specifically exempts pistols ( In the Purpose of the Bill) I think that this needs to be reconsidered . Even though pistols are not likely to be used for mass murder on the Christchurch scale they are lethal and capable of killing significant numbers of people in close proximity. It is currently possible, for example to go to Gun City and buy a 50 round barrel magazine,attach it to a Glock pistol and have a weapon that is just as lethal as a semi automatic rifle. I think it is highly desirable that pistols continue to be restricted and as many as possible taken out of circulation as well.
Although it is not written into this amendment bill, if New Zealand had a Register of Weapons and who owned them the current Amnesty and Buy Back proposal would be much easier to implement and monitor. It should be relatively easy to identify owners with E category licenses but will be more problematic for A category license holders who have turned some of their current weapons into semi-automatics. In any event, because there are fewer such weapons here in NZ than there were in Australia, I do not expect that the cost of the New Zealand Buy Back programme will be anywhere near the cost of the Australian Programme. If my hunch is right it would be highly desirable for some of the savings from this programme to be expended on developing a NZ register of firearms and their owners.
It is disconcerting that those of us interested in this field are still working on Judge Thorp’s 1997 estimates of 700,000-1 million firearms . Current estimates of the total numbers of firearms in New Zealand’s civilian armoury range between 1.5 to 1.7 million or even 4 million if air rifles are included. If we are really going to get control over guns in New Zealand it is vital that we develop a comprehensive data base of the numbers and types of weapons that each licensed gun owner owns. Without this information we have no idea how many guns each licensed (or unlicensed) gun owner actually owns. With such a register the police ( or some designated independent authority) would be able to identify individuals who were amassing weapons and developing arsenals. The establishment of a comprehensive register to supplement the current firearms licencing system should also record the make, type, calibre and serial number of firearms including ownership and the transfer of ownership from point of sale.I know that this is something that is being foreshadowed as a second phase of this tightened gun control legislation but I would strongly urge the Committee and the House to couple these two agendas as soon as possible.
This tragic event also highlights the fact that we need to direct more attention to the supply side of the gun problem in New Zealand. There are very active gun retailers in New Zealand who import a wide variety of weapons to satisfy the interests and needs of the 248,000 licensed gun owners and others who are just interested in guns . There is a very thriving market for weapons in New Zealand. Gun City in Christchurch , for example, had a turnover of $20 million last year. The New Zealand Customs Service listed 69,621 shotguns and 171,787 rifles or a total of 241,408 firearms imported between 2008 to 2016. If air rifles are added, to this figure, the total number is 474,847 weapons imported during this 8 year period. If we keep importing weapons at the rate of nearly half a million every 8 years and we have an estimated 1.5 million weapons now New Zealand will have approximately 2.5 million weapons in civilian hands by 2035. This is a totally unacceptable number for a population of 4+ million and 248,000 licensed gun owners. I would hope, therefore, that there be some investigation on the Police capacity to do adequate checks on owners and dealer licenses and the appropriateness of the orders being made. I think it is also highly desirable that instead of gun licences being issued for a ten year period that they be issued for 5 years at a time and that more stringent reviews are put in place for their renewal.
For the record, I should like to add that my interest in tighter gun control is aimed at moving “easy lethality” from the hands of those who own weapons developed and intended for military use, i.e weapons that are primarily focused on homicidal capacity. I do not wish to restrict hunters, farmers or sporting rifle enthusiasts who have legitimate gun licenses and appropriate weapons for these purposes. The fact is, however, that reputable, peer-reviewed research studies show that easy access to weapons around the world does result in higher levels of homicide, suicide, hospitalisation and accidental death. New Zealand’s relatively low level of homicide by guns is because we are a small society with strong normative conventions and laws against murder. But as the Christchurch massacre demonstrated the availability of weapons is critical to those intent on mass murder. Our high suicide rates would also be reduced if guns were less readily available and accessible.
Finally, I would like to applaud the Government and Opposition Parties for finally implementing one of the central Thorp report recommendations. I hope that the amnesty and buy back is successful in eliminating these weapons from our shores . I also hope that we can make progress towards a register of all weapons in New Zealand and who owns them. This is critical to understanding what weapons are where and who might be plotting mayhem. Finally I very much hope that more attention might be directed towards the supply side of this problem with government attention being given to the stimulation of demand by gun importers and retailers with the result that we are expanding our civilian arsenal of weapons without detailed knowledge of where these weapons eventually end up.

Posted in #NZ Politics, Banning MSSA's and Assault Weapons, Christchurch Massacre, Gun Control Legislation in NZ, Gun Register, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Psychopathology and Politics: Attack Syria to divert attention at home.

Psychopathology and Politics: Attack Syria to divert attention at home.

Kevin P Clements

National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies,

University of Otago

Donald J Trump poses major problems to world order. His administration is unraveling, he has no coherent foreign or domestic policy strategy and the Mueller enquiry is beginning to expose serious criminal activity on the part of the President and his close associates. As a consequence, Trump, is showing signs of personal as well as political unraveling. He is exhibiting classic symptoms of too many stress hormones in his body which is having a major impact on his hipppocampal and frontal lobe functioning. As a result, Trump is experiencing confusion, has difficulty concentrating, trouble learning new information, and is experiencing major problems with his decision-making. This was noted first in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” and most recently in James Comey’s new book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”

Trump’s decision to launch a missile strike against Chemical Weapons’s facilities in Syria owes more to personal and cognitive stress than political or military calculation. It is a classic diversionary tactic aimed more at boosting popularity and deflecting attention from Trump’s domestic political woes rather than addressing ways of bringing the Syrian Civil War to a conclusion. It was an impulsive high risk strategy and the fig leaf of approval from Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron does little to give it either Alliance or United Nations legitimacy.


Without peace in Syria the prospect of dealing with Assad’s chemical weapons or his gross violations of human rights are very slim indeed. The US, UK and French interventions will impede a negotiated solution to the Syrian Civil War and they do little or nothing to deal with Bashar Assad’s gross violations of Human Rights and other mass atrocities which continue to this day. The message from yesterday’s strike against the chemical weapons plants is that Assad is free to keep killing his people by any non-chemical means.


President Trump   and his Secretary of Defence have said that the strike was to enforce international laws and norms regarding the use of chemical weapons. This justification seems hollow when no Trump administration officials have articulated how these strikes fit into a larger Syrian diplomatic and military strategy.


The risks of this military intervention remain high. The Russians, Syrians and the Iranians are now all united against the United States and its allies; we are witnessing the beginning of a new cold war and the prospects for negotiated solutions to the Civil War in Syria and peace in the Middle East seem even more remote now than before the strikes began.


This is a big challenge to the whole world. We are all affected by the behavior of a man who has demonstrated his singular unsuitability for any political office and whose actions have implications for global peace and stability.
How do those of us who are not American citizens, deal with   psychopathology at the heart of the US government? In the first place we must work with American individuals and organizations who are as worried about this action as we are.


There are some hopeful signs. Democratic Senator Tim Kaine, for example, called Trump’s decision “reckless” and “illegal”, and expressed concern that the action might embolden Mr Trump to bomb Iran or North Korea. Senators Chris Murphy and Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee and Jerry Nadler, have called the attack “unconstitutional, illegal and destructive” and demanded congressional authority for any war making, and an investment in diplomacy instead of missile strikes. There was disquiet in the president’s own party, also, as Republican Congressman Thomas Massie called it “unconstitutional.”


Second , we need to focus on real solutions to alleviate the terrible suffering of the Syrian people. There are 3.2 million people within Syria in need of direct humanitarian assistance. There are millions more who remain as refugees in Turkey and other parts of Europe. Most importantly, we need to take the issues of chemical weapons and a negotiated peace in Syria back to the United Nations where it belongs.


Third, Americans and the rest of the world have to work out ways in which we can both monitor and resist the hawkish policies of Mike Pompeo ( about to be confirmed as the new Secretary of State) and John Bolton the new National Security Advisor. They will encourage Trump’s impulsiveness and desire to distract attention from domestic and personal issues with reckless foreign policy adventures that will do nothing to maintain American security or build global peace.

I hope that the American people mobilise to ensure that this illegal and unilateral decision to attack chemical weapons facilities is challenged and contained. But more importantly, I hope that more attention will be given in the US and the rest of the world to the development of rational Middle East and global foreign policy positions so that the unilateral use of force and co-ercive diplomacy is resisted .


I also hope that there are some wise heads in or near the White House who might suggest that the President take some time off to seek professional help for his serious personal pathology which, if left unchecked, will have negative consequences not only for his administration and the well being of America but the peace of the whole world.

Posted in Alternatives to Violence in the Middle East, Donald J Trump, Psychopathology and Politics, Syria, The UNited States | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

New Zealand evenly split

Mmm, its the morning after the election and it was not the result that I had predicted for Labour . The final result was National: 46% / 58 seats; Labour 35.8% / 45 seats; NZ First 7.5% / 9 seats; Greens 5.9% / 7 seats; ACT 0.5% / 1 seat. As you can see there is a small majority for Labour, Greens and New Zealand First which may get larger after Special Votes are counted. but the National Party will have first nibs on who they go into coalition with. I can’t believe that my compatriots were so nervous about the future that they decided to stick with a party that has failed to deliver on housing , the environment, poverty, education and health. Although I would have liked Labour to have been a tad more radical and bold they were operating within a constrained environment as well…. Oh dear, there is still a slim chance that Labour, the Greens and NZ First could stitch together a working coalition.If they don’t manage to do so Jacinda is the leader of Labour for the next 3 years and has a chance to utilise all her new team talent to begin thinking more deeply about a bright new future for the party and the country and to ensure that they are not put on the back foot by tax proposals etc. The Maori Party was decisively defeated by Labour who won all the Maori seats. The challenge will be how to satisfy all the multiple needs of the large Maori Caucus within Labour since there are few policy levers than can be pulled from the opposition benches. It was a stimulating election campaign. People were energised by politics in a way that I have not seen for a while. The polls in NZ, unlike in most other parts of the world ,were surprisingly accurate. The campaign itself was civil ,non violent and generally respectful. Bill English is a decent human being and has now committed himself to an eradication of child poverty and a new focus on the environment. So we have to keep him honest if he becomes PM. Jacinda Adern is a wonderful human being -with heaps of intelligence, social and political empathy and charisma. So all is not lost . The sun came up this morning as it always does. We are all still alive for which we can be grateful. I was shocked, yesterday, by the appalling conditions of many of the houses that I was sent to doornock at in South Dunedin. There are very deep chasms between rich and poor in Dunedin. I felt as though I was knocking on the doors of people who were living on the edge all the time. As one woman said to me” I am so overwhelmed by living that I have no energy to vote”. These are the people who will not be encouraged by last night’s election result. They are the voiceless, the impoverished, the battlers who are trapped in deep cycles of deprivation. Unless their needs are attended to the election will indeed be quite epiphenomonal.!

Posted in New Zealand, New Zealand election 2017, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Dear America


Dear America and Americans

There are only 9 days before Donald J Trump is inaugurated as the 45th President of the USA. This is a prospect that appalls most New Zealanders as it does millions of others all around the world.

We had no say and no vote in the election so can only watch this tragedy unfold   as mute bystanders.

Although we are separated from this event by 7,000 miles ( the distance between Wellington and Washington)   we “Kiwis “ have a deep sense of dread and foreboding about what is going to happen after the event.

I can’t remember a time when I have felt so uneasy about   a Presidential inauguration. The early signs do not augur well. Trump’s administration choices have been uniformly disastrous. The incoming President is more concerned with Celebrity Apprentice Ratings and his spat with Meryl Streep than with any policy dilemma. Like a mafia don he has surrounded himself with cronies and family rather than people who are knowledgeable about any of the big issues that are afflicting the US or the world.

He seems intent on destruction instead of construction, on chaos rather than stability, on hate politics rather than the politics of inclusion. His personal life, thin skin  and extreme narcissist personality make him temperamentally incapable for prudent, altruistic decision making.

His inauguration will confer legitimacy on someone who has forfeited the right to legitimacy. Someone who has not paid taxes in the last twenty years cannot expect others to do so. Someone who has never experienced war or been willing to listen to those who have should not be given the status of commander in chief. Someone who believes in the death penalty for political opponents and torture for the enemies of the United States should not be given any legitimacy. Someone who has to be persuaded of the benefits of intelligence has no intelligence.

So what do we do on the other side of the world? How can we sleep easy when the portents are all negative? What confidence do we have that American checks and balances will be able to check and balance this totally unpredictable maverick? What do we do when decades of nuanced diplomacy are undermined by off the cuff tweets or intemperate utterance? How do we protect those Trump wishes to make vulnerable and how do we resist all that which needs to be resisted?

We look forward to some answers so that our days are not blighted by the dark shadow of this appalling President in waiting !!

Posted in Dirty Politics, Dominatory Politics, Donald J Trump, Presidential Inauguration, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Civilised communities will be judged by how well they serve the interests of the weak and disabled-Reflections on the Sagamahira Tragedy.

I am deeply saddened and disturbed by Satoshi Uematsu’s murder of nineteen residents at a care centre for people with mental disabilities in the Japanese city of Sagamihara.
I am, with this, sending love and deepest condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives in this appalling tragedy.
What saddens and worries me particularly, however, is that Uematsu sent letters to politicians in February in which he threatened to kill hundreds of disabled people to advance his goal of “a world in which the severely disabled can be euthanised, with their guardians’ consent, if they are unable to live at home and be active in society.”

In addition to this being an indication of severe mental illness it also echoes Nazi and other eugenic programmes in the 1930s and 1940s in which the disabled were to be eliminated alongside Jews, Roma Gypsies, socialists, homosexuals etc.
The statement is, to some extent, a perverse extension of the xenophobic nationalism that is afflicting too many parts of the world at the moment. A purification of the race and a removal of disability or moral stain is a twisted extension of extreme patriotism.
These brutal killings have shocked Japan.Civilised nations will be judged not by how well they treat the powerful and the wealthy but by  how they treat the weakest and the poorest. Japan  has excellent facilities for aged and disabled care. But there are many like Uematsu  who feel shame at disability, failure,  and inadequacy. He pathologically acted on this  anxiety.

As our grandchildren said “There is far too much violence these days” This is absolutely true . Every day we wake to reports of a bomb here, mass murder there, barrel bombing in Syria, violence in Kashmir…. the list goes on… violence everywhere has to be delegitimised, condemned, prevented or transformed. And this needs to start with political leaders eschewing violent rhetoric, hate speech, and the creation of permissive environments within which murder is normalised.

Posted in Civilisation, Eugenics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Erdogan has Erred Again


Erdogan has Erred Again

Kevin P Clements

Military Coups  challenge the rule of law and basic democratic  rights. But Counter Coups (especially those led by someone as ruthless and oppressive as Erdogan)  are often  more damaging because they  generate  states of emergency ( which often last a long time)  and justify higher levels of state repression than the original coup. This seems to have been the  case in Turkey over the past three days.  Erdogan had already undermined  Turkish democracy before the coup  by repressing and bullying  his political opponents and  endeavouring to eliminate  Kurdish opposition  violently.

But it looks as though he  has taken his  “normal” repressive tactics  to even higher limits  with  his most recent moves.  Some 60,000 bureaucrats, soldiers, policemen, prosecutors and academic staff have come under the government’s spotlight, many of them facing detention or suspension over alleged links to the Gülenist movement and the coup plotters.

On the 21st July his government then  imposed a work travel ban on academics and called  Turkish academics abroad back to Turkey.  All  1,577 deans of public and private universities in Turkey submitted their resignations at the government’s urging. This came after 20,000 teachers and administrators were suspended from their jobs as a result of the coup, along with 6,000 soldiers and more than 2,700 judges and prosecutors, and dozens of senior generals accused of involvement in the coup.

The scale of the crackdown is unprecedented and Turkey , under Erdogan , is rapidly losing any right to become a member of the European Union and is forfeiting its claim to be a democracy.

In addition to  trying to close down academic  and official dissent, Erdogan and his followers wish to reintroduce the death penalty so that many political opponents can be eliminated permanently.

All of these actions  are creating ripe conditions for either a civil war in Turkey or an opening for  the conflicts in Syria and Iraq to spill over the borders.  These are extremely dangerous times and the global community must urge  prudence ;  the reactivation  and reopening of Universities and Schools;  the independence of the Turkish Judiciary and the reopening of   space for legitimate dissent. If these things don’t happen  soon  our worst Turkish nightmares might become a reality.

Posted in #Ottoman Empire, #Turkey, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment