SUE WAREHAM. Healthcare Not Warfare

Australia should support the UN Secretary General’s call for a global ceasefire. There are steps that our nation could take in the very short term and beyond to prioritise healthcare over warfare. We are spending vast sums on equipping ourselves for the next war while our frontline health workers struggle to find enough face masks to protect themselves and others. As even greater health threats loom, this is unsustainable.

The recent appeal for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic, by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, should be strongly supported. Guterres stated, “Our world faces a common enemy: COVID-19. The virus does not care about nationality or ethnicity, faction or faith…The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war.”

Wars not only destroy health directly, but they also destroy healthcare systems, facilities and health workers. War-ravaged communities are ill-placed to manage public health crises.

Healthcare not warfare must be our goal, now and in the post-COVID world. This pandemic has shown that cooperation rather than confrontation to address our common threats is possible.

Below are 6 steps that Australia could readily take to help achieve health for all.


Despite the devastating impacts on civilian people of the “war on terror”, Australia still has approximately 600 ADF personnel deployed in the Middle East region (including Afghanistan). In addition, on 13 January this year, nearly 200 personnel aboard the frigate HMAS Toowoomba left Australia for the Strait of Hormuz adjacent to Iran.

On 23 March, Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said that, in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19, non-essential personnel would move to Australia’s main logistics base in the Middle East. However it is time for Australia’s involvement in these disastrous wars to end.

War is expensive. Australia’s military budget for 2019-2020 is $38.7 billion, which is nearly $106 million every day. The war in Afghanistan has cost Australia approximately $10 billion thus far. The wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have cost the US $6.4 trillion.


Current Australian policy is to make money from increasing our arms exports overseas. In January 2018 then PM Malcolm Turnbull announced a $3.8 billion fund for this purpose.

In the past 2 years, Australia has exported arms to nations that are ravaged by armed violence or are contributing to war-induced humanitarian disasters. These include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mali, Sudan, Somalia and the Central African Republic.

With our economic interests vested in war, Australia has little incentive to work for peace.


Economic sanctions can have a severe impact on the delivery of healthcare for civilian populations. Currently in Iran, embargoes on medical aid are disrupting the nation’s response to the COVID disaster. For the people of Gaza, the long-standing blockade by Israel restricts their access to essential resources such as healthcare equipment and medication.

Such obstructions to the delivery of health care should be lifted immediately, and Australia must do all that is possible to achieve this outcome.


Australia spends just 0.23% of our GDP on overseas aid, which is far short of the UN target of 0.7% of GDP, and the lowest level ever in our nation’s 60-year history of using aid to tackle poverty.

Yemen is just one example of the countries that have suffered from Australia’s disappearing aid budget. Australia has spent more on promoting our military exports to the coalition bombing Yemen than it has on humanitarian aid to the people of Yemen. Like war-ravaged countries everywhere, Yemen is particularly vulnerable to the COVID pandemic.


Concerns are emerging that the insecurities and fear that are being felt globally will lead to escalating tensions and collapse of the fragile systems of international cooperation that exist. It is imperative that international cooperation, not confrontation, be strengthened if current and even larger threats that humans collectively face are to be addressed.

However, over the last quarter century, the proportion of total Commonwealth spending allocated to Australia’s outreach to other nations via diplomacy has fallen by 42%, from 0.38% of Commonwealth spending in 1995-96 to 0.22% in 2018-19. The Department of Foreign Affairs has been starved of funds, at the same time as Australian military expenditure has been rapidly escalating.

These priorities must be reversed.


Urgent preventive action is needed to address the two greatest threats to human health and survival – nuclear weapons and climate change. Measures to address both are available but have been largely shunned by the Australian government. Warnings by health professionals and others (see, for example, and ) must finally be heeded, just as the warnings and advice of health professionals on COVID have by and large been heeded.

However there is a 7th step that Australia could take in support of health for all, which underpins all of the above. It is an explicit endorsement of healthcare over warfare.


Australia is spending over$200 billionover the decade to 2028-29, over and above the annual defence budget, on military hardware. Our “security” is defined in terms of our capacity to go to war, and far less attention is paid to threats that can’t be bombed or shot at. The notion of “human security” is marginalised. As we spend upwards of $80 billion on new submarines (and $225 billion over their lifetime), our frontline health workers are struggling to find enough face masks to protect themselves and others against a deadly virus.

Along with such staggering military expenditures, the Defence Department has clearly stated its intention to take a leading role in shaping STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education in Australia, in close collaboration with the arms industry – those who profit from wars.

As ecosystems on which we depend collapse around us, infectious disease reasserts its capacity for harm on a global scale, and medical advice consistently warns of bigger threats ahead, such priorities are unsustainable. If we are to achieve health for all, then the goal of Healthcare not Warfare must be explicitly affirmed, and the resources committed to achieving it.

This is not simply a matter of more hospital beds and health workers. It would involve also a close examination of the many factors that impede good health, such as poverty, homelessness, unemployment, pollution in all its forms, and a growing sense of anxiety about global risks ahead. It would also involve urgent action to address the ultimate threats to our health – nuclear weapons and climate change, before it is too late.

The first step is to prioritise healthcare over warfare. The UN Secretary General’s reminder of the folly of war is an extremely good step in this direction.

Dr Sue Wareham OAM is President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War.


Sue Wareham has spoken and written widely on peace and disarmament issues. She is President of the Medical Association for Prevention of War (Australia) , a board member of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and a board member of ICAN (the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) Australia. Dr Wareham is a former Canberra GP.

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11 Responses to SUE WAREHAM. Healthcare Not Warfare

  1. Avatar Michael Flynn says:

    Thank you Dr Wareham for your wise plea for a better world. You are an international treasure and give me hope that together we can work for our survival. As a Canberran I ask myself what we can do in the ACT to make your advice urgent. I am more @ home !

  2. A terrific article with positive changes that if made would transform Australia as an independent and peaceful nation.

  3. What a vital article – there can never be “health” in our world in any true meaning of that when so-called advanced nations continue with the delusion that war and state-sanctioned murder and violence are a legitimate response to social injustices.
    I also deeply appreciate the comments, perhaps particularly Hal Duell who correctly points to an extreme lack of intelligence in Canberra’s (mainstream politicians on both sides) continuing their deadly “romance” with wars. This is described/analysed by James Hillman in his book, “A Terrible Love of War”. And that ‘terrible love” – a social psychosis – is itself given life by the very real censorship on anti-war arguments in the mainstream media.
    Sue’s arguments should be familiar, should be in newspapers with mass circulation, should be discussed on 7.30, Q and A, The Drum…etc etc. But won’t be. What we can do is promote this article widely. I will.

  4. Avatar Andrew Glikson says:

    As governments are trying to do what they can to slow down the pandemic, they keep burning and exporting fossil fuels which are bound to kill orders of magnitude more people than the virus ever can.
    As stated by Hansen (2012): “ Burning all fossil fuels would create a different planet than the one that humanity knows. “

  5. Avatar Andrew Glikson says:

    Double standards prevail.
    If national governments invested as much in protecting the health and life of their citizens as they invest in bombing and killing people in other countries, it would have been a different world.

  6. Avatar Rex Williams says:


    Your six points listed are valid and worthy of serious attention and the comments by Hal Duell add to them very well indeed.

    Your article would have the support of many millions in this far too often feeble country, a shadow of its former self and which, by hanging on the warlike coat tails of the disreputable and hegemonic USA, has become what it is now, a country that we all know will give little support or any consideration at all to any of these six valid points above.
    But it is indeed very pleasing to see such rational thinking displayed for all to read.

    We have been content to allow apathy to reign over common sense and decent values, reflected as it is in the voting patterns of this country, almost emulating the rather distasteful selection confronting the America voters later in this year. We see both lookalike parties that allow the crime against Julian Assange to be ignored on the direction of the USA; perhaps $70 billion to be spent on outdated submarines; Australians to be still on the ground after US failures in hegemonic pursuits in the middle east and accepting of a culture of China-bashing against the economic interests of our budget, threatening our very financial future. We produce nothing of great value, allow our farms and assets to be taken over daily with an Australian dollar engineered downwards by the Reserve Bank for “foreign investment” reasons; we tolerate the unacceptable influences of religion in matters that fly in the face of secular government and vote into our parliament such a poor overall quality of representatives like never before in our history. But worst of all, we suffer under the influence of American social media with their ambitious aims to control all news everywhere and distasteful media organisations which fail to even mention the American CIA, their control of the heroin trade in the world and why they are really in Afghanistan, as an example. Not a whisper.

    Our values are now shot to hell.

    One can only dream of a country we could have been had we not endured 160 years as the errand boy for the UK before their loss of empire, only then to become the doormat for perhaps the greatest criminal empire in history, the USA, doing their bidding, year in, year out.

    One day perhaps, Sue Wareham, we may have a country that the Australian people and the rest of the world can respect, but certainly not in my lifetime. Good ideas, like those listed today in your writing, are always exciting to read. If we could encourage another 150 like-minded Australians to promote your message, no country in the world would be better respected or more successful in every way.

    But……..out of 25 million, where are they?

  7. Avatar Richard Barnes says:

    Thanks Sue, eloquently put.
    $200 billion on new military hardware over the coming decade; of which the bulk will go on subs that will be obsolescent on arrival, and for which we won’t find crews; and the F-35 joint strike fighter which the test pilots affectionately call “the little turd”.
    Remind me how much the government has just committed to spend to keep the economy going – was it perhaps $200 billion?
    Gosh, I wonder if, given the chance, the people of Australia might jump at the chance to cancel the purchases and thus cancel the debt!

  8. Avatar Jim Kable says:

    Hal Duell and Teow Loon Ti have already responded with things I wanted to say about Sue Wareham’s Charter for a new kind of Australia. I recall standing in front of the Parliament House 18 months ago – having welcomed the ICAN Nobel Peace Prize to Canberra – and then marched – led by a former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs – Robert Tickner – from the Lake. Addressed by Dr Wareham (and Anthony Albanese – not then Leader of the Opposition, Tim Rollo of the Greens, Sue Hasseldine from Ceduna (Kokatha representative to the UN earlier) – and among the sizeable crowd present – Peter Garrett – among other luminaries – including Bennie Zable, too.

    I want to add an immediate cancellation of all WMD/etc contracts with the US – and the submarines – with France. Multi-billions released for setting up (again) our manufacturing industries to employ lots of Australians – for helping the government in its future “debt repayment” given its assistance to so many vulnerable citizens in these times. And bring home our troops still in dangerous deployments – who should never have been sent in the first place – had our politicians not had their arms twisted by the US and its corporate heavies! And let’s close up Pine Gap and North-West Cape and the rotation base in Darwin – let’s free ourselves of the selfishness and me-first advocacy of the Trumpian US.

  9. Great thoughtful article, Sue Wareham.

  10. Avatar Teow Loon Ti says:

    Dr Wareham,

    Your lovely article felt like a lifeline to someone like me who is currently drowning in despair at the manner in which certain world leaders and some media organisations have been handling the pandemic. The callous manner in which we invent enemies, externalise blame, perpetrate hatred and suspicion, plunder natural resources, overconsume and pollute the world with our wastes, all towards a selfish end, makes me fearful the type of world that we will be handing over to the next generation.

    Thank you.

    Teow Loon Ti

  11. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    I think we have to ask ourselves what sort of leadership we have in Australia when a heartfelt and eminently sensible appeal such as this will likely either be utterly ignored, or elicit at best a tepid response.
    I have heard no mummerings of descent to the absolute obscenity of maintaining sanctions on countries during this current global health crisis. And who in Canberra seems even remotely willing to end our romance with forever wars?
    Instead we have a PM willing to close Parliament, to lead by press conference, to seemingly acquiesce in Julian Assange probably becoming another death in custody, and an Opposition presenting as nothing more serious than a rerun of archival Dad and Dave footage.
    I don’t know if we deserve better, but we sure as hell need better.

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