Special Commentary: COVID-19

SSI research professors and faculty consider the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term, strategic implications for the U.S. Army and national security.  Each essay provides an independent, specialized view on a particular aspect of the challenges posed by COVID-19 and includes recommendations on how the Army and DoD should address those issues.

"Brazil, once heralded as an example to follow when it came to promoting global equality in health-care access, especially with the outbreak of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, today is diplomatically isolated as the pandemic rages due to the country’s lack of infrastructure, reduced credibility, and uneven leadership. The federal government’s handling of the pandemic has done much to injure Brazil’s international stature in the field of health."

"The strategic shock of COVID provides senior defense leadership with an opportune break from business as usual and a relatively brief window of opportunity for fundamentally re-imagining a more hypercompetitive strategy in the post-COVID environment."

"[A]s easy as it may be to propose a shift to reserve component structure to save money, there are serious national security decisions that must be made prior to doing so. America is in the throes of two crises, one from a virus and another with its roots in prejudice and racial injustice.…Despite all the glib prognostications about the future, the Army of tomorrow will look more like today's than many imagine."

Tell Me How This Ends: The US Army in the Pandemic Era
US Army Heritage and Education Center Historical Services Division

Prepared by:
Conrad C. Crane, PhD: Chief, Historical Svcs. Div.
Michael E. Lynch, PhD: Senior Historian
Jessica J. Sheets, PhD: Research Historian
Douglas I. Bell, PhD: Postdoctoral Fellow
Shane P. Reilly: Contract Research Analyst

"The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare several long-dormant vulnerabilities, and opportunities, associated with US national security and military business practices. Military leaders must consider political context when making resource prioritization decisions that attend to these new perspectives."

"The COVID-19 pandemic will have profound and enduring negative effects on Latin America and the Caribbean, significantly impacting the security, interests, and strategic position of the United States. Department of Defense and other US senior leaders should begin planning now to mitigate or manage the consequences."

"The contagion-crime nexus has been overshadowed by the urgent need to combat the spread of the virus. Nonetheless, COVID-19 is acting as an amplifier for crime and conflict that will have repercussions in the international security environment in the near and long term."

"[T]he COVID-19 pandemic may prove a pivotal moment but not simply because of reduced funding for military expenditures or increased vulnerability to pandemics. Diminishing external security threats, due in some part to the effects of the virus, coupled with increasing demand to assure human well-being both in the United States and abroad, could lead to a rethinking of the military's role in American society."

"The future will require the Army to operate efficiently in its marketing and recruiting efforts to get the right people in its ranks, regardless of the future size of the force. The COVID-19 pandemic and its numerous effects on the economy may alleviate the challenge posed by a declining target population, but many challenges remain."

"These new compound threats are nearly impossible to contain and especially so by traditional means. They are transnational and transregional, with the potential for metastasizing into big compound 'contagion events' (including compound wars) with potential for big global-wide disruptions. These are the hard lessons of COVID-19."

"The immediate challenges of dealing with the monumental health and economic challenges posed by COVID-19 will add to the troubles of a region already burdened by multiple civil wars, poorly performing economies, growing civil discontent, and intensified sectarian divisions."

"Across the Indo-Pacific region, as COVID-19 containment turns more aggressively to COVID-19 recovery, the United States could turn the crisis in its favor. Doing so will require recognizing the needs of Indo-Pacific countries and opting to make the necessary investments to derive long-term benefit."

"Sadly, we do not anticipate DOD or the US government is applying substantial analytic or planning effort to these well-known hazards. Treating emergent future outcomes related to them (and like trends) as unknowable 'black swans' is strategic malpractice."

"Eventually the current crisis will subside but the United States and its Army will not simply return to the way things were before. The pandemic has unleashed great change within the United States and the global security environment, accelerating forces that will, in combination, be revolutionary."

"[I]f we examine how the countries that were affected by SARS and other epidemics responded post-peak, one of the obvious conclusions is that those countries did not shed their interest in statecraft or national defense as traditionally conceived."

"Military decision-making, however, has always been as much, if not more, art than science. Making judgments and taking risks is not a hazard of the military profession, it is the requirement."

"[W]hile the United States could use a global public relations boost, the wrong moves right now include reducing or discontinuing current levels of assistance, or increasing direct assistance, especially in areas where US intentions are often misunderstood, mistrusted, or easily portrayed as malign."

Of Interest