Since the World Health Organization(WHO) declared coronavirus outbreak a worldwide pandemic on March 11, countless articles have been dedicated to its economic, political, social, cultural impacts, not to mention the global implications for health.
It is rather peculiar that its potential repercussions in the realm of defence and security have not yet been satisfactorily addressed.
Nobody can deny that this pandemic will certainly have effects in the short to long term on security and defence nationwide as well as on a global basis.
It is high time to start initial elaboration of possible consequences of that outbreak in terms of developing future defence plans given the magnitude of the challenge we all face.
Almost all Allied countries have initiated measures to protect the health of their troops within their borders and deployed elsewhere throughout the world.
Some countries have taken decisions to terminate military activities, particularly exercises, or to downsize their scale and scope to reduce the risks associated with the pandemic. For instance, Exercise Defender Europe 2020 had to be modified in terms of participants in the wake of novel coronavirus outbreak.
Those precautions are for the short term but will have further and deeper impact on the medium to long term measures that are necessary.
Under such circumstances NATO will have to chart a new course and seriously consider taking harsh decisions for its existing concepts, doctrines, principles, guidelines etc. in the event of such pandemics which might break out in the future.
Despite opposing arguments being elaborated, it would be prudent to revisit the readiness of forces operating under pandemic conditions. In that respect, the decisions on readiness taken since the Wales Summit in 2014 should be reviewed with a view to introducing necessary adjustments to the current standard operating procedures, concepts and doctrines. This will prove inevitable.
Efforts should be immediately deployed to develop a Counter Pandemics Concept to govern future military activities in different formats, certainly including, but not limited to exercises.
The spread of the novel corona virus could be likened to cyber security. Neither recognizes borders and both are contagious. The models developed on enhancing cyber security may be a source of inspiration in the fight against pandemics.
The Alliance should consider to establish Deployable Pandemics Response Teams without delay and introduce it into its strategic, operational and tactical plans.
Another area of interest for NATO is the future of military mobility against the backdrop of pandemics. The Alliance has been focusing on this concept in recent years and tested it of late in some exercises. Given the constraints directly impeding mobility in the wake of a global outbreak of a contagion, NATO planners should start developing a layered approach toward mobility maybe taking their cue from the model of Ballistic Missile Defense. They could introduce ‘posture based’ structure delineating different steps at different stages of a challenging pandemic. The possibility of how to act in the face of a regional outbreak should not be ruled out.
MEDEVAC methods by air, sea, and land should also be introduced in case a pandemic breaks out, thus presenting a risk for deployed forces. NATO’s medical evacuation assets should also be put to the use of civilians to the maximum extent possible. There should be renewed cooperation with the private sector to this effect. A ‘business model’ serving this objective should be elaborated.
Medical stocks of Allies for emergency situations need to be closely monitored and expanded to meet urgent requirements in the case of a pandemic.
Certain percentage of medical staff- a nucleus- to be designated for NATO activities should be trained to work under pandemics conditions just like those trained for NBCR contingencies.
A Contingency Plan dedicated to pandemics should be developed without delay.
It would not be a surprise if the Alliance starts exchanging views on whether it would be feasible to meet the target set out by the Defence Investment Pledge (DIP) related to allocating 2% of GDP to defence by 2024.
Allies will have to apportion exorbitant budgetary means to eradicate the pandemic plaguing their citizens in the foreseeable future. Priority number one for all Allies will not be to increase the defence budgets, but to cater for the economic, social and sanitary needs of their citizens.
Under those circumstances NATO should reflect on the future of the DIP and consider either extending its target year beyond 2024 or formulate a more realistic pledge reflecting the realities of the day.
There should be efforts within the budgetary bodies of the Alliance to adapt the military and civil budgets of NATO which would make them stay tuned to the ongoing pandemic challenge. Prioritisation will be necessary when running those budgets in realistic terms.
The issue in that respect should not be introducing cuts, but reprioritise the disposable financial resources, where necessary .
Finally, although it may seem premature under present circumstances, NATO should closely monitor the best practices in the fight against pandemics and incorporate the necessary lessons into its work and practices.
The Alliance should be seen by Allied populations as one of the instruments to be leveraged in such harrowing times, and NATO should take action without delay to continue to provide the security of its Allies’ populations as well as its troops against pandemics challenges.