Comparing civil-military responses to the COVID crisis - observations for the future

Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk


The COVID crisis has had significant impacts on the health and wider security of both our nations and the global community. All governments mobilised their national resources in support of their crisis response, including their armed forces. At the same time, it was necessary to continue essential military tasks in order to prevent the health crisis becoming a wider security crisis. This paper summarises our comparison of military activities during the COVID response between selected countries in order to identify lessons for national resilience.
Our typology is structured into 4 high-level groupings: maintaining military capability; protecting the health of the armed forces and beneficiaries of military health systems; generic military assistance to the national health system response; specific military assistance to the national health and social care response. Using this, we reviewed the descriptions of the military contribution to the COVID response that were collated in the analyses listed in the references for the following countries: UK, France, Spain, USA, Sweden, Brazil, Canada, Estonia, Denmark, Slovenia, Australia, Latvia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Pakistan.
Our results show some activities were almost universal between countries: impact on military activities, technical advice to the executive, health communication, COVID testing and vaccination for beneficiaries, military liaison and embedded personnel to crisis management, repatriation of citizens, movement of materiel, support to COVID testing, support to vaccination, support to medical evacuation, personnel augmentation to civilian hospitals. There was a noticeable difference between countries for other activities: environmental decontamination, border security, internal security, medical research, out-of-hospital support to communities, use of field hospitals, use of hospital ships, use of temporary medical facilities. These differences may be attributed to: the overall size of the armed forces (USA, Pakistan and Brazil are the largest in this sample), the responsibility for care of non-military beneficiaries within the military health system versus the wider public health systems (e.g. UK, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark have a public health system for universal healthcare), the presence of military hospitals (e.g. UK, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark do not have military hospitals), the use of the armed forces for internal security operations and restriction of movement (e.g. France, Denmark, Spain, Brazil, South Africa, Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Nigeria).
In conclusion:
• Our typology covered all military activities in support of the national response to the COVID crisis in the countries studied and allowed comparisons between countries to identify common activities and significant differences.
• This analysis identifies key military capabilities that might be further developed as part of a country’s mitigation of future threats to health security.
• This analysis identifies significant differences between countries that might inform choices for further investment to mitigate future threats to health security.
Period8 Sept 2022
Event titleInternational Committee of Military Medicine World Congress of Military Medicine
Event typeConference
LocationBrussels, BelgiumShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational