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PRISM-19 (January 2022)
By | Jan. 20, 2022

PRISM-19
PRISM-19
PRISM-19
Photo By: NDU
VIRIN: 220120-D-BD104-1001

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most globally disruptive event since the terrorist attack against the United States in 2001. Originating in China in late 2019 the disease rapidly spread throughout the international transportation network to every region and every country. Neither its velocity nor its magnitude were initially understood. In 2020 the entire world seemed to come to a standstill. International and even domestic travel came to an abrupt halt. Normally teeming cities were silenced. Streets, markets, and even schools were empty.

The gravity of the pandemic was perceived differently in different countries, and at different times, and the subsequent disruption uneven. Each country responded in a unique way, though general response patterns are discernable. Importantly the pandemic revealed significant vulnerabilities caused by the juxtaposition of private sector globalization in the context of national governance. That is what this special issue of PRISM is about; the different perceptions and reactions to COVID-19 as people and governments experienced the disease, and their diverse understanding of its implications for national and international security.

It is now widely accepted that the COVID-19 virus emerged in Wuhan, China, where the first clusters appeared in December 2019, though some Chinese authorities have promulgated other theories using a global information campaign to cast blame elsewhere. According to a report of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Intelligence Council based on information as of August 2021 the source of the virus was most likely either human-animal exposure, or a laboratory-associated incident. Sadly, the government of the Peoples Republic of China has not cooperated or been open with the international community regarding the origin of the disease, resulting in regrettable confusion and opacity. The U.S. intelligence community (IC) believes we will never have certainty regarding the origins of the disease without that open cooperation; the IC does assess however that “China did not develop SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) as a biological weapon.”

Chinese authorities first alerted the World Health Organization of unexplained pneumonia cases on December 31, 2019. By January 20, 2020, COVID-19 had spread from China to Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. By February 15 at least 28 countries, including the United States, most of Western Europe, India, and Australia had reported cases. By March 25, nearly every country in the world had reported cases. As the velocity of the virus’ spread was under-estimated, so was the gravity and longevity of the pandemic. Already by mid-February 2020 the COVID-19 death toll had surpassed the total toll from the 2003 SARS epidemic. Yet, as late as March-April 2020 many continued planning their summer vacations assuming the contagion would be arrested within a few months. That was not the case; international tourism arrivals declined 74 percent from 2019 to 2020. Domestic air travel declined 50 percent worldwide. Retail essentially closed down for months.

The recession caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic far exceeds that of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and is in fact the deepest since World War II, with a contraction of 3.5 percent in the global economy. The hospitality and travel industries were among the worst hit, but retail, manufacturing, as well as a wide range of services were decimated as well. Unemployment spiked in many countries, and the nature of employment underwent drastic changes as many chose to work from home, or even not to work at all. The economic impact however has been uneven with some countries descending deeply into economic distress while others recovered more rapidly and robustly.

National responses varied from country to country as did the progress of the disease itself. Most governments imposed restrictions on travel and assembly; drastic restrictions in some cases. In Asia, Singapore and Taiwan were quite strict in their counter-pandemic measures, a strategy that resulted in a manageable experience and relatively low infection and casualty rates. Some argue that is due to a greater sense of community-well-being in these populations, possibly coupled with experience from previous epidemics. In Europe Sweden adopted an iconoclastically laissez-faire position, imposing only minimal restrictions in hopes of reaching early herd immunity; a strategy that was widely questioned as the disease took a far greater toll in Sweden than in its Scandinavian neighbors Denmark and Norway, both of which were more restrictive. The United States was slow to appreciate the severity of the pandemic, with Presidential leadership giving ambiguous signals, both declaring a national emergency while claiming that the disease was no more dangerous than the common flu. The United States did take the global lead in developing effective vaccines with an ambitious, public-private partnership entitled Operation Warp Speed facilitating and accelerating the manufacture and distribution of vaccines, which became available in early 2021—a record-breaking pace for pharmaceutical development. Nations competed fiercely, first for access to adequate doses of the vaccines, then later for generosity points gained by donating their excess to countries in need.

As of this writing—nearly two years since the onset of the COVID-19—there have been 247,664,151 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 221 countries and territories, with over 5 million fatalities. The United States has suffered the most fatalities—746K—followed by Brazil (608K), India (458K), and Mexico (288K). And the pandemic is not by any means contained with 4,611 deaths worldwide on October 23, 2021. This issue of PRISM was written over a period from November 2020 through August 2021: its insights and observations reflect the views of the diverse authors from eleven countries, based on information available at the time. Each knew as they wrote that by the time their articles were published, the course of the pandemic would have already moved on. Until COVID-19 is a distant memory that would have been the case regardless of which month the articles were written or published. Nevertheless, they wrote, and PRISM is publishing these narrative images of the global pandemic beginning in Wuhan, China, in 2019, from their unique perspectives, to contribute to a better understanding of how our nations behave, sometimes together but often separately in response to a global calamity. We hope to learn how people throughout the world see their national and the international security environment in light of the COVID-19 experience. And we hope to learn how we must adapt, and how we must better prepare our individual countries and our global system in anticipation of future global disruption. PRISM

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PRISM, NDU’s journal of complex operations, promotes informed discourse among national and international security professionals concerning our complex global security environment and whole-of-community efforts to meet longstanding and emerging challenges.


Welcome to the New Abnormal
By Michael Miklaucic and Amit Gupta | Jan. 20, 2022

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Michael Miklaucic is a Senior Fellow at National Defense University and the Editor-in-Chief of PRISM. Dr. Amit Gupta is an Associate Professor at the Department of International Security Studies, U.S. Air War College.

Image by santoelia for Shutterstock, ID: 1697738131
Image by santoelia for Shutterstock, ID: 1697738131
Image by santoelia for Shutterstock, ID: 1697738131
Image by santoelia for Shutterstock, ID: 1697738131
Image by santoelia for Shutterstock, ID: 1697738131
Photo By: santoelia
VIRIN: 220112-D-BD104-1001

The COVID-19 pandemic is the most globally disruptive event since the terrorist attack against the United States in 2001. Originating in China in late 2019 the disease rapidly spread throughout the international transportation network to every region and every country. Neither its velocity nor its magnitude were initially understood. In 2020 the entire world seemed to come to a standstill. International and even domestic travel came to an abrupt halt. Normally teeming cities were silenced. Streets, markets, and even schools were empty.

The gravity of the pandemic was perceived differently in different countries, and at different times, and the subsequent disruption uneven. Each country responded in a unique way, though general response patterns are discernable. Importantly the pandemic revealed significant vulnerabilities caused by the juxtaposition of private sector globalization in the context of national governance. That is what this special issue of PRISM is about; the different perceptions and reactions to COVID-19 as people and governments experienced the disease, and their diverse understanding of its implications for national and international security.

It is now widely accepted that the COVID-19 virus emerged in Wuhan, China, where the first clusters appeared in December 2019, though some Chinese authorities have promulgated other theories using a global information campaign to cast blame elsewhere. According to a report of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Intelligence Council based on information as of August 2021 the source of the virus was most likely either human-animal exposure, or a laboratory-associated incident. Sadly, the government of the Peoples Republic of China has not cooperated or been open with the international community regarding the origin of the disease, resulting in regrettable confusion and opacity. The U.S. intelligence community (IC) believes we will never have certainty regarding the origins of the disease without that open cooperation; the IC does assess however that “China did not develop SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) as a biological weapon.”

Chinese authorities first alerted the World Health Organization of unexplained pneumonia cases on December 31, 2019. By January 20, 2020, COVID-19 had spread from China to Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. By February 15 at least 28 countries, including the United States, most of Western Europe, India, and Australia had reported cases. By March 25, nearly every country in the world had reported cases. As the velocity of the virus’ spread was under-estimated, so was the gravity and longevity of the pandemic. Already by mid-February 2020 the COVID-19 death toll had surpassed the total toll from the 2003 SARS epidemic. Yet, as late as March-April 2020 many continued planning their summer vacations assuming the contagion would be arrested within a few months. That was not the case; international tourism arrivals declined 74 percent from 2019 to 2020. Domestic air travel declined 50 percent worldwide. Retail essentially closed down for months.

The recession caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic far exceeds that of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, and is in fact the deepest since World War II, with a contraction of 3.5 percent in the global economy. The hospitality and travel industries were among the worst hit, but retail, manufacturing, as well as a wide range of services were decimated as well. Unemployment spiked in many countries, and the nature of employment underwent drastic changes as many chose to work from home, or even not to work at all. The economic impact however has been uneven with some countries descending deeply into economic distress while others recovered more rapidly and robustly.

National responses varied from country to country as did the progress of the disease itself. Most governments imposed restrictions on travel and assembly; drastic restrictions in some cases. In Asia, Singapore and Taiwan were quite strict in their counter-pandemic measures, a strategy that resulted in a manageable experience and relatively low infection and casualty rates. Some argue that is due to a greater sense of community-well-being in these populations, possibly coupled with experience from previous epidemics. In Europe Sweden adopted an iconoclastically laissez-faire position, imposing only minimal restrictions in hopes of reaching early herd immunity; a strategy that was widely questioned as the disease took a far greater toll in Sweden than in its Scandinavian neighbors Denmark and Norway, both of which were more restrictive. The United States was slow to appreciate the severity of the pandemic, with Presidential leadership giving ambiguous signals, both declaring a national emergency while claiming that the disease was no more dangerous than the common flu. The United States did take the global lead in developing effective vaccines with an ambitious, public-private partnership entitled Operation Warp Speed facilitating and accelerating the manufacture and distribution of vaccines, which became available in early 2021—a record-breaking pace for pharmaceutical development. Nations competed fiercely, first for access to adequate doses of the vaccines, then later for generosity points gained by donating their excess to countries in need.

As of this writing—nearly two years since the onset of the COVID-19—there have been 247,664,151 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 221 countries and territories, with over 5 million fatalities. The United States has suffered the most fatalities—746K—followed by Brazil (608K), India (458K), and Mexico (288K). And the pandemic is not by any means contained with 4,611 deaths worldwide on October 23, 2021. This issue of PRISM was written over a period from November 2020 through August 2021: its insights and observations reflect the views of the diverse authors from eleven countries, based on information available at the time. Each knew as they wrote that by the time their articles were published, the course of the pandemic would have already moved on. Until COVID-19 is a distant memory that would have been the case regardless of which month the articles were written or published. Nevertheless, they wrote, and PRISM is publishing these narrative images of the global pandemic beginning in Wuhan, China, in 2019, from their unique perspectives, to contribute to a better understanding of how our nations behave, sometimes together but often separately in response to a global calamity. We hope to learn how people throughout the world see their national and the international security environment in light of the COVID-19 experience. And we hope to learn how we must adapt, and how we must better prepare our individual countries and our global system in anticipation of future global disruption. PRISM


Reality Injection: Beyond Masks and Quarantine The True Cost of COVID-19
By Eric D. Achtmann, Raquel Bono, Anita Goel, Margaret A. Hanson-Muse, and Steven M. Jones | Jan. 20, 2022

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Eric D. Achtmann is a McKinsey Senior Advisor, Expert Advisor to the European Commission, Founding member of Meggitt plc’s Technical Advisory Board, Board Member of Celdara Medical LLC, Javelin Oncology Inc., TargetArm Inc., and VeriTX Inc., as well as a US Air Force AFWERX Mentor. Vice Adm. Dr. Raquel Bono, MD (USN Ret.) is the Chief Medical Officer for Viking cruise lines and previously Washington State’s lead for pandemic response and is the former director of the Defense Health Agency. Dr. Anita Goel, MD, PhD is a Harvard-MIT-trained Physicist-Physician, a globally recognized leader in the emerging field of nanobiophysics—a new science at the convergence of physics, nanotechnology, and biomedicine. Ms. Margaret A. Hanson-Muse is a second generation Senior Foreign Service Officer, currently serving as the Department of Commerce Chair at the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy at the National Defense University, Washington, DC.. Dr. Steven M. Jones, PhD is a public health scientist and executive. He was an inventor of the world’s first Ebola vaccine, member of the team that discovered SARS-CoV, and a WHO and Interpol advisor for outbreak response and bioterrorism.

Thousands of small American flags honor the 200,000+ COVID-19 deaths to date in the United States. Washington, DC.
(covidmemorialproject, September 23, 2020. Photo by TJ Brown)
Thousands of small American flags honor the 200,000+ COVID-19 deaths to date in the United States. Washington, DC. (covidmemorialproject, September 23, 2020. Photo by TJ Brown)
Thousands of small American flags honor the 200,000+ COVID-19 deaths to date in the United States. Washington, DC.
(covidmemorialproject, September 23, 2020. Photo by TJ Brown)
Thousands of small American flags honor the 200,000+ COVID-19 deaths to date in the United States. Washington, DC. (covidmemorialproject, September 23, 2020. Photo by TJ Brown)
Thousands of small American flags honor the 200,000+ COVID-19 deaths to date in the United States. Washington, DC. (covidmemorialproject, September 23, 2020. Photo by TJ Brown)
Photo By: TJ Brown
VIRIN: 220112-D-BD104-1002

COVID-19 has had a profound economic and social impact on America, taking over a half million lives—more than all American deaths in World War I, World War II, and Vietnam, combined.1 This article seeks to examine primary and secondary consequences of the pandemic in practical terms for the average citizen and taxpayer, whose personal exposure exceeds 2.5 years of net income based on predictions of a $16 to $35 trillion cost to the nation by 2025. Further, we offer insight into the pandemic’s collateral effects on our citizens and workforce (including often overlooked key stakeholders such as women, children, and minorities), as well as more overt aspects of our national security.

History will measure the pandemic’s tragic and overwhelming impact on the world—and our country—in terms of infections, hospitalizations, vaccinations, and deaths. Yet, as COVID-19 extends our quasi-lockdown into its 18th month, we are scarcely beginning to comprehend its profound economic impact. A December 2020 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report estimates Americans’ costs at nearly $16 trillioni or double its May 2020 projections.2 To a layperson, $16 trillion is the wealth of 16 million millionaires or $110k for each U.S. taxpayer. Analysts expect this number to reach $35 trillion by 20253—a sum that easily exceeds the initiatives Congress has fought over for yearsii. Another study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association reached a similar conclusion. “About half of the price tag, $8.6 trillion (about $26,000 per person in the United States), is driven by the long-term health implications and costs for those who contract COVID-19, as well as the statistical estimates for the loss of life.”4 Robert Frost’s words aptly depict society’s effort to overcome the pandemic’s effects, “…miles to go before [we] sleep.”

The stock market crash of 1929, in hindsight a predictable occurrence, unleashed a 10-year Great Depression. Likewise, the COVID-19 contagion, an equally predictable event, portends a similar trend. Long term, it compels society to address its socio-economic impact, acknowledge its lack of preparedness, and formulate a realistic action plan for protection against this and future pandemics, as well as potential biowarfare attacks. A similar event is inevitable, whether through malfeasance, rapidly increasing population density, environmental stress, biowarfare attack, or simply bad luck. So is society’s realization of two things: our economy and civilization will struggle to survive another pandemic in the near term, and that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” While one can theoretically shut down the engines and glide a plane to safety in an emergency, there is no substitute for proper planning, operations, and maintenance. Society needs a more proactive and anticipatory approach to national and global security, biodefense, and pandemic prevention and mitigation.5 Leaders need a strategy that leverages the resources of both the public and private sectors, as well as academic and individual initiative. Failure to do this is not an option—it is too costly and could lead to the collapse of entire economies and societies.

COVID-19 Impacts Us All—Directly and Indirectly

As of the time of this writing, the total U.S. COVID-19-related hospitalizations and deaths have reached ~880k and ~515k,6 respectively, with infections nearing 29m cumulatively and ~41k daily. The situation is clearly serious. Of these, ~8k people are currently in the ICU and ~3k on ventilators.7 Presuming there is a family (e.g., in quarantine or, worse, mourning) for every COVID-19 hospital admission, the impact affects ~2 million members.8 The number of indirectly affected families, friends, and co-workers is far more significant. As in war, we count the dead yet often forget the other casualties. Metaphorically speaking, carrying each “wounded soldier” requires at least two people, clearly indicating that COVID-19’s impact on our socio-economical foundation is profound. Consequently, and for a country that prides itself on “never leaving anyone behind,” the notion that “the COVID-19 response is exaggerated since only older people are affected” is myopic and runs counter to our most profound national and human values. Regardless of who lands in the hospital, given that COVID-19-related hospitalizations cost ~$73k and the total direct COVID-19 hospital bill has eclipsed $40 billion and continues to rise, the healthy, the sick, and future generations will all bear the pandemic’s costs.

At the epidemic’s peak, hospital outpatient services declined nearly 60 percent, meaning that for every 100 Americans requiring medical care, 60 experienced a delay in their care. Imagine a family member needing more complex care (e.g., cancer) when earlier, preventative care would have been curative. Yet to be determined is the cost of treating chronic conditions that have worsened, progressed due to delays, or resulted in death. Nor is there a remedy or triage for COVID-19’s devastating effects on our education system, the foundation of our democracy. Estimates suggest that, since the start of the pandemic, over 5.5 million learning years have been lost (i.e., ~1.5 months for each of 51 million school children).9 The United States depends on education to be globally competitive. Given that our school system currently ranks 38th internationally,10 one could argue that the United States cannot afford to fall further behind. It is ironic that bars and restaurants reopened before schools. While COVID-19’s damage to the curriculum is clear, less obvious is the fact that some students are not returning at all, despite parents’ and teachers’ best efforts.11

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, 40 percent of our population had less than $400 in savings.12 This fact, coupled with widely televised food bank lines stretching for miles, makes the ongoing highly politicized debate surrounding masks seem gravely misguided, unrealistic, and binary. The rhetoric suggests that wearing a mask assails our individual “freedom,” despite scientific proof that wearing proper masks curbs transmission and prevents infection.13 Given the substantial damage COVID-19 is wreaking on the economy and the U.S. health care system, the relevant question would better be: “In the highly imperfect world of a pandemic, what measures, including wearing masks, will allow us to restart our economy quickly and ensure broad public access to critical healthcare?” In the military, one of our most respected institutions,14 there is never a debate about the freedom not to wear a gas mask if a contamination risk exists, nor to argue about the freedom not to drink water if there is a dehydration risk. The point is: an injured person—or someone who causes an injury—becomes a liability to the unit and mission.

COVID-19 Will Haunt Us for a Long Time

Some may claim the stock market’s historic highs have limited COVID’s shock. To validate this notion, we need to understand who benefits from the stock market. For example, the “Big Five” tech companies (i.e., Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook) have a combined value of ~$8.5 trillion. These companies account for over 40 percent of the NASDAQ 100. Their profitability rose in tandem with America’s increased need for digital services during the pandemic. However, while founded in the United States, several of these companies have domiciled abroad for tax optimization and have significant operations outside of the United States to benefit from lower wages. Furthermore, foreign and institutional investors hold ~40 percent and over 80 percent of these companies’ shares, respectively.15 These investors do not contribute to the actual U.S. economy, yet they wield considerable influence. Lastly, concentrated wealth in the form of a sizable portion of the shares and profits lies in a dozen tech billionaires’ hands. These individuals’ wealth exceeds ~$1 trillion and is increasingly exacerbating economic inequality by widening the gap between the “haves” and “have nots.”16 Rather than limiting COVID-19’s shock, the booming stock market is a better measure of how value is being extracted from the U.S. economy. This distortion of market dynamics by concentrating wealth instead of creating jobs hurts the average American badly.

The vaccine manufacturers will produce a similar personal wealth boom for a lucky, select few. Ironically, U.S. taxpayers financed the development of these vaccines—directly or through tax incentives. American taxpayers will also pay for the legal indemnification promised to some firms if the accelerated regulatory approval processes fails to gather sufficient data regarding any potential long-term side effects of some vaccines.17

Putting the medium- to long-term impact into context, the U.S. $68k median income pales against the pandemic’s current $110k per taxpayer cost. For this generation, each taxpayer will have given up the equivalent of ~2.5 years of their post-tax income, representing over 10 percent of their career earnings. Seen another way, of the 143 million U.S. taxpayers18, over 11 million (~8 percent) will have worked for nothing in 2020. A further knock-on effect of this is the ~40m imminent evictions (i.e., equivalent to the population of Texas).19 Keeping in mind that it may be easier to evict than it is to rent, this exposure alone is ~$45 billion per month. These mind-numbing numbers show that the pandemic, our lack of preparedness, and harried response have sickened our economy and cut away sizeable chunks. Although the economy will eventually heal, the mercilessly amputated sectors are unlikely to grow back.

From a national security perspective, COVID-19 created global risks and unveiled global threats. By the time the USS Theodore Roosevelt pulled into Guam for an unscheduled port call, COVID-19 had incapacitated nearly 27 percent of the crew.20 There was a direct impact on troop strength and readiness. Delays or curtailments of recruiting to the military services and basic training also exacerbated the negative impact on troop strength.21 Given readiness22 requires the military to operate in forward-deployed areas worldwide, military members were put at risk by the unchecked pandemic, which further hampered ongoing contingency operations.

Like learning to live with a new disability, we will also need to adjust and compensate socio-economically. The sad math of calamity is that the injured and disabled, who often require long-term care and support, significantly outnumber those killed.23 We are only now beginning to understand the long-term effects associated with even mild cases of COVID-19. At the same time, we are experiencing a marked increase in PTSD, suicides, divorces, and broken families, all of which burden our economy and lives. For example, compensation costs for Vietnam veterans and families are still $22 billion annually.24 Despite grafting healthy economic flesh over our society’s afflicted parts and economy, significant permanent scars will remain.

Some of these scars manifest themselves in harm to the long-term relationships that underpin our national security. Invariably, calamity presents the need to make difficult decisions in the face of imperfect information. It also tests the character of our leadership—and, consequently, our national character. The U.S.’ interception of medical supplies during the pandemic may be viewed as a “tough call” in light of an existential threat to the nation or, alternatively, as a callous and selfish affront to our closest strategic allies of decades and centuries, among them Germany and Canada.25 Either way, as an old adage states, “good relationships and reputations take years to earn and moments to destroy.” The reputation earned in blood on the beaches of Normandy will ultimately give way to that deserving of more recent national gestures.

Similarly, adversaries may be quick to capitalize on such situations in a number of ways. First, adversaries may highlight our mistakes or the raw calculus of decisions we take with the goal of undermining the perception of U.S.’ competence and ability to lead.26 Second, adversaries may take the opportunity to engage in those regions the United States has failed to address—for reason of lack of attention, resources, or design. Indeed, vaccine diplomacy has become a valuable foreign policy tool and provided inroads for competing interests as has been seen by China (Sinovac) and Russia (Sputnik) in emerging economies like Africa, Eastern Europe, India, Middle East, and South America, inter alia.27 Naturally, the long-term effectiveness of a vaccine (or any other) diplomacy is linked to the efficacy of the vaccine or other solution being offered. That said, even perceived benefits can buy time for competitive interests to gain at least a temporary foothold. So was the case for Troy.

Vaccination is Only Part of the Solution

In less than a year, the development of novel vaccines for COVID-19 was an impressive technological achievement. Operation Warp Speed was an ambitious Public-Private Partnership (PPP) that provided government funding for research and manufacturing to five pharmaceutical candidates. The process leveraged the companies’ scientific and clinical acumen to design and create effective vaccines. Simultaneously, multiple federal agencies harmonized and accelerated the lengthy regulatory process to mainstream these vaccines’ approval for distribution. Some vaccines based on the novel technology continued on the accelerated commercialization and regulatory review path. The process was politicized, involved unprecedented amounts of money ($12 billion in the United States, alone), and suffered from inherent conflicts of interest.28 Development and validation of these vaccines across the United States under the Emergency Use Authorizations (EUA) is a rigorous process, but still short of full approval. So is the logistical challenge of delivering two shots to 340 million Americans and potentially booster shots in the future to keep up with ongoing mutations and to maintain a threshold level of resistance to the virus.

Ironically, the speed of the development, approval, and distribution process may be one of the biggest obstacles to the widespread use of vaccines. First, because of vaccines’ past effectiveness, the public has forgotten the horrors of mass infection. Second, there have been concerns about real or perceived harmful side effects of vaccines, such as autoimmune-related diseases like autism. The final obstacles are skepticism caused by the inadequate COVID-19 response and the perceived hasty vaccine development and approval with limited data on long-term efficacy and side effects. Despite the victory of the unprecedented swift vaccine development, there has not been continued deliberative planning, education, and messaging to ensure that the vaccines get distributed and administered as needed. A possible solution would have been to use the PPP Operation Warp Speed to continue the distribution and administration of the vaccines—e.g., using military logistics and the federal EUA to partner with commercial pharmacies to ensure broad distribution and accessibility to testing, vaccines, and any potential therapies that might emerge.

The numbers are not working with us. To achieve herd immunity (and the removal of COVID-19 restrictions), we must successfully vaccinate between 70 percent to 90 percent of the population in a country with a less than 50 percent average vaccination acceptance rate.29 Achieving this target seems unlikely in less than two years. (… miles to go…). Unlike our childhood immunizations, COVID-19 vaccine recipients still have to wear a mask around unvaccinated people because none of the vaccines are 100 percent effective, the length of effective immunity is unknown, and COVID-19 is still actively spreading in certain areas.30 With survivors of natural COVID-19 infection, immunity appears to last 8 to 12 weeks, but reports vary.31 Vaccine data appear to correspond with natural immunity. However, more data and time are needed to determine whether that immunity extends beyond three months. The 2021 news year has been a bad one, and while the vaccines provide some light at the end of the tunnel, they are not a panacea for COVID-19. On the heels of COVID-19 vaccine distribution is the emergence of variant strains that have variable responses to the available EUA vaccines. We will need advanced precision testing innovations to track and monitor each vaccine’s efficacy related to each strain.32 Likely, the public will see this as yet another failure of our government in response, because the vaccines alone will not meet society’s unrealistic hopes and expectations of a full recovery.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense

With COVID-21 and other mutants right around the corner, clearly COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon; it will neither be the first nor the last pandemic, and the cost is and will be devastating. Each of us has had a time in life when we were unprepared and paid a dear price for it. Perhaps it was the important exam we failed for not having studied sufficiently or the massive bill we paid for lack of insurance. In such cases we utter to ourselves “never again.” Obviously, it is a bad strategy to first start building a firehouse when your own home is ablaze. Similarly, trying to buy liability insurance after the crash, is senseless. The same is true regarding pandemic readiness and defense. Some things cannot be left to chance or put off until later.

Rewind 18 months: What would we each have paid to avoid masks, quarantines, joblessness, evictions, closing our communities, and local restaurants—and the loss of loved ones? Or, seen another way, what would we have been willing to pay to have a year breathing freely with friends and family, dinners, movies, concerts, sporting events, prosperity, and the freedom we hold so dear?

The truth is, we cannot afford to handle COVID-19 or the pandemics that will follow on a reactive, ad hoc basis—unless we all want to be sick, lonely, and poor. According to the NIH, for $4.5b per year, we could put in place pandemic preparedness measures (e.g., strengthening national public health systems, funding R&D, global coordination and contingency efforts) which would make the nation and world a safer place33—a mere fraction of the estimated $20 - 40 billion per day cost of the current pandemic.iii NIH’s proposed “ounce of prevention” is equal to roughly one hour of our annual pandemic cost. Put another way, for what America will pay for the pandemic, it could have purchased 500 years of prevention—enough to have protected the country since the Mayflower sailed until now, or from now until Captain Jean-Luc Piccard’s and Captain Katherine Janeway’s last USS Enterprise voyages. Reframing the issue, 20 million Americans (6 percent of the entire U.S. population) could be tested for $400 million per day (i.e., thereby allowing us to open the economy) versus the $12b daily cost of economic shutdown.34 Could have, would have, should have? This is a piece of insurance that we, as a nation, simply cannot afford to overlook.

So that this critical investment in insurance is effectively managed, it may be sensible to consider new policies aimed at responding differently in the future. This could include a cabinet position with a budget much like the Department Homeland Security (DHS) or an office as part of Health and Human Services (HHS). This apolitical new body should ensure coordination of the FDA, CDC, DOD, DHS, HHS, private sector, and Surgeon General aimed at the proactive, prompt, and efficient combatting of pandemic risk. Learning from South Korea, which managed SARS and COVID-19 more effectively than the U.S., this could be done in concert with a bipartisan commission for pandemic planning. Given the grave and indelible economic impact of a national shutdown, any solution should integrate the Department of Treasury and Federal Reserve to create the necessary financial contingencies—the “rainy day fund” for which our parents told us to save. Further, we will need extremely accurate precision mobile and decentralized testing and secure personal health verification systems that will allow the healthy to congregate, without the need to divulge sensitive personal health care data. Such systems based, in part, on ground-breaking new science such as nano-biophysics will afford us a quantum leap and allow us to safely reopen our economy and keep our relationships humming, while simultaneously reducing our reliance on hastily developed vaccines with unclear side effects, even if some of the underlying technologies may not be completely new. Beyond vaccination, given our poor public health ranking (e.g., 27th place internationally) and that our relatively unhealthy lifestyles (e.g., poor diet, lack of exercise) are exacerbating COVID-19’s impact, it begs the question what pre-emptive measures we should be taking to reduce our susceptibility and increase our resilience to this and future pandemics.35 In short, unhealthy people become sick(er), more often.

Fortune Favors the Prepared Mind

America has many levers to help us address the pandemic and prepare itself for the next. These levers include improved national health and wellness, testing and diagnostics, information, and therapeutics, as well as innovation. Given America’s unique market structure, it stands to reason that these levers may be best applied in the form of PPP’s which leverage entrepreneurship and capital markets under government guidance and incentives.

An Apple a Day…

Regarding health and wellness, it is impossible to discuss pandemic readiness without considering the overall health of the nation. As it pertains to COVID-19, the evidence suggests that a correlation exists between COVID-19 illness and deaths, and the social determinants of health.36 Illnesses such as diabetes and obesity, which are prevalent in the United States, may be accentuated by the inactivity and stress associated with the lockdown. Conversely, such diseases are believed to make us more vulnerable, creating a deadly vicious cycle. It begs the question why, with full knowledge that there would be a “second wave” in Fall 2020, there were no initiatives to educate and advise the public on the need to maintain good health (e.g., proper nutrition, exercise) or, further, embracing the notion that our national security depends, in part, on our national state of health and natural resistance.

Testing—Mind the Gap

Quoting Peter Drucker, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” At the heart of any pandemic response is reliable, accurate testing which allows us to reliably separate the infected from the healthy and focus our limited resources, including vaccination, on those that need or can benefit from them. Specifically, the current vaccines are most useful for those who are both a) uninfected and b) at risk of having a severe response to COVID-19. As a nation we are best served by ensuring that the vulnerable people are provided access to precision testing, especially as the rate of emergence of new strains may exceed our ability to vaccinate the entire population.

Further, in the context of virus testing, the operative words are precise (i.e., finds small amounts), specific (i.e., detects only the virus you are looking for), and reliable (i.e., work the same every time). Poor tests can result in “false negatives” (i.e., a sick person falsely thinks they are healthy) and “false positives” (i.e., a healthy person wrongly thinks they are sick). The former can kill people, as each false negative is a potential “walking bioweapon” that risks infecting thousands of other people. The latter is effectively a false alarm, as false positives kill economies. The proverbial “boy who cried ‘wolf’!”

Our current systems for diagnosing diseases like COVID-19 rely on a 400-year-old antiquated paradigm of centralized health care delivery, focusing primarily on testing sick patients at hospitals or clinics. In an age of cell phones and self-driving cars, we find ourselves fighting a global pandemic with inadequate armament and intelligence.37 This is much like fighting World War III with a musket,38 where World War III is an unconventional, asymmetric world war against an invisible enemy—a war which could continue for another two to three years, depending in part on random mutations of the virus.

The pandemic has exposed critical gaps in our current testing infrastructure. In order to reopen the economy and rehabilitate industries, we will need to establish COVID-19-free safe zones for work and travel. Accomplishing this will require widespread community-based precision testing of hundreds of millions of people—more than 20 million tests per day. At present, we are testing less than 2 million (less than 10 percent of the target). Of these tests, many of them are of questionable value given the threshold of what is positive versus negative can vary by six orders of magnitude (100,000x!), creating a lot of confusion. In short, not all tests are created equal, and a bad test can be worse than no test. Hence, the critical path out of the COVID-19 economic doldrums is via the repeated widely accessible, rapid, high precision, decentralized, mobile testing of the population.39

The most accurate COVID-19 testing on the market today is based on a 35-year-old Nobel-prize winning molecular technology called PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). This technology is typically capable of detecting the presence of even a small number of viruses in a sample with high sensitivity and specificity. The manufacturers of PCR machines and reagents, as well as the centralized lab service companies, have made significant efforts to increase their throughput to provide hundreds of thousands more tests nationwide, but are confined mostly to hospitals, labs and clinical settings. This centralized testing system requires large bulky machines and extensive overhead infrastructure, complex sample transport logistics, highly trained personnel, high volumes of expensive reagents, and centralized lab facilities. This system does not lend itself to providing widespread and recurrent testing for hundreds of millions of people.40

The holy grail of testing has long been touted to be point-of-care (PoC) testing that bypasses the need for a centralized lab infrastructure and complex logistics. Currently, the most common market-available PoC testing detects the presence of antibodies (e.g., serum, immunoassay). Such tests could be used to map individuals as they build up antibodies to the coronavirus and to conduct further research to determine if people are gaining immunity after exposure and which antibodies, if any, may confer immunity to these patients.41

Some large conventional PCR machine and reagents manufacturers have made significant strides in miniaturizing and increasing the speed of their machines, reducing their size from 400 pounds to under 40 pounds and hence bringing them closer to PoC. This is a critical step in the right direction, but the ability to truly put these machines in the hands of the people and thereby release us from the grip of the pandemic will involve delivering compact (e.g., “tablet sized”) user-friendly, rapid, accurate testing.42 With the help of awards from agencies like DARPA, DOD, DOE, and NSF new technologies such as nano-biophysics have evolved which enable faster and smaller, IOT-connected, precision-engineered diagnostic devices, like the X Prize–winning Gene-RADAR™ technology.43

Such systems allow us to safely reopen our economy and maintain critical relationships, as we decrease our reliance on the newly developed yet still not universally approvediv vaccines.44 It took a Manhattan Project to bring the latest atomic physics technology to scale to win World War II. Today, we need a similar effort to scale up our latest advances in nano-biophysics technology to fight and win World War III. History will show that this critical leap forward was the step that saved the economy and culture, and restored faith in the safety of our great nation.45

Knowledge is Power

The battle against COVID-19 is as much an information war as it is a bio-war. To respond quickly, effectively, and economically, we need access to clear, structured, scientifically robust, and objective (read: apolitical, free of conflict of interest) data and information at all levels. In the first instance we need to know and better understand the origins of COVID-19 in order to properly assess the nature, timing, and longevity of the threat, as well as what countermeasures are at our disposal at any time based on best current knowledge. Part of this involves establishing common understanding and definitions aimed at fostering constructive dialog and decisionmaking. It is shocking that we, as a nation, would make multi-trillion-dollar decisions without first having a common understanding of the criteria or metrics underlying those decisions. Further, from a national security perspective it is in our interest to set clear standards and root out gratuitous ambiguity and misinformation which can be an effective tool in the hands of a foreign power which would profit from us spending ourselves into oblivion because of sub-optimal decision-making. Put another way, considering the permanent economic and social damage that poor pandemic decisionmaking does to our nation, foreign adversaries could find it attractive to incite us to uninformed actions, which—like cyber-attacks—can cause more damage than waging a hot war. Let us not help them.

At a practical level, accurate data must be converted to useful information which allows healthy citizens to congregate and the nation to focus its resources on those who are especially vulnerable or in need of acute care. This may come in the form of proactive and reactive measures, where the former are greatly preferred for their higher efficacy and lower cost. In short, when we enable our citizens to establish their health status quicker and easier—and be able to share that status individually and collectively—we can target the only metric that counts, which is transmission rate. Since centralized responses to decentralized threats are generally ineffective, leveraging these Point of Care Technologies (PoCT) allows us to respond in the same decentralized manner which the virus manifests itself, thereby “fighting fire with fire.” Examples exist where data has been used effectively to confront similar challenges, including ID2020 and related initiatives.46 The solutions here will lie at the interface of fintech, health, and privacy, where America has demonstrated strengths or has made progressive regulatory moves which will allow us to know each other’s health status without needing to divulge highly personal underlying health information. Given that large corporations have been using citizens’ personal data for years, it is reasonable to expect that citizens would have control of their own data—especially when such control is critical to our economy and society.47

A Pound of Cure…

The COVID-19 world has been dominated by discussion of the merits of masks, social distancing, handwashing, testing of myriad types, sensitivities, specificities and failure rates, and, of course, vaccination. Specifically, what vaccines can and cannot do, what they will mean for a return to (a hopefully better, more resilient) normal, and when that might happen. The discussion of therapeutics has been less consistent and has run the gamut from the sublime to the ridiculous, with the consequence that this noise has drowned out an essential tool in the fight for this and future pandemic viruses. Moreover, this discussion has been distorted by mis- and disinformation, such as the efficacy of certain unproven cures for COVID-19.

The number of potential therapies for COVID-19 has been growing over the last year and the FDA has approved one drug, Remdesivir, for COVID-19 treatment in certain specific circumstances. Several new drugs, including monoclonal antibodies (i.e., made by cloning a unique white blood cell), have been granted under EUA. However, clinical patient management still relies on supportive care, including supportive oxygen and ventilation when required. The application of these supportive interventions has been significantly refined over the last year, and survival rates demonstrate the positive impact. The pandemic has shown that by striving to make the health care system ever more efficient, we have also made it vulnerable to shortages of critical supplies like Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), ventilators, and even life-saving oxygen. But even worse, we have exposed crucial weaknesses in the numbers of health professionals available to respond. Health care systems and hospitals found they were insufficiently staffed to manage the surge, among other reasons because many had been optimized (e.g., lean, six sigma) for pre-pandemic conditions and were consequently challenged to ramp operations to adapt to the rapid demand increase.48

This shortage of health care professionals has also impacted the development of therapeutics. There is no getting away from the fact that proper testing of new drugs and treatments is significant additional work. This extra work can be too much to ask for the frontline personnel consumed by treating COVID-19 victims.

Again, all of this was predictable. The need for supplies, equipment, oxygen, health care professionals, new drugs, and the protocols and time to test them should have been part of our collective pandemic planning. We chose to take our chances in the belief that it wouldn’t happen on our watch, but it did.

If we are to be better prepared in the future, we need to solve the challenges of maintaining capacity and operational readiness. We must also address the need to develop new antiviral drugs, make those that have already been developed accessible, or repurpose existing drugs. All of this is much better achieved between pandemics than during the peak of the fight. It is critical to understand that this work is not profitable for pharmaceutical companies for acute viral diseases. Despite a great deal of outstanding early-stage research, very few new drugs make it to market. As such, we desperately need a novel PPP model for the funding and development of antibiotics and antiviral drugs.v

Innovation, Small and Medium Business, and Resilience

In the age of COVID-19, many American businesses are treading water, on life support, or have gone bankrupt. Entrepreneurs, CEOs, and board directors acknowledge not living in an era of change; but bearing witness to a change of eras. Astute leaders have harnessed the chaos and are riding a wave of transformation. Others struggle to seek equilibrium. The pandemic’s effect on both local and global enterprises will persist.

Our ability to survive COVID-19 and future such challenges depends on our ability to adapt and innovate in the face of the challenge. Therefore, the strength of our national innovation base is as critical to national security as ever. Darwin taught us “survival of the fittest,” whereby fittest is not necessarily the strongest, but rather the most adaptive. While we count on large companies for innovation, according to a recent MIT study,49 essential policy lessons emerge from small and medium-sized companies. Small businesses account for two-thirds of net job growth and 44 percent of U.S. economic activity.50 Small businesses are nimbler and more responsive than their larger brethren. They can spot trends and respond more quickly with innovation. Many startups inhabit strategic sectors. Boston-based Moderna, a rapidly growing provider of one of the three main Western COVID-19 vaccines, is a perfect example. These start-ups are also critical to America’s diverse social fabric, which is a key element of national strength. Traditionally, small companies and startups are engines and a vital source for minority employment51 and innovation. In fact, a February 2016 study by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation entitled “The Demographics of Innovation in the United States” concluded that, “immigrants comprise a large and vital component of U.S. [technical] innovation, with 35.5 percent of U.S. innovators born outside the United States.52 In this way, diversity and innovation are inextricably linked53 and create more reason for concern about COVID-19’s impact on the American entrepreneurial spirit, and the vulnerability of small businesses which already face numerous barriers to success,54 such as access to sufficient capital, and the challenges of scaling. We have seen the impact on the job market. The potential fallout could be devastating for the innovation that is necessary to ensure both health and security.

Empathy and resilience are vital elements for human advancement. To ensure the survival of innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit, we can borrow from and improve the policies that revived America after the 1929 crash and the Great Depression. Those policies focused on reform and supervision to restore calm to the financial sector. The leadership modelled behavior that emphasized resilience, empathy, and support via employment, pension, health care benefits and education programs to reassure workers. These policies and behaviors bolstered and soothed a broken society allowing families to rebuild their lives and business upon a new foundation. Thus, this horrible, multi-year pandemic nightmare may present the United States with opportunities for self-renewal. America’s open culture, diversity and innovation have been important sources of greatness and security since the nation’s inception.55,56 Recalling Roosevelt’s December 1940 radio broadcast57, Rosie the Riveter and the Tuskegee Airmen became an integral part of America’s “Arsenal of Democracy,” without whom neither the Liberty Ships or B-17 Fortress bombers would have been built (or protected). Hence, as before it is in America’s interest to protect and more effectively leverage these pillars of national security.

Ten ways businesses can start to surf the COVID-19 momentum wave are: (1) If your business is not diverse, it is missing out on innovation. Find and increase diversity, equity, and inclusion programs to stimulate more innovation. (2) COVID-19’s impact on working women has been brutal. Is your business making a conscious effort to draw women back into the workforce? Our nation can ill afford to lose this talent. Addressing this issue might mean retooling work schedules to ensure flexibility. The payoff is creativity and innovation. (3) Create programs to attract GenZ, the fully digital native generation; they are another wellspring of innovation.vi Ask GenZ how to reach out to the senior citizen population. “Silver Tech” is a new area—COVID-19 uncovered this gap in the vaccination rollout process. (4) Evaluate greater business use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools from fintech to Grammarly to drone delivery, to Audible, to autonomous vehicles. (5) Would robotics streamline business processes? The fear of job loss to robots is real. However, robots will still need real people to repair and reprogram them. Ensure education and re-skilling are part of the deal. (6) Does your CEO regularly sit down to chat with startups in the industry and allied industries? Ideas from the outside will stimulate more innovation inside and nurture a growth and innovation mindset. (7) Get familiar with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). How many are business priorities? How many can create new opportunities for your business? (8) Related to the SDGs is the rise of B Corporation certification. The value of stakeholders becomes even more critical. (9) Is your CEO a CEEO (Chief Executive Ethical Officer)? Compliance is essential, and ethics begins at the top.58 (10) Constantly evaluate the relevance of your business proposition and the efficiency of your business processes. Since the lockdown, the data intensity index has jumped, meaning that businesses receive information from all parts of the operation. Are these processes synchronizing and generating relevant data? How is the company using this information? Is it helping or hurting the customer? Many companies learn the hard way, on the way to obsolescence, that change is constant and not a matter of consent.

COVID-19 has been a terrible scourge and a great leveler. In 2021 and beyond, businesses will have the opportunity to reset by harnessing the pandemic’s momentum to create something new, including becoming a positive multiplier of governmentvii action plans. We are at a Gladwellian “tipping point.” We were at a similar point in 2008 when Sprint/Clearwire launched the first 4G LTE network, and the United States began its outstanding performance in 4G technology-related jobs. Biotech, 6G, quantum, and industries not yet invented will create similar job opportunities as business shifts into new sectors that will benefit our future. Conversations from the classroom to the boardroom should center on “what kind of innovation?” The national call to action is to make a serious attempt to harness diversity and innovation in our business processes for the benefit of as many stakeholders as possible. Let us capture the momentum of this new “Person on Mars” moment.

The Real Superpower

While America has held the role of overall economic world leader since WWII and has done many things “right,” there is no manifest destiny or entitlement which guarantees our position of prominence, nor are we the best at all that we undertake. In fact, we have much to learn from far less powerful or resourced members of the world community. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. We should examine carefully the lessons learned from the COVID-19 experiences of our allies and our adversaries, including both their successes and failures alike. South Korea, Taiwan, the UK, and Israel have avoided the most destructive effects of the pandemic; Brazil, India, and Italy have not.

America’s true and demonstrated superpower lies not in its absolute power or omni-excellence, but rather in our diversity, ability to adapt quickly, and ability to reinvent ourselves. Whether this ability stems from our colonial and entrepreneurial roots, our diverse makeup which provides the potential for a more balanced and holistic approach, or the potential which lies in our public, private, and academic institutions when united in service of the nation, this is the key to combatting a new era of [pandemic] threats that we can neither see, impress, nor negotiate with. COVID-19 has been devastating globally, and the United States has not escaped the devastation. Its diversity, ability to adapt quickly, and ability to reinvent itself will once again be tested. It is good news that our government has provided the critically necessary $1.9 trillion stimulus. Hopefully, we will have the wisdom to allocate these funds so that they fuel the reinvention we so desperately need to secure our nation’s legacy and future. PRISM


i Unadjusted for inflation

ii (e.g., all student debt, public health coverage and vaccinations, clean/sustainable infrastructure)

iii Estimated $16 trillion over 1 to 2 years

iv On 23 August 2021, the FDA approved Pfizer-Biontech for 16-year-olds and above. It is still under EUA for other uses.

v E.g., PanSec.org (Pandemic Security Initiative 2021)

vi However, according to the Demographics of Innovation in the United States Study “Contrary to popular narratives about young, technology-savvy entrepreneurs dropping out of college to found companies in Silicon Valley, the median age for innovators is 47.”

vii i.e., Federal, State, Municipal Government


U.S. SOUTHCOM Fights Through COVID-19
By Michael T. Plehn | Jan. 20, 2022

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Lt.Gen. Michael T. Plehn, USAF, is the 17th President of the National Defense University. He previously served as the Military Deputy Commander of U.S. Southern Command.

Master Sgt. Don Rix, 701st Airlift Squadron loadmaster, directs a forklift at Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport, Suriname, July 16, 2021. The portable field hospital, valued at $745,000, was donated by U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) to the Suriname Ministry of Health to augment their overwhelmed medical capacity brought on by COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn White, July 16, 2021)
Master Sgt. Don Rix, 701st Airlift Squadron loadmaster, directs a forklift at Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport, Suriname, July 16, 2021. The portable field hospital, valued at $745,000, was donated by U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) to the Suriname Ministry of Health to augment their overwhelmed medical capacity brought on by COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn White, July 16, 2021)
Master Sgt. Don Rix, 701st Airlift Squadron loadmaster, directs a forklift at Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport, Suriname, July 16, 2021. The portable field hospital, valued at $745,000, was donated by U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) to the Suriname Ministry of Health to augment their overwhelmed medical capacity brought on by COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn White, July 16, 2021)
Master Sgt. Don Rix, 701st Airlift Squadron loadmaster, directs a forklift at Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport, Suriname, July 16, 2021. The portable field hospital, valued at $745,000, was donated by U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) to the Suriname Ministry of Health to augment their overwhelmed medical capacity brought on by COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn White, July 16, 2021)
Master Sgt. Don Rix, 701st Airlift Squadron loadmaster, directs a forklift at Johan Adolf Pengel International Airport, Suriname, July 16, 2021. The portable field hospital, valued at $745,000, was donated by U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) to the Suriname Ministry of Health to augment their overwhelmed medical capacity brought on by COVID-19. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn White, July 16, 2021)
Photo By: Shawn White
VIRIN: 220112-D-BD104-1003

As I boarded my flight in Bogotá, Colombia, to return to the United States on March 14, 2020, after participating in the joint Colombia-U.S. Exercise Vita in the Guajira Peninsula, the reality of how the COVID-19 pandemic was going to affect our lives over the next year began to manifest. Arriving back in Miami, where I was the Military Deputy Commander for U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM), I went straight home to begin a 14-day quarantine in accordance with new policies from the Department of Defense (DOD) for travelers returning from overseas. It was the first of many adaptations that we would make in the coming months.

In May of 2019, shortly after assuming command at USSOUTHCOM, Admiral Craig Faller, USN, established three primary lines of effort to guide our activities: strengthen partnerships, counter threats, and build our team.1 Less than a year later, we were tested in all three areas by the pandemic.

One of the great strengths of USSOUTHCOM is the network of engaged and willing partners in the region. We work closely with them as we guide all U.S. military activity across much of Latin America and the Caribbean. We are neighbors and friends who share common values, ties, and interests. Our neighborhood is not only rich in natural resources but also beset by many longstanding challenges and several emerging issues.

While there is no current armed conflict between countries in the region, it is one of the most violent areas on the globe, much of it fueled by transnational criminal organizations and longstanding structural, societal issues. According to a 2019 global study on homicide by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the rate of intentional homicide in Central and South America is four times the global average.2 Particularly virulent, transnational criminal organizations—flush with cash—constantly seek to expand their lethal trade through extortion, corruption, intimidation, and violence. These actions, in turn, erode the power and legitimacy of local, state, and federal governments, reducing their ability to fight this scourge.

An increasingly disruptive factor in regional security and a growing facet of the strategic environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is Great Power competition. Both the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Russia seek to influence conditions in the Western Hemisphere to favor their own national interests, often at the expense of countries there. The Chinese Communist Party wields its economic influence to generate political leverage throughout the area.3 The Belt and Road Initiative, begun in 2013 and nonexistent in the region before 2017, has expanded quickly with 19 of 31 nations now signing on to it.4 The Chinese distant-water fishing fleet,5 the largest in the world, prowls the waters around the region—impinging on exclusive economic zones with a voracious appetite—and strong-arming countries that dare to complain about these predatory economic practices.6 Such illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is beginning to capture the world’s attention; the U.S. Coast Guard recently released its strategic outlook and its vision to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and many countries are beginning to speak up—and stand up—to protect their precious maritime and fisheries resources from this sweeping predation.7

At USSOUTHCOM, we referred to all these elements together as a vicious circle of threats at work. It was against this strategic backdrop that I returned to Miami last March, sequestered myself at home for the next several weeks with only my home Internet and the communications gear I had taken to Colombia, and began the first extended teleworking of my life. USSOUTHCOM quickly embarked on a cascading series of challenges to help our partners in the region cope with the medical and humanitarian crises brought about by COVID-19, while simultaneously learning to operate in this new environment and hold the line against these other threats.

Early Challenges

On March 15, the day after I returned from Colombia, Admiral Faller called a senior leader meeting, and I dialed in from home with my work cellphone. We discussed the possible impacts of COVID-19 on our people and mission, with a focus on near- and midterm activities. He encouraged us to focus on three areas: force health protection, essential missions, and maintaining reliable communications. USSOUTHCOM pushed toward higher levels of telework over the next several weeks, as we instituted a steady, sustainable drumbeat of updates and decision meetings.

USSOUTHCOM has considerable experience dealing with crises, especially natural disasters, so we already had a process built for virtual, distributed meetings that would gather, display, and act on information. We just needed to adapt that framework for the COVID-19 pandemic environment and ensure that it was robust enough for a now largely teleworking workforce. The command’s Operations Directorate (J3) rapidly activated our Crisis Action Team to serve as the central coordination hub for the command, and they proved to be all-star players on our team, working 24/7 for the next half-year to ensure our success. The Communications Directorate (J6) also worked miracles on the hardware and software sides to ensure that we had the right equipment and programs to transition to an effective telework environment. As the senior-most leader teleworking in the command at that time, I was able to provide rapid feedback on what was working well, and not so well, from my sparse home communications equipment.

In addition to ensuring we could maintain communications among ourselves, one of our most immediate challenges was recalling U.S. military forces back to their home units from forward deployed locations. Joint Task Force–Bravo, which was in Colombia conducting the exercise I was observing in March, truncated the exercise and returned their people, helicopters, and equipment to their main operating base in Honduras. With many countries in the region beginning to lock down their borders, it was a challenge to find intermediate locations where they could stop to refuel. Close coordination between U.S. Embassies and host-nation government officials paved the way to recover all our personnel and equipment to assigned locations.

However, the growing number of airport and border closures in many countries led to our next big challenge, which was assisting with the repatriation of American citizens back to the United States. U.S. Embassies in the region were swamped with requests for help from thousands of Americans seeking a way back home. We received phone calls directly at the headquarters and elsewhere throughout DOD asking about availability of military aircraft to fly American citizens back to the United States. In late March and early April, using available and opportune military airlift, we quickly evacuated a U.S. women’s football team from Honduras as well as American citizens from Perú, Colombia, and many other countries in Latin America.8

The USSOUTHCOM Logistics Directorate (J4) quickly produced a spreadsheet to track all U.S. military aircraft and airlift missions traveling into, through, or out of the region. We were in daily contact with U.S. Transportation Command and the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command to ensure that we had the most current information. A major challenge and limitation of using opportune military airlift was that the aircraft had to stay on its previously scheduled route, which meant it did not always land at a military base that had a permanent U.S. Customs and Border Protection presence to receive and process U.S. citizens back into the country. Each movement required extensive coordination with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure that people could process through customs, be screened for health factors and COVID-19 symptoms, and then be transported safely to their onward locations. After two intricate movements to a remote airfield in northwest Florida that required intensive coordination among the Department of State, Homeland Security, DOD, and others, I knew we needed more help and a better, more streamlined process for assisting our fellow citizens to return home.

In late March, I called my Pinnacle classmate Ulrich Brechbuhl, who was then Counselor to the State Department, to discuss how we could better integrate our efforts.9 He pointed me toward the State Department’s Repatriation Task Force, led by Ambassador Ian Brownlee. This task force was established on March 19, 2020, as an element of the Coronavirus Global Response Coordination Unit.10 It was charged with implementing the most efficient, effective methods for identifying U.S. citizens who wanted to return to the United States, linking them up with the U.S. Embassy in that country and then working to get them home. Military aircraft were quickly replaced with State Department–chartered airlift that ultimately returned tens of thousands of our fellow citizens back to the United States.11

As the repatriation effort took shape and became more normalized, USSOUTHCOM continued with its other essential missions, one of which received a serious boost in attention and resources on April 1, 2020. DOD has a longstanding statutory mission to detect and monitor the aerial and maritime flow of illegal drugs into the United States.12 A USSOUTHCOM subordinate commands, the Joint Interagency Task Force–South (JIATF-South), has been quietly and effectively fulfilling this role for decades. JIATF-South is comprised of military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel from across the U.S. Government, with liaison officers from more than 20 different countries to help coordinate and integrate counternarcotics operations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.

Enhanced Counternarcotics Efforts During COVID-19

On April 1, 2020, President Donald Trump announced an enhanced counternarcotics effort to ensure transnational criminal organizations would not take advantage of the COVID-19 crisis to move more of their lethal product to the United States.

With additional ships, helicopters, airplanes, and personnel, USSOUTHCOM kept a fast pace of counternarcotics operations throughout the spring and into the summer and fall of 2020. Other nations stepped up their pace as well. The Republic of Colombia continued its series of successful counterdrug surge efforts, known as Operation Orión, bringing into play additional countries throughout the region and largely focused on the drug transit routes in the eastern Pacific Ocean. From the beginning of April until mid-May, Operation Orión V was credited with disrupting or seizing 50 metric tons of cocaine and arresting 150 people involved in illegal narcotics trafficking, according to Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez.13 According to the USSOUTHCOM Public Affairs Office, to date since April 1, 2020, this international effort has resulted in the seizure or disruption of more than 1,000,000 pounds of cocaine, over 150,000 pounds of marijuana, and the apprehension of more than 1,200 suspected drug smugglers. USSOUTHCOM and JIATF-South continued to work closely with allies and partners in the Caribbean, with strong contributions from the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Canada, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic. Every intercept at sea also carried the possibility of encountering individuals who might have been COVID-19 positive. We, and our partners, had to ensure that we had personal protective equipment for ourselves, as well as procedures for isolating any infected detainees who were apprehended for trafficking in narcotics.

Early in April, USSOUTHCOM received operational control of the USS Kidd, coming out of the Indo-Pacific region. Several days later, a COVID-19 outbreak was detected aboard ship and a team with rapid testing capability was quickly sent to the Kidd for initial response. We returned the ship and its crew to the Navy, so they could sail to San Diego and manage the outbreak there. With several days sailing time from Central America to San Diego, the Navy provided additional assistance with the USS Makin Island to escort Kidd to port.14 This incident highlighted the necessity of ensuring the availability of rapid testing for our forward-deployed forces, which became a top priority for USSOUTHCOM, especially with the limited access to test equipment during the early days and weeks of the pandemic.

We also had a requirement for COVID-19 testing for our military personnel deployed in the region. The Navy Medical Research Unit–Six in Lima, Perú, loaned us six of its BioFire test systems so that we could test any symptomatic personnel and determine their COVID-19 status. We sent test equipment to bases in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where we had the largest groups of U.S. military personnel.

Testing and tracing became two important aspects of our layered COVID-19 force-health protection measures. Largely reliant on our Service “landlords” of whatever base or installation hosted our forces, access to testing in the early weeks and months of the COVID-19 pandemic became essential to protecting the rest of our team. Along with a diligent process for contact tracing to determine any close contacts of COVID-19-positive personnel, we were able to avoid any substantial outbreaks of COVID-19 among our forces.

Continuing Foreign Military Sales and Security Cooperation Under COVID-19 Conditions

Among USSOUTHCOM’s many essential missions was continuing our ability to provide security assistance to our partner nations during the height of COVID-19. Initially, our face-to-face training and exercise events were greatly reduced, as was the delivery of foreign military sales equipment.

One of the early successes in continuing to deliver supplies and equipment was the transfer of the first Near Coastal Patrol Vessel to the Dominican Republic in mid-March. The vessel was designed to give select partner nations the capability to conduct maritime counternarcotics operations farther from their shores. USSOUTHCOM worked closely with the State Department, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, and the Navy International Program Office to keep this six-vessel contract on track. Although the contractor was able to transport the boat to the Dominican Republic by March 18, it had to delay delivery to the final port until July due to health conditions in the region. By July 13, the vessel was at its permanent operating location, and the contractor had begun training the Dominican Republic military forces on the use of the ship and its equipment.

Assisting with the COVID-19 Medical and Humanitarian Crisis

While all this was going on, we began hearing the demand signal from our partner nations and U.S. Embassies in the region to provide humanitarian assistance to our partners. Long accustomed to springing into action during crises and disasters, the Humanitarian Assistance Team (J7/9) quickly developed a process for identifying and approving minimum-cost humanitarian assistance projects (HAP) using our combatant command Overseas Humanitarian, Disaster Assistance, and Civic Action (OHDACA) funds.

The Pentagon responded rapidly by giving USSOUTHCOM and all other regional combatant commands more fiscal authority to approve projects on their own recognizance—raising the threshold for minimum-cost projects from $15,000 to $30,000 and then to $50,000 and ultimately up to $75,000 without having to come back to the Pentagon for approval of each project. We rapidly funded projects providing personal protective equipment in almost every country in the region, including hand sanitizer, hygiene, and other desperately needed supplies to hospitals, ministries of health, and other civilian medical institutions.

The Pentagon’s Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability and Humanitarian Affairs (DASD SHA) retained authority to approve projects costing more than $75,000, and we submitted many of them as well: expeditionary field hospitals, oxygen generators, ventilators, and many other types of lifesaving medical support projects were identified and quickly funded.

USSOUTHCOM typically receives about $20 million each year in OHDACA funding to help partners deal with the wide variety of humanitarian needs throughout the region ranging from hurricane relief to wildfires, mudslides, tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and many other challenging scenarios. Unlike standard operations and maintenance funding that generally must be spent in the same fiscal year that it was appropriated, OHDACA funding is good for 2 years. But by July, we had expended almost all our fiscal year 2019/2020 funds and were well into depleting our 2020/2021 funds—and hurricane season had barely even started.

In July, during one of our weekly COVID-19 Task Force meetings with Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, I asked if some of DOD funding through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act could be reprogrammed into OHDACA funds. Once again, the Pentagon quickly acted on this request, and with support from Deputy Secretary Norquist and Acting DASD SHA Ms. Stephanie Hammond, $120 million was reprogrammed into OHDACA funds for global COVID-19 relief. USSOUTHCOM’s request for $70 million was approved and funded out of the $120 million.

At the same time, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) was providing large-scale relief in the region. USSOUTHCOM coordinated its efforts with USAID through the country team in each individual U.S. Embassy. The Civilian Deputy to the Commander, Ambassador Jean Manes, and our humanitarian assistance team produced a daily dashboard of COVID-19 relief efforts in the region, enabling us to see where U.S. and international support was being supplied.

We heard from several of our U.S. Ambassadors in the region of the importance and efficacy of our initial humanitarian assistance efforts. In many cases, they stated our HAP donations were the only support they were able to quickly offer their host nations. There was an early push by the People’s Republic of China to provide humanitarian support in the region—and it continues to this day. At first it was “mask diplomacy,” which has morphed into “vaccine diplomacy” over time. Given the choice, most of our neighbors prefer to work with the United States, but as one chief of defense remarked to Admiral Faller, a drowning person will accept a lifeline from anyone. OHDACA funds and HAP programs allowed U.S. Ambassadors and chiefs of mission to be present and helpful to partners and neighbors in their time of great need.

As we moved into the fall and winter of 2020, USSOUTHCOM had supported more than 400 humanitarian assistance projects for our neighbors, worth tens of millions of dollars. On September 24, 2020, Admiral Faller personally traveled to Kingston, Jamaica, to participate with U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Donald Tapia in the donation and acceptance ceremony of a 70-bed expeditionary field hospital.

Natural Disaster Response During COVID-19

In November, Central America was hit with two major hurricanes less than 2 weeks apart. On November 3, 2020, Hurricane Eta roared ashore, bringing widespread flooding and devastation to Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Panamá, and El Salvador. JTF-Bravo sprang into action, conducting immediate lifesaving rescues and supporting USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs as they coordinated the U.S. Government’s response efforts, led by Regional Director Tim Callaghan, earning their gratitude.15 With many roads and bridges impassable, the CH-53 Chinook and HH-60 Blackhawk helicopters of JTF-Bravo were invaluable in rescuing stranded persons while also delivering lifesaving supplies, food, and water to isolated towns and communities.

JTF-Bravo established forward operating sites in Panamá and Guatemala while also operating from their main base in Honduras, all in support of the broader U.S. Government relief effort. Then, on November 17, Hurricane Iota stormed ashore 15 miles away from where Eta had made landfall only 2 weeks earlier. In concert with the United Kingdom’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship Mounts Bay, JTF-Bravo pushed its efforts into the remote eastern area of Honduras known as San Pedro Sula. In addition to the already hard-hit countries in Central America, two Colombian islands just off the coast of Central America—San Andrés and Providencia—were heavily damaged by Iota. JTF-Bravo continued its relief efforts in support of USAID, and USSOUTHCOM also provided additional airlift and sealift support to Colombia to help the people of their two storm-ravaged islands.

By the conclusion of the support during these hectic weeks of lifesaving humanitarian assistance, USSOUTHCOM units had flown 277 missions rescuing over 850 people and delivering more than one million pounds of lifesaving aid—and did so without recording a single case of COVID-19 transmission to any of its U.S. military forces participating in the efforts.16

What Does It All Mean?

Taken in the aggregate, there is much to be learned from USSOUTHCOM’s experience during the first 10 months of the COVID-19 pandemic from March to December of 2020. In addition to validating the combatant command’s ability to respond rapidly to even the most unexpected crisis, these events highlighted the importance of our U.S. military relations in the region and the vital national security need to sustain and strengthen them. Working closely with U.S. Embassies and their country teams, alongside our partners and allies, USSOUTHCOM was able to continue its essential missions to strengthen partners and counter threats. In fact, even under these difficult operational conditions, USSOUTHCOM expanded execution of its essential missions like countering transnational organized crime while also beginning new crisis response missions to assist stranded American citizens, deliver aid and hope to our neighbors and partners in the region, and respond to the twin natural disasters of hurricanes.

On the more troubling side, we verified the existence and growth of Great Power competition in our own hemisphere. While we have long known about the People’s Republic of China’s increasing trade activities with our neighbors in the region, we also saw increasing use of PRC influence and rhetoric to bolster its image and discredit the United States. We saw the PRC attempting to leverage its economic relationships for political gain—whether through mask and vaccine diplomacy ostensibly tied to their global Health Silk Road efforts or through disinformation intended to bolster China’s image in the region while attempting to tarnish the U.S. standing among our neighbors.

Conclusions

In crisis, a good decision (or set of decisions) acted on early and decisively can be the difference between success and failure. This was certainly the case at U.S. Southern Command throughout 2020. We did not have as much information as we would have wanted about the contagious nature of COVID-19 and how easily and rapidly it spread from one human to another. Neither did we have as much information as desired about the consequences of the rapid spread of COVID-19 and how it would suddenly close borders, limit in-person meetings and activities, and dramatically affect every action we had planned over the coming year. Nevertheless, we acted quickly and decisively in moving our team out of the physical workspace and into telework where possible while also quickly focusing the command on what was most important: safely executing our most critical missions.

Deliberately distilling our activities down to the three essential areas of implementing force health protection measures, accomplishing our essential missions, and maintaining communication with all our team members and partners had an immediate clarifying effect on determining what we would do and what we would postpone or cancel. Admiral Faller maintained this focus relentlessly over the next 10 months and enabled USSOUTHCOM to be present and persistent in fulfilling its mission and its enduring promise to our neighbors in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The same could be said of our colleagues in the Pentagon, the State Department, and elsewhere throughout the interagency and international communities: They were focused on responding at the speed of relevance—and they did. There were, of course, some hiccups and a few false starts. That is to be expected in any sudden and dynamic crisis. But the focus and dedication of our higher headquarters on pulling disparate agencies together, determining the needs and requirements of the situation, and then empowering the combatant commands and subordinate agencies with the appropriate resources and authorities to respond effectively at the speed of the crisis was truly unprecedented. I, and all my teammates, are proud to have been part of such a high-functioning, motivated, and results-focused team.

To this day, I remain amazed and appreciative of the flexibility, resilience, and commitment of Team USSOUTHCOM during this time. From the headquarters to our subordinate commands to our security cooperation offices on the frontlines every day, they conducted themselves with dedication and distinction under difficult and uncertain conditions.

Ultimately, I have concluded COVID-19 is not only a medical and humanitarian emergency that still requires immediate response, but it also remains an operating environment in which we must continue to conduct our missions as effectively and safely as possible. USSOUTHCOM was successful because of early, decisive action and our commitment and ability to work across the broad spectrum of those with whom we partner in DOD, the interagency community, with our country teams in U.S. Embassies throughout the region, and—of course—with our partners and neighbors who are eager to work with us in addressing the many security challenges that confront all the nations in the Western Hemisphere.

Alarmingly, this crisis uncovered the quiet, steady, and largely unaddressed growth of the economic and political influence of the PRC in our own neighborhood. It revealed the extent to which China is using its economic leverage to expand its political power in our hemisphere. From predatory lending practices and debt-trap financing enabled by the Belt and Road Initiative to voracious distant-water fishing fleets that could devastate and depopulate the marine fisheries in the Western Hemisphere as they have done in the Western Pacific, China is clearly wielding its growing economic and political power to coerce our neighbors to side with Chinese desired outcomes. We must not turn a blind eye to the competition that is playing out all around us in our own neighborhood. We must not play chess while the PRC is playing the game of go. We must recognize the long game for what it is and compete with an equally long-term strategic mentality and approach. PRISM

Notes

1 U.S. Southern Command Strategy: Enduring Promise for the Americas (Doral, FL: USSOUTHCOM, May 2019), 5, available at <https://www.southcom.mil/Portals/7/Documents/SOUTHCOM_Strategy_2019.pdf?ver=2019-05-15-131647-353>.

2 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Global Study on Homicide 2019 (Vienna, Austria: UNODC, 2019), 20. The study notes that the global homicide rate in 2017 was 6.1 homicides per 100,000 population, while the rate in the Americas was 17.2 homicides per 100,000 population. The study also notes the three subregions with the highest homicide rates were Central America (25.9), South America (24.2), and the Caribbean (15.1).

3 Council on Foreign Relations, Independent Task Force Report No. 79, China’s Belt and Road: Implications for the United States (New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 2021),18.

4 Ibid., 14, 85.

5 U.S. Coast Guard, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Strategic Outlook (Washington, DC: USCG, September 2020), 14.

6 Ryan C. Berg, “China’s Hunger for Seafood Is Now Latin America’s Problem, Foreign Policy, October 30, 2020, available at <https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/30/chinas-hunger-for-seafood-is-now-latin-americas-problem/>.

7 USCG, Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Strategic Outlook.

8 USSOUTHCOM, “SOUTHCOM Supports Transport of U.S. Citizens from Honduras to U.S.,” press release, March 20, 2020, available at <https://www.southcom.mil/News/PressReleases/Article/2120981/southcom-supports-transport-of-us-citizens-from-honduras-to-us/>.

9 Pinnacle is a 1-week, senior-level course taught at the National Defense University for three-star generals and admirals and senior executives from the State Department and other Federal agencies. Along with Mr. Brechbuhl, my Pinnacle class included Ambassador Phil Goldberg, now the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia.

10 Michael Durbay, “Coronavirus Global Response Coordination Unit,” State Magazine, May 2020.

11 Ambassador Ian Brownlee, Statement Before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, July 21, 2020. Ambassador Brownlee noted more than 110,000 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents were repatriated.

12 10 U.S. Code, Sec. 124, states, “Detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs: Department of Defense to be lead agency. (a) Lead Agency. - (1) The Department of Defense shall serve as the single lead agency of the Federal Government for the detection and monitoring of aerial and maritime transit of illegal drugs into the United States.”

13 “International Naval Operation Nets 50 Tonnes of Cocaine in 45 Days,” Reuters, May 29, 2020, available at <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-colombia-crime/international-naval-operation-nets-50-tonnes-of-cocainein-45-days-idUSKBN23531Z>.

14 “USS Kidd Commanding Officer Sends Thank You Letter to San Diego,” U.S. Navy, June 10, 2020, available at <<https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/2284120/uss-kidd-commanding-officer-sends-thank-you-letter-tosan-diego/>.

15 Rachel Salpietra, “JTF-Bravo Concludes Disaster Relief Efforts,” Diálogo, December 8, 2020, available at <https://dialogo-americas.com/articles/jtf-bravo-concludes-disaster-relief-efforts/#.YR-luo5Kjxh>.

16 USSOUTHCOM infographic, “Hurricanes Eta & Iota Humanitarian Assistance,” as of December 9, 2020.


COVID-19 and Superpower Competition: An Effective American Response
By Amit Gupta | Jan. 20, 2022

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Dr. Amit Gupta is an Associate Professor at the Department of International Security Studies, U.S. Air War College.

So how will globalization impact on the efforts of nations to contain the disease? (Unknown)
So how will globalization impact on the efforts of nations to contain the disease? (Unknown)
So how will globalization impact on the efforts of nations to contain the disease? (Unknown)
So how will globalization impact on the efforts of nations to contain the disease? (Unknown)
So how will globalization impact on the efforts of nations to contain the disease? (Unknown)
VIRIN: 220112-D-BD104-1004

Before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, the growing consensus among analysts was that we were entering a period of deglobalization. According to the economic analyst Mohammed el-Erian deglobalization was taking place because by the 2000s the adverse economic impact of globalization had become apparent to the Western middle class. Secondly, the U.S.-China trade war saw rising tariffs and a call for rebuilding national manufacturing capabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic was the last nail in the coffin as countries adopted highly individualistic and nationalistic policies that put national interest above any global concerns.1 Coupled with the perceived drive to deglobalization is the fact that we have re-entered an era of great power competition with the 2017 National Security Strategy clearly stating that both Russia and China are revisionist powers that challenge American primacy and that, “… want to shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests. China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favor.”2 What this article argues is that true security in the emerging international system will require precisely those aspects of globalization that the critics decry because no single country can effectively tackle such a complex and deadly threat as the COVID-19 pandemic through strictly national measures. Further, the emerging great power competition is one not just of military and economic rivalry but, much in the same way as during the Cold War, it is a struggle between different ways to organize societies and particularly to deliver goods and services efficiently and justly. With the latter in mind, how the United States and its allies and partners lead the response to COVID-19 will have an impact on the outcome of global power relationships. If China provides better solutions on dealing with the pandemic, then it will be able to undercut the American-created liberal international order. To discuss this issue, we need to first explain what globalization is and why, in a COVID-19 world, it provides the security solutions to the challenge posed by the disease.

What is Globalization?

There is no single definition of globalization; descriptions include terms as diverse as “Americanization,” “Westernization,” “modernization,” and “sameness.” Globalization is also generally seen solely through the lens of economic interactions like trade, investment, and the flow of wealth around the world. In that context trade wars and attempts to block Chinese investments are the principal focus of anti-globalists. In fact, globalization is much more than economic interactions as it includes not only the global flow of wealth, but also of technology, ideas, and labor.3 While analysts focus primarily on wealth and technology, they forget how the emergence of the internet, satellites, and now social media have rapidly connected the world in ways that were not possible thirty years ago. With data moving at high speeds and in unprecedented quantities around the world, we have seen populations link up in communities ranging from digital diasporas to people linked by common interests and fandom—witness the global community of Real Madrid or Barcelona fans. What has emerged is a global community where ideas and social phenomena in any nation are closely watched around the world and can provide the impetus for social and political changes elsewhere—the Arab Spring is a good example of this phenomenon.

As Benjamin Barber argued in his seminal 1992 article “Jihad vs. McWorld,” the world was coming together because of a scientific imperative and an environmental imperative. The scientific imperative lay in the fact that with the ease of communication scientific efforts had now become collaborative endeavors across nations; and the environmental imperative was the result of the fact that environmental problems could no longer be managed within the borders of a nation and, instead, required greater collaboration between nations.4 When applied to the current COVID-19 pandemic Barber’s drivers of globalization make complete sense. The development and transfer of vaccines has been an international effort and a globally choreographed effort is required to contain and eliminate the virus. So how will globalization impact the efforts of nations to contain the disease? The answer lies in addressing the failures of nations to stop the rapid spread of the disease in the first place.

The National Security Response to COVID-19

Faced with the rapid spread of the virus, countries adopted unilateral measures to try and suppress the contagion. Nations closed borders and airports; Japan essentially quarantined passengers aboard a cruise ship to prevent the spread of the disease, although this only resulted in the rapid fire spread of the virus aboard the ship.5 Other crews were stranded on the high seas; and the calls for assistance from the nations first hit hard by the virus were met with deaf ears from those who were in the best position to help. Thus, the Italian and Spanish governments’ pleas for help were not met by anyone in Europe and it was Cuba that provided assistance to them.

Nor did the two international organizations that could have made a difference respond in a manner that was needed by the international community. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a good record of working to eradicate infectious diseases—after all it was the WHO that had led the crusade for the global eradication of smallpox. Yet in this case, the WHO was relatively inefficient and unwilling to press Beijing to release data on the COVID-19 virus even though Taiwan had sent a warning to the organization about the potential danger from the virus: The fact that Taiwan was not permitted to be a member of the WHO further complicated Taipei’s attempts to get its message across.6 The Trump Administration responded to claims that the WHO was being manipulated by the Chinese by withdrawing from the organization and adding to the problems of seeking a concerted international response to the pandemic.

The other organization that badly failed its members in their most dire hours of need was the European Union (EU). As one commentary pointed out, “They failed to hear the warnings that containment would prove ineffective. They failed to heed experts who said no country could fight the virus on its own, failed to perceive that the world’s most advanced health care systems were at grave risk of being overwhelmed. They failed to understand that drastic measures would be needed until Italy—patient zero among EU member countries—frantically imposed travel restrictions that impeded European leaders’ own movements.”7 A report by the HERoS Project outlined the deficiencies in the response of individual nations as well as the failure of the EU as a common crisis management entity. Within Italy, for example, while there were enough intensive care unit beds in the country the government was unable to move infected people to available hospitals and they were also not allowed to move patients to available beds across borders in neighboring countries.8

Countries also started buying up personal protective equipment (PPE) and restricting the export of equipment and medical supplies to neighboring countries.9 Learning from the chaotic and uncoordinated response, the recommendation has been made that there be a “greater sharing of resources like hospital capacity, medical equipment and even healthcare staff between EU countries” and that an agency be established to coordinate EU level preparations for future pandemics.10

Not only did the EU come in for harsh criticism but the two superpowers—the United States and China—also saw a loss of public support from the European nations. The loss of support for China in Europe arose from, “the aggressive way that China has treated other countries in its response to the crisis—with disinformation, bullying, and threats to withhold medical supplies.”11 The United States, more alarmingly, also saw a drop in public support in Europe: “Over 70 percent of Danes and Portuguese say that their perceptions have worsened, while 68 percent of French, 65 percent of Germans, and 64 percent of Spaniards say the same thing. This is not, in our view, simply one more indication of how strongly Europeans oppose Trump’s way of doing foreign policy. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed a United States divided in its response to the present crisis and haunted by its history. If Trump’s America struggles so much to help itself, how can it be expected to help anyone else?”12 While this drop in positive feelings was a blow to U.S. diplomacy, it was also reflective of the problems caused by the Trump Administration to the Trans-Atlantic relationship—something that the Biden Administration is working hard to correct much to the relief of the Europeans. At the same time, however, the fact that the Trump Administration did not provide global leadership to counter the virus was duly noted by the Europeans. In Italy, 25 percent of the public thought China was a useful ally while only 4 percent thought similarly of the EU.13

From a national security perspective, the U.S. policy of go-it-alone was also ineffective because global supply chains meant that the bulk of PPE and drug supplies were to be imported from India and China and once the global economy ground to a halt such shipments could not be made easily as they are usually carried in the belly of aircraft which were by and large grounded due to the collapse of global air traffic.14

Global Trends?

It has been argued that COVID-19 will lead to three major trends that will further accelerate deglobalization: First, we will move from physical to increasingly virtual interactions; second, nations will eschew the efficiency of globalization to, instead, achieve resiliency; and third, we will focus more on the national sphere as opposed to the international sphere. Each of these trends, however, is heavily skewed toward the richer and more powerful nations in the world as they have the resources, the talent, and the resilient economies that can survive and even take advantage of the shifts caused by COVID-19. For the bulk of nations such an approach provides little joy.

While technologically advanced, knowledge economies could move into the virtual world fairly seamlessly, the same could not be said for nations that lacked the technology to allow their citizens to function in a virtual world. Around the world the digital divide became apparent as, for example, school children were unable to make use of the virtual tools offered to them—if any were offered at all. A UNICEF report brought out the stark reality of this digital gap: “But at least 31 percent of school children worldwide cannot be reached by remote learning programs, mainly due to a lack of necessary household assets or policies geared toward their needs. And 40 percent of countries did not provide remote learning opportunities at the pre-primary level of education.”15 For nations with young populations, like those in Africa and South Asia, this was a deadly blow to their attempts to educate their children, and if we are going to see more pandemics the educational gap both within such societies and between them and other nations will only widen.

Such a digital divide in predominantly young societies can only have catastrophic consequences as their demographic dividend will become a demographic disaster with youth in these nations unable to achieve their economic expectations. Being connected to a globalized world, they will experience growing discontent as they see progress in other parts of their country or in other countries. If anything, the virtual versus physical divide that has split the planet is one of the major concerns that world leaders will have to address in the future.

Resiliency was a victim of the onset of globalization as many of the items required to fight a pandemic had been outsourced to other nations. Thus, PPE and vaccines were being manufactured elsewhere in the world—mainly India and China—and as the Indians found out, the critical raw material for manufacturing vaccines were produced in the West, most notably the United States.16 Since there was an American ban on exporting critical materials, the production of vaccines in India faced bottlenecks and this has happened in the middle of a steep spike in COVID-19 cases.

Resiliency, however, is not an option for the bulk of the 193 nations of the United Nations many of which depend on global goodwill in their quest to vaccinate their populations and to even build up stockpiles of PPE. These nations depend on a global coalition to achieve human security and that is why 183 countries joined the Coalition for Epidemic Prevention Innovations (CEPI) Covax initiative that was assembled by Norway, India, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to counter the pandemic. Covax is an initiative that will give countries that would otherwise not be able to afford the vaccine the ability to access it; this goes against the idea that countries will be able to actually build up resiliency through their individual efforts.

The third argument in favor of the world returning to national over international preoccupation is also flawed since the only way to control future pandemics is not through closing borders or adopting protectionist policies. Instead, it will require high levels of coordination in the international realm. For instance, what we are witnessing at the time of writing is the international attempt to help India resolve the new crisis it faces from the spiking number of cases in the country. New Delhi, therefore, has accelerated the production of foreign vaccines like the Pfizer and Russian Sputnik V vaccines to try and tackle what has become a catastrophic situation.

Vaccines and Great Power Politics

As mentioned above, the battle against COVID-19 has become a part of great power competition as both Russia and China are accelerating efforts to supply their vaccines across the world thus increasing their influence and advancing their commercial interests. For America, in an age of globalization, the ability to mount a successful global effort against pandemics has helped enhance its status in world affairs; implementing an international plan against COVID-19 would not only boost American soft power but also check Russian and Chinese efforts at gaining global influence. Moreover, the pandemic has become a competition of competing narratives as the great powers push their respective agendas and cast suspicion on the efforts of their rivals.

In the past, the United States was the leader in global pandemic response as it worked to eradicate ravaging diseases that were curable with the correct treatments and universally administered inoculations. U.S. assistance to the WHO was one of the factors leading to universal vaccination against smallpox, and the world has not seen a case of smallpox since 1976.17 Similarly, the United States took the lead against Ebola sending medical supplies, doctors, and military personnel to control its spread, and working with partner African nations to help control the disease while contributing one billion dollars for the effort.18

Also noteworthy is the role of the George W. Bush Administration in combating the spread of AIDS in Africa which will go down as one of the most effective policies pursued by that administration.19 The Bush Administration established the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a major foreign aid program that provided antiretroviral treatment for millions of people on the African continent and may be one of the most important international security measures taken by the United States in the past two decades because of the effect it had on containing the disease.

If one goes back even further, the United States took a major step to tackle global hunger and increase the income of farmers in developing nations through the creation of a Green Revolution in farming techniques (although this process did lead to environmental degradation and income disparities between upper and lower class farmers).20 America’s policies to influence nations across the world, therefore, have not been solely based on military and economic policy tools but also on creating a healthier world order. It is this commitment that has given the country some of the soft power it uses to achieve its foreign policy goals. Yet, on COVID-19, the United States has fallen behind other nations that have usurped its role of global health propagator.

At the outset of the global COVID-19 pandemic two countries were notably reticent regarding the need to create an international counter-pandemic consensus—China and the United States. The Chinese took time to release the DNA of the virus to national and international scientific bodies thus delaying attempts to develop an effective vaccine. The United States, which was caught up in an election year, was pursuing an America-first policy with competing rhetoric emphasizing deglobalization, and the need to make a political statement against China. Neither power stepped up to bring the major nations of the world together in a dialogue on a coordinated response to the crisis. Moreover, the Trump Administration, correctly banking on the rapid development of American vaccines, had no plan on how to utilize the vaccines made in other parts of the world like in Britain and India.

In contrast, the Russians and the Chinese were able to start early global delivery of their indigenously produced vaccines thereby earning gratitude from the publics of receiving countries. While the Russian Sputnik V was originally dismissed as being ineffective it is now recognized as having 91 percent efficacy, leading to high demand worldwide. Under an agreement with India, six Indian companies will be producing the Russian vaccine and once production gears up, it is expected that 50 million doses will be available every month in the country (and that by the end of 2021 more than 450 million doses will be produced in India).21

As Sputnik V inoculates populations around the world it will ease some of the negative views toward Moscow resulting from the policies of Vladimir Putin and, as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban pointed out, the people of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe have confidence in Sputnik V because of historical precedents: “Under Communism we were vaccinated with Soviet vaccines as children; and, as you can see, we’re fine.”22 The Russian vaccine has made inroads in Eastern Europe for historical reasons and also because of the tardiness of the European Medicines Association in approving alternative vaccines for distribution. One has to be cautious about stating just how much Russian diplomacy will benefit from its international vaccine distribution, but Moscow has signed agreements to sell 388.1 million doses to 20 countries, and the deal with India may be a game changer as the Russians will be able to harness India’s large vaccine manufacturing capability to increase the number of country customers.23

Both Russia and China are thinking strategically about how the transfer and distribution of vaccines will support their economic and foreign policies while helping them accrue soft power. Russia and China are establishing vaccine facilities across the world as well as training local workers from emerging countries, and it is believed this will strengthen their presence in these countries for decades. As the Economist Intelligence Unit points out, both countries seek entry into regions where the United States and Western Europe have influence—Latin America and Eastern Europe—with the goal of sowing discord within Western alliances. In the case of China, it is clear that much of the vaccine produced both by state and private companies is being sold or given as gifts to countries that participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).24

The Economist Intelligence Unit summed up the consequences of Russian and Chinese vaccine diplomacy:

“Assistance in the form of vaccines will often come with economic or political strings attached. For instance, Russia started discussions with Bolivia about access to mines producing rare earth minerals and nuclear projects shortly after delivering a consignment of its Sputnik V vaccine. Vaccines may also prove to be a reward for countries that have proved to be reliable partners in the past. For example, China may seek to reward Cambodia and Laos with vaccines for their support on territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, Pakistan may be getting shots in return for its approval of projects linked to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).”25

The report therefore suggests that such efforts will reinforce the global standing and leverage of Russia and China in emerging countries, helping both countries to gain influence and pursue their interests around the world. The longer-term consequence of today’s vaccine diplomacy may be a further fragmentation of the global order.26

Chinese Vaccine diplomacy

The China case is somewhat different than Russia because unlike Moscow, Beijing successfully combines vision, ambition, and resources. Russia would like greater influence along its own borders and to exert influence in other parts of the world—its ambition, however, is not matched by its capabilities—but the Chinese are actively working to supplant the United States as the primary economic power in different parts of the world and vaccine diplomacy can help advance that objective. Thus, China has the ambition to surpass the United States, they have a vision and strategy on how to do so—ranging from the BRI and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to the recent Comprehensive Agreement on Investments with the EU—and most importantly, Beijing has the economic resources to make this happen.

With respect to vaccine distribution China is pursuing both a commercial and grant approach to providing vaccines to various countries. Vaccines manufactured by the private companies are being sold at commercial rates while those manufactured by state companies—currently the Sinopharm vaccine—are being donated to other countries.

The Chinese have several advantages in their vaccine diplomacy: they were able to bring their vaccines to the market earlier than those produced by the West; they are providing large numbers of doses to countries like Brazil and Indonesia which helped with clinical trials of the drugs; and they have the manufacturing capability, unlike the Russians, to produce vaccines in large volumes. Russia, in fact, has signed deals with Chinese companies to produce 260 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine since Russia does not have the productive capacity to bring out the drug in such large quantities.27 Additionally, the Chinese have the resources to donate the vaccine to target nations around the world. They have also benefitted from the ineptness of the West to make inroads into territories where they previously had only a minimal presence.

While the pandemic may have originated in China, the ineptness of organizations like the EU gave Beijing a reprieve as blame shifted to the poor response of national and supranational administrations. Italy, for example, asked the EU for help but little was sent so, by March 2020, China dispatched healthcare workers and medicines to Italy,28 as well as to countries ranging from Serbia and the Czech Republic to the Philippines.29 What could give China an advantage is its distribution of vaccines to developing nations. While the United States has not joined the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovators (CEPI) COVAX alliance, China and 182 other countries have, and their goal is to provide vaccines globally with a substantial number of countries in Asia and Africa getting vaccines at subsidized rates.30 More importantly, the entire range of Chinese vaccines have been clinically tested in countries in Latin America, Central Asia, South East Asia, and the Middle East. Thus when they are approved by national health authorities—as some Arab nations already have—they can be easily distributed in these regions, especially since the Chinese goal is to produce 4 billion doses in 2021.31 If China is able to produce even half the number of vaccines that they propose in 2021, it will have a significant impact on halting the spread of the pandemic across the world and give a major boost to China’s international standing which has been hurt in recent years by its aggressive “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy and other aggressive behavior (a note of caution here though as most countries have not yet validated the efficacy of Chinese vaccines through their tests).

In this context, China’s President Xi Jinping has announced that China will supply vaccines world-wide as a global public good thus distributing the doses equitably and at presumably subsidized rates. It is expected that internationally China will first supply the vaccine to the countries where it was initially tested—Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, and Mexico signed up to test vaccines from different Chinese companies.32 More recently, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have approved the Sinopharm vaccine for delivery. The advantage for China’s vaccine diplomacy is that its large pharmaceutical industry could produce billions of vaccines at reduced costs33 while those in the West have been commandeered for the domestic public (rich countries with 14 percent of the world’s population have acquired 53 percent of the most promising vaccines).34 Vaccine inequity may, therefore, give Beijing the chance to revive its international status while painting the United States as a nation that is increasingly unilateralist and unwilling to think of global public welfare or of the global commons.

Along with its supply of vaccines, China has once again become the global supplier of masks and PPE as its factories have reopened and its global supply chains have begun to function again, albeit not at their pre-pandemic pace. Even at the height of the pandemic, however, Chinese companies were able to export masks in large quantities and, according to the Global Times, “From March to December last year (2020), China exported 224.2 billion face masks worth 340 billion yuan ($53.38 billion), equivalent to nearly 40 face masks for every foreigner…”35 Such a supply of protective equipment has two consequences; it fit into the Chinese narrative as a benevolent actor in the international system seeking to protect global health; but it also is starting to impact on the preparedness and resilience of other countries. American mask and PPE companies, which increased capacity in response to the needs of the American population in 2020, now face an inflow of cheap Chinese equipment with the possible result that these companies will be driven out of business thus adversely impacting American attempts to establish a resilient and reliable supply chain.36

An American Response

The United States has arrived late at the table to create a Washington-led international initiative to deal with the pandemic. The Trump Administration was caught in its America First rhetoric when it should have, at the very least, been bringing together the world’s democracies to initiate a concerted international response to the COVID-19 challenge. The American response was further complicated by the fact that pandemic response—like everything else in Washington—was politicized, pitting those arguing in favor of a science-based approach against those emphasizing the economy at the expense of strict health precautions.37 In contrast, small nations like Taiwan, Israel, and New Zealand were proactive in taking steps to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and their efforts met with considerable success. Even China, after imposing draconian restrictions in Wuhan, has been able to keep the number of daily cases to under 200 thereby allowing it to export vaccine doses in its vaccine diplomacy campaign. The U.S. vaccine rollout started slowly in December 2020 and only gained momentum in February of 2021; by then the Chinese and Russians had started dispatching vaccines around the world.

The Biden Administration, unlike its predecessor, recognized the vital role of vaccine diplomacy and the need for an international response to the pandemic. It rejoined the WHO and one of the important outcomes from the first virtual meeting of the Quad nations—Japan, Australia, India, and the United States—was the American decision, along with other Quad members, to facilitate the manufacture of vaccines in India.

At the summit the Quad members decided to subsidize India’s impressive vaccine production efforts accelerating global vaccination efforts. Before the second wave of COVID-19 crippled India, the country’s Vaccine Maitri (Vaccine Friendship) program saw India, by the middle of March 2021, transfer over 58 million vaccines globally (as a combination of grants, commercial sales, and as part of the Covax initiative) to countries as varied as Bangladesh, Barbados, and Rwanda.38 The U.S. government partnership with the Indian firm Biological E. will help address the criticism of U.S. policy since the plan is to have India manufacture and distribute one billion doses around the world by the end of 2022. Of course, a spanner has been thrown into these plans by the advent of the second wave in India that has halted Indian exports of the vaccine. Problems have also arisen in the supply of the raw materials from the United States required to manufacture the vaccine in India. India did by October 2021, however, vaccinate one billion of its citizens and this could potentially clearly the way for large scale exports in 2022.

Since China has sent its vaccines around the world, and started to gain soft power from such efforts, it is imperative that the Quad partnership counter this Chinese effort, and India, as the largest vaccine manufacturer in the world, is uniquely placed to not only vaccinate the world and create a safer global environment but also to counter the Chinese narrative. Vaccine diplomacy may, in fact, be the most significant short-term achievement of the Quad and may allow it to play a crucial role in improving global health.

In June 2021, the Biden Administration forged an agreement in the G7 to fund the supply of a billion vaccine doses; this is the kind of proactive measure toward achieving global herd immunity. The question, however, is whether one billion doses is sufficient; the WHO believes that 11 billion vaccines are needed to bring coverage to 70 percent of the world’s population and thus achieve herd immunity.39

What more can the Biden Administration do to provide leadership in the COVID-19 world that we will live in for the near future? First and foremost, as Osterholm and Olshaker argue, the country must engage in systematic planning for this and future pandemics. Such planning would include convening actors at the national level to develop a coherent strategy, to fully fund the National Strategic Stockpile of medicines and supplies, and to recognize that the government and not market forces must take the lead role in such efforts.40

Internationally, the Biden Administration’s first steps have been promising but we need to remember that the large majority of people in the world are not going to get vaccinated in 2021 and may well have to wait years to attain some kind of immunity. The United States, therefore, should engage in short as well as long term planning since the conventional wisdom is that the world will not only witness additional waves of the virus but that we will require an international institutional response to future pandemics.

In the short term, in response to the outbreaks across the world, the Biden Administration has taken multiple steps to provide relief to other nations. Following a request from the Indian authorities, the Biden Administration decided to remove the embargo on the export of the raw materials required to produce the vaccine. The United States has sufficient vaccine supplies to fully inoculate 750 million people having purchased 100 million doses each from Johnson & Johnson, Novovax, and Sanofi, and 300 million doses each from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca.41 This is a large surplus that will have a limited shelf life; to hoard it is an inefficient use of this vital resource. The United States is now seeking to loan 4 million doses to Canada and to Mexico although both the Canadian and Mexican governments had to separately negotiate to indemnify AstraZeneca.42 As American surpluses grow, they should be distributed as quickly and effectively around the world as possible. The United States, under Operation Warp Speed, contracted for six vaccines and while not all have been approved for emergency use, they will eventually come online providing an embarrassment of riches in vaccine supply.

An interesting development in the Biden Administration vaccine strategy has been to call for a waiver of patent protections on the new vaccines in order to allow less developed nations to manufacture the vaccine at affordable rates. There are compelling reasons for such a waiver since it will be the fastest way to check the spread of the pandemic and because the development of the vaccines was made possible by taxpayer dollars. Additionally, China is giving away the vaccines developed by its state pharmaceutical companies or offering at subsidized rates to the non-Western world, and the United States cannot afford to lose more influence to Beijing than it already has in South America or Africa where the next major outbreak is likely to occur.43

While these steps are promising and show American determination to demonstrate global leadership, several other measures are necessary for the United States to make its COVID-19 plan as effective as past international health care efforts. First, a global conference is urgently needed at which countries specify their healthcare shortcomings; the United States and its capable partners must apply their collective intellectual capital to help address these shortcomings. Given the data amassed by the Centers for Disease Control the United States has much to offer to nations that have not even a fraction of the necessary resources.

Second, the United States should proactively track where future outbreaks are most likely and begin building resilience in these regions. Brazil and parts of South America are considered vulnerable as is Southern Africa; stockpiling vaccines and PPE supplies, and propagating safe practices through social media campaigns are some easy but effective steps.

As part of this reimagination of American policy there must be an emphasis on fractured societies such as in Syria and Yemen where civil wars and societal divisions not only complicate medical efforts but render these societies potential super-spreaders. As Eleonora Ardemagni has written in the case of Yemen, “…the response to the pandemic is uncoordinated among the official government, the self-proclaimed Houthi government and the local authorities, a potential health crisis is likely to increase political fragmentation and, as a result, the role of militiadoms.”44 Managing the refugee flows from either Syria or Yemen is difficult in the best of times, so these are areas that merit special concern.

One promising factor for the Biden Administration is that neither China nor Russia can claim to have gained an advantage over the United States in terms of providing global leadership in handling the pandemic and while both may have enjoyed some soft power gains, the United States can quite easily reverse these advantages. A global strategic vision and a channeling of resources, industry, and technology to provide vaccines and equipment to the rest of the world would catapult the United States back into the leadership position. China’s vaccines are not considered the most effective while Russia’s Sputnik V, though considered very effective, cannot be transferred rapidly around the world unless several nations take up its manufacture on a large scale. Further, in both the cases of Russia and China there is concern that vaccine assistance comes with strings attached even though President Xi Jinping has made claims to the contrary. Given these facts an American approach that brings the countries of the world together, harnesses scientific and logistic capabilities, and is targeted at the most vulnerable countries in the world would be the most effective strategy.

Conclusion

The globalized nature of the contemporary world has been underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic which has shown no respect for national borders and whose spread has not been well managed or contained by purely national efforts. Further, the virus has become another weapon in the strategic competition between Russia, China, and the United States for global influence; and there is reason to fear that the United States may have fallen behind its competitors. With this in mind, the United States should work to create a global consensus at least among democratic nations on defeating the pandemic. Such leadership is not only needed for global economic recovery and in the implementation of non-traditional security, it is also in American self-interest. Failure to meet this challenge will prolong a global calamity, diminish American prestige, and leave the door open for China and Russia to pursue their global soft power agendas. PRISM

Notes

1 Caleb Silver, El-Erian on the Long-Term Effects of the Crisis, Investopedia Insight, April 30, 2020.

2 United States National Security Strategy, Washington D.C. December 2017, p.25.

3 Eryn Brown, “How the pandemic could globalize the economy even more—not less,” Knowable Magazine, 11.05. 2020.

4 Benjamin R. Barber, “Jihad vs. McWorld,” The Atlantic, March 1, 1992.

5 Blake Essig, Brent Swails, Yoko Wakatsuki and Ben Westcott, “Top Japanese government adviser says Diamond Princess quarantine was flawed,” CNN.Com, February 27, 2020.

6 Louise Watt, Taiwan Says It Tried to Warn the World About Coronavirus. Here’s What It Really Knew and When, Time, May 19, 2020.

7 David Herszenhorn and Sarah Wheaton, “How Europe failed the coronavirus test,” Politico.EU, April 7, 2020.

8 Richard Gray, Lack of solidarity hampered Europe’s coronavirus response, research finds, Horizon: The EU Research and Innovation Magazine, November 12, 2020.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ivan Kratsev and Mark Leonard, “Europe’s pandemic politics: How the virus has changed the public’s worldview,” European Council on Foreign Relations Policy Brief, June 24, 2020.

12 Ibid.

13 Katherine Butler, Coronavirus: Europeans say EU was ‘irrelevant’ during pandemic, The Guardian, June 24, 2020.

14 Gray, op. cit.

15 United Nations Children’s Fund, “COVID-19: Are children able to continue learning during school closures? A global analysis of the potential reach of remote learning policies using data from 100 countries.” UNICEF, New York, 2020, p. 1.

16 Arvind Gupta, Rudra Chaudhuri, Harsh Pant, Rueben Abraham, Nitin Pai, “To Friends in the United States: Facilitate Global Vaccine Manufacturing, Carnegie India Commentary, April 23, 2021.

17 James Haynes and Cheng Li, “The US cooperated with the Soviets on Smallpox—it should do the same with China on COVID-19 vaccine distribution,” Brookings Institution, August 27, 2020.

18 Factsheet: US Response to the Ebola Outbreak in the eastern DRC, US Mission to the African Union, December 2, 2019.

19 David Pilling, Why George W. Bush is Africa’s favourite US president, Financial Times, July 17, 2019.

20 “Green Revolution: Curse or Blessing?” International Food Policy Research Institute, 2002.

21 Tarun Bharadwaj, India to become Russian Sputnik V vaccine’s production hub, to start making 50 mn doses per month by summer, Financial Express (India), April 14, 2021.

22 Ivana Karaskova, Injecting influence: China’s vaccine diplomacy in Central and Eastern Europe, MERICS Institute, March 25, 2021.

23 Michael Safi and Milivoje Pantovic, “Vaccine Diplomacy: West falling behind in quest for influence,” The Guardian, February 19, 2021.

24 What’s next for vaccine diplomacy, Economist Intelligence Unit, Global Forecast 2021, pp. 1-3.

25 Ibid. p. 1

26 “Western powers have lost the vaccine diplomacy battle,” Economist Intelligence Unit, April 28, 2021.

27 Huizhong Wu and Daria Litvinova, Russia turns to China to make Sputnik shots to meet demand, Associated Press, May 3, 2021.

28 “China sends medical supplies, experts to help battle Coronavirus,” Reuters, March 13, 2020.

29 Ken Moritsugu, “China, on virus PR offensive, sends masks and experts abroad,” ABC News, March 21, 2020, China, on virus PR offensive, sends masks and experts abroad - ABC News (go.com).

30 Dave Lawler, “Vaccine initiative now covers almost entire world, but not U.S. or Russia,” Axios, October 13, 2020.

31 Smriti Mallapaty, China’s COVID vaccines are going global — but questions remain, Nature, May 4, 2021.

32 Eileen Guo and Charlotte Jee, “How the US, UK and China are planning to roll out vaccines,” MIT Technology Review, December 4, 2020.

33 David Cryanoski, “Arab Nations first to approve Chinese COVID vaccine—Despite Lack of Public Data,” Nature, December 14, 2020.

34 Sarah Boseley, “Nine out of 10 in poor nations to miss out on inoculation as west buys up COVID vaccines,” The Guardian, December 9, 2020.

35 US dumping allegations over Chinese mask firms groundless, ungrateful: experts, Global Times, May 30, 2021.

36 Jeff Ferry, “Has the US Learned Anything? Cut-price China Face Masks Driving US Mask Makers out of Business, Coalition for a Prosperous America, June 14, 2021.

37 For a discussion of America’s initial approach see Michael T. Osterholm and Mark Olshaker, Chronicle of a Pandemic Foretold: Learning from the COVID-19 Failure—Before the Next Outbreak Arrives, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 99, No. 4, July/August 2020, pp. 16-17.

38 Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, COVID-19: Vaccine Supply, Vaccine Supply (mea.gov.in)

39 “Coronavirus G7: Could a billion more vaccines for poorer countries make a difference?,” BBC News, June 14, 2021.

40 Osterholm and Olshaker, op. cit., pp. 21-22.

41 Madhuri Sastry and Suchitra Vijayan, India Desperately Needs Biden’s Help to Address the COVID-19 Surge, The Nation, April 28, 2021.

42 Ibid.

43 Nathan Weixel, Biden backs COVID-19 vaccine patent waivers, The Hill, May 5, 2021.

44 Eleonora Ardemagni, Beyond Yemen’s Militias, Institute for Security Studies Conflict Series, Brief 8, April 2020, p. 8.