The security sector (intelligence, judiciary, police, prisons, armed forces) is an important element of crisis management in most countries. Whilst the contribution of these authorities will be focussed on internal and external security challenges, they have many core capabilities that can support other non-security responses including planning assistance, transport, logistics, manpower, and health services.
This has also applied at the NATO/EU level with existing mechanisms supporting collaboration between countries. The benefits of this civil-military co-operation are likely to form part of any future review of the Covid-19 response.
Maintenance of core security capabilities
All countries have imposed draconian public health ‘lockdown’ measures to reduce the risk of transmission of the disease across their populations. These have had substantial implications for all employers, given that most workplaces have been closed.
Like health services, there are core security capabilities that have had to be maintained such as overseas military operations, domestic security operations (eg protection of air and maritime borders), essential security response capabilities (eg public order, counterterrorism), and wider contributions to national crisis response. This has required specific health protection policy and training, including isolation and quarantine for critical personnel.
The examples of Covid-19 outbreaks in the aircraft carriers USS Nimitz and the Charles de Gaulle have shown the potential impact of a local Covid-19 outbreak on military capabilities. The challenge of managing Covid-19 in the legal system and prisons have been specific discrete issues for security institutions. There is also pressure to re-open the recruiting and training pipeline for security personnel whilst complying with infection control measures.
General military capabilities in support of Covid-19 response
The specific range of security activities that are supporting national and international responses has varied by country and the timeline of the crisis. In the early stages many countries used military aircraft and aeromedical evacuation capability to repatriate nationals from the worst affected countries. This has extended into wider repatriation for nationals trapped as a result of the closure of borders and the collapse of the air transport industry.
As the focus shifted to internal responses, the police and some armed forces have conducted public order operations to ensure public compliance with restrictions of movement. Military logistics forces have supported the procurement, manufacture, storage, transport and distribution of critical supplies including personal protective equipment, ventilators, and oxygen.
Military units have been re-rolled to provide new functions such as mobile Covid-19 testing units or patient screening centres at hospitals Overall, this crisis has shown that, in the words of the UK Military:
‘Defence can play a supporting role, providing niche capabilities, or more generalist support when the civil authorities’ capacity/capability is overwhelmed by an incident, when directed to do so, or when preparing for major national events.’