CORVID-19 is WMD–US Government Must Reconfigure Institutions to Sustain Resources for Bio-Preparedness | Charles Duelfer

CORVID-19 is WMD–US Government Must Reconfigure Institutions to Sustain Resources for Bio-Preparedness


Among the many lessons we are re-learning as we experience the current pandemic is the enormous effect it has on military operations and national security generally. 

The aircraft carrier whose captain was recently fired for expressing his concern about the spread of corona virus among his crew reminds us of the consequences of infectious diseases on the military.  In fact, prior to the past century, disease was a dominant factor in hobbling military operations.  George Washington had to take into account small pox.  Historically, casualties from disease are larger than casualties from enemy action.  In the Journal Military Medicine, Volume 180, June 2005, the authors state that, “prior to World War I, the ratio of deaths due to disease versus battle injury was approximately 10:1.”  Coincident with the advances in medicine in the 20th century (and the ability to kill larger numbers of people with munitions), the rates dropped, being 1:1 in World War I (think Spanish Flu) and only 0.01:1 in the Gulf War.

During last few decades we have lived without the immediate threat of epidemics. The threat lost its immediacy.  And there was a deadly bureaucratic consequence—protecting the country was seen in military terms.  Resources and institutions have assured military forces (and intelligence collection) that dwarf defense against biological threats.  President George W. Bush attempted to re-balance this with a detailed initiative in 2006 (forgotten in the dominant narrative regarding Iraq).  The program his team put together then looks astonishingly prescient today.

Coming out of this COVID-19 experience, whether under this president or another, we must re-structure the bureaucracy so there is a sustained institutional body in the bureaucracy with corresponding interests and oversight in Congress that will have resources commensurate with the (now) obvious risk.  The so-called military industrial complex assures military capability—we need a corresponding bio-preparedness infrastructure. We have worried about WMD threats–now we are experiencing one.

Our failure to guard against and respond to this threat has done more damage to the country than any recent military conflict.  Some entity, perhaps a blue ribbon panel, must be convened now to consider how to reconfigure the current system so this doesn’t happen again. 

A simple point of departure is the strategy laid out under George W. Bush in the May 2006 ( ) and subsequent iterations that can be seen at CDC (

Bush had announced his intent the previous November in a speech that sounds particularly potent today.  The initiative did not take full root in the bureaucracy. We don’t want to make this mistake again…we can’t afford it.  Some group, with all key stakeholders needs to lay down a non-political roadmap so this failure by government to defend against something entirely predictable doesn’t happen again.  The world has changed and now it’s blindingly obvious to everyone.

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