J. Stephen Morrison and Thomas R. Cullison. "The U.S. Department of Defense’s Role in Health Security: Current Capabilities and Recommendations for the Future." CSIS Commission on Strengthening America's Health Security, Center for Strategic and International Studies, June 27, 2019. Accessed May 11, 2022.

The CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security proposes ways to strengthen and integrate the Department of Defense’s unique capabilities into a cohesive U.S. health security approach.

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A health worker takes the temperature of U.S. Marines arriving to take part in Operation United Assistance on October 9, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia.
A health worker takes the temperature of U.S. Marines arriving to take part in Operation United Assistance on October 9, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore/Getty

Protecting the homeland against biological threats begins with preventing those threats from reaching our shores. The Department of Defense (DOD) contributes to overall U.S. health security through programs specifically aimed at countering biological threats from all sources—through public health activities coordinated with civilian counterparts at home and abroad and through research and development of medical countermeasures aimed at protecting U.S. Forces against health risks throughout the world. Civilian and military scientists, public health experts, and disaster planners are somewhat familiar with DOD’s health security capabilities, yet most lack a clear understanding of the breadth, depth, and limitations of DOD’s capacities.

A solid and consistent U.S. policy framework has steadily evolved over the past few decades that identifies health as a national security issue and calls for a broad-based, inclusive national response to addressing the issue of health security. Now is the time to more fully integrate DOD’s unique expertise and capabilities in a more cohesive and efficient manner. This paper provides a broad overview of DOD health security activities and capabilities and also offers select concrete recommendations for strengthening the coherence and integration of DOD activities, with a special emphasis on leadership, novel diseases and new dangerous forms of resistance, surveillance, building host country capacities, and expanded exercises.

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The Department of Defense Contributions to Pandemic Response

The Department of Defense (DOD) should be systematically incorporated into any evolving U.S. government vision on international health security. A process of strategic planning that encompasses a spectrum of valuable DOD contributions to contain the global Covid-19 pandemic should begin right away. DOD has broad capabilities that have consistently proven their high value in addressing the current Covid-19 pandemic and other historical disease outbreaks, in support of the U.S. civilian-led response. The knowledge and experience gained in crisis response at home and overseas contribute to military readiness and improved coordination of all actors involved in preventing, detecting, and responding to infectious disease events.