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HomeWorldWHO Let the Dogs Out: The Implications of the Emerging Ebola Threat

WHO Let the Dogs Out: The Implications of the Emerging Ebola Threat

By Ramin Bryan Karbasi

Edited by  Shambhavi Singh, Senior editor, The Indian Economist

There is little debate on as to how much the occurrence of the recent Ebola pandemic is a cause for concern. The pandemic’s ramifications include, but are unfortunately not limited to crippling societies, futile instances of governance, and horrifically ceaseless death tolls across the world. One only needs to consider the developing situation in Liberia – the world’s most recent example that embodies each aforementioned consequence of the pandemic – to witness how debilitating a biological handicap can be to a modern-day society. It also, rather somberly, provides concrete and ample ground for speculations concerning the effects of a biological or chemical attack on a population.

The occurrence of an unanticipated pandemic or bio-terror attack is one of the most socially, politically, and economically debilitating security threats today. Echoing potential H5N1 modifications for example, one can very reasonably infer that the world and United States’ precautionary response capabilities are unprepared in the event of a large-scale and intentional alteration of a relatively benign pathogen into an extremely lethal organism.

While rudimentary subsets of law and social justice may fail (as they have in places such as Liberia), more robust and highly organized alternatives may not. For instance, a militarily guided response in the aftermath of a pandemic could in fact be quite efficient, effective, and even necessary. It may lessen the impact of the outbreak, encourage multilateral cooperation to halt the spread of and eradicate the pandemic in ‘record’ time, and establish and enforce strict guidelines that may later serve as the foundations of an era spearheaded by a new and unprecedented international bio-security paradigm.

The utilization of a militarily guided response effort elicits many benefits, not least of which is the simple recognition of the fact that much of an emerging bio-security threat would be a matter of information dissemination. Taking this into consideration, one must be cognizant of the fact that limiting or ‘eradicating’ information  and knowledge, by extension  is not only virtually impossible, but also highly unethical. This is perhaps best highlighted by Laurie Garrett’s Foreign Affairs article “Synbio: Biology’s Brave New World.” In it, Mrs. Garrett notes that African diplomats expressed concern regarding the proposed bio safety guidelines – they remarked, “that their countries didn’t have the resources to implement bio safety guidelines” proposed at the 2013 WHO summit. As the piece later goes on to mention, this sentiment was in fact shared by most other developing nations. In fact, these feelings coupled with the aforementioned consequences of inaction (or worse, futility) present an extremely convincing case for an objectively oriented military-guided response effort if a securer world and results are truly desired.

Not surprisingly, most of the public shudders at the thought of a militarily guided effort. Thoughts of severe and harsh instances of martial law and rampant totalitarianism creep into, and subsequently, taint any mention or consideration of such efforts. Yet, this should not be the case in this instance. In no way does this policy advocate for a suspension (or overthrow) of governmental bodies and organizations, nor does it grant significant and unchecked powers to a state’s respective military. If anything, this policy option is just that: an option. It is an avenue of resolution in the event of an arduous and enervating occurrence. It does not have to ever be enacted, nor does it ever have to be formed to any degree. It should, as most other policy options are, be considered and, if chosen, be rightfully checked and compliant with higher governing bodies.

In the instance that the policy is first implemented by the United States, most of the response effort’s tasks will likely fall within the following four objectives: assisting in disease surveillance, assisting partner nations (particularly in military-to-military assistance), protecting and treating US forces and dependents, and providing support to civil authorities in the United States. There is little room to debate the merits of how efficient and effective a militarily guided response effort would be in achieving each of the objectives mentioned above. Where certain civil authorities may falter or prove to be fairly ineffective, the military (and Department of Defense) will shine. This is not because the civil authorities are incompetent, but because they may simply lack the full breadth, size, funding, privileges, and capabilities that the military (and Department of Defense) possesses. For instance, if the United States were to allocate funds to and strengthen the Department of Defense’s disease surveillance objective, it would also strengthen United States national security by monitoring for a broader range of pathogens and consequently preparing adequately for them. This bolstering would also underscore WHO’s efforts to create a formidable multilateral bio security institution. The military (and Department of Defense) will be far more effective in treating patients, processing and tracking patients, and controlling movement into and out of areas with affected populations than would the civil authorities.

Yet with great power comes greater responsibility. That is, the response effort must be adequately checked and regulated in order to prevent any indirect impairment to governing institutions. Hence, continuing the US-specific example to further check and regulate the powers of this response effort, policy-makers should recognize the limitations of the Department of Defense’s support given its national defense and force protection responsibilities. By recognizing these limitations, the United States would be able to draft and implement a new response strategy that modifies the “tiered response” of the National Response Framework (NRF). Under this new strategy federal intervention would be necessitated once certain thresholds were exceeded. The strategy would be predominately based upon the conception that it would be ill advised to wait until a matter has reached extreme severity to then consider federal action. Thresholds guarantee the guidance and attention of the federal government, and they ensure early detection and resolution. One threshold may include the spread of a pathogen to multiple states after it was initially limited to one, despite the severity of infections. Other, more severe thresholds would have to be exceeded in order to necessitate federal military action, but exercise of Title 32 would be suggested in most tiers. Finally, in matters of extreme severity, it may be advisable to move for the enacting of Federal Status.

Ultimately, the potential outbreak of any pandemic is devitalizing for a state. The effects are well known and widely felt anywhere from the most basic social institutions to the most complex economic and political infrastructures in the state. On an international level, the pandemic threatens the very stability of geopolitical and economic relations. And these are only a few examples of a pandemic’s consequences.

Ramin is currently a Senior Honors student at Southern Methodist University, where he majors in Political Science and Sociology. An avid student of comparative politics and economics, Ramin hopes to one day pursue post-graduate International Development studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. As such, and acknowledging the works of Mr. Nayef Al-Rodhan, he best describes himself as a symbiotic realist. A self-ascribed Francophile, Ramin also enjoys reading works of French existential literature in his spare time.