Written by Tania Latici,
While armed forces may find it difficult to distance themselves from what is perceived as their primary mission, the coronavirus pandemic largely challenges society’s vision of their role. This has been showcased through the vital contributions of the military to civilian authorities’ responses to contain and stop the spread of coronavirus.
Exchanging guns for bags of food supplies and disinfectant spray, military personnel have been among the first responders in the coronavirus pandemic. Whether distributing food, building hospitals or shelters for the homeless, European armed forces were mobilised early. Trained to react quickly in highly dangerous conditions, the military carried out missions of repatriation and evacuation of citizens and transported medical supplies and protective equipment. Almost all European Union (EU) Member States have mobilised their armed forces in one way or another.
Discouraging post-crisis economic projections indicate that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic will not spare the defence sector, nor will it weaken geopolitical tensions. With resources further under strain, countries’ abilities to meet the EU’s defence ambitions with the required investments is under question. However, current EU defence initiatives, if appropriately financed, could see the EU being better prepared to face future pandemics among other threats. Examples include various projects under the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) mechanism, as well as the European Defence Fund, whose precursor already envisioned pandemic-relevant projects. While EU missions and operations abroad continue, they too have seen their activities limited. However, this has not stopped the EU from deploying staff to help locals in host countries to tackle the virus.
In coordination with the EU, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) has also provided vital assistance to Allies and partners. Its disaster relief coordination centre, as well as the strategic lift platform and rapid air mobility mechanism, successfully ensured the swift provision of essential equipment and supplies. Around the world, armed forces have demonstrated their added value by closely assisting authorities and citizens in battling the pandemic.
Read this briefing on ‘The role of armed forces in the fight against coronavirus‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.