Ellen Laipson is the director of the Schar School’s highly rated Master’s in International Security program and director of the Center for Security Policy Studies. Her most recent post from her 25-year career in the federal government was as the Vice Chair of the National Intelligence Council. Laipson served from 2002 to 2015 as the President and CEO of the Stimson Center. This column was adapted from an April 23 essay in World Politics Review.
How are America’s armed forces aiding U.S. citizens in this time of crisis?
Laipson: The USNS Comfort and the USNS Mercy usually call on ports in Africa or around the Indian Ocean to provide basic health services to underserved populations. During conflicts, they provide emergency medical care to American troops. This time, the symbolism is quite different, as their intended beneficiaries inhabit the two largest cities in the world’s wealthiest country, the Comfort in New York and the Mercy in Los Angeles. The U.S. military and other armed forces around the world are now mobilized for a very different kind of threat than what they are accustomed to facing—one that can affect the well-being of soldiers, citizens, and societies at large.
How is the military using resources to create medical facilities for Americans with the coronavirus?
Laipson: Over 10,000 National Guard personnel have been mobilized under the authorities of state governors. The Navy hospital ships now in New York and Los Angeles, each with a capacity of about 1,000 beds, were originally intended to treat non-coronavirus patients to ease the burden on overstressed hospitals. There were some start-up problems and bureaucratic snafus that caused the ships to be underutilized, however, and treated coronavirus patients until late April when New York said the ship was no longer needed. The Army Corps of Engineers also took the lead in quickly converting the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan into a hospital, which also saw diminished use by late April.
How will medical emergencies on military establishments abroad impact our international relations?
Laipson: When the virus reached South Korea and the Philippines, for instance, joint exercises and training missions with those countries’ militaries had to be cancelled or put on hold. Cooperation with Japan, another important ally, could be threatened as well, as U.S. forces there recently declared a public health emergency for the central Kanto region amid a resurgence in coronavirus cases.
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. military, read Laipson’s full article on the World Politics Review.