U.S. military failing COVID-19 fight shows its transformation dilemma
Li Yun
The 265th Infectious Control Georgia Army National Guard enters Canterbury Court, a senior living facility to disinfect the building during the coronavirus outbreak, in Atlanta, U.S., April 10, 2020. /AP

The 265th Infectious Control Georgia Army National Guard enters Canterbury Court, a senior living facility to disinfect the building during the coronavirus outbreak, in Atlanta, U.S., April 10, 2020. /AP

Editor's Note: Li Yun is a researcher at the Institute of Foreign Military Research of the Department of War Research, China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Sciences. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The U.S. Army, which was not spared by the COVID-19 storm, has been struggling to strike a balance between fighting COVID-19 and ensuring combat readiness. 

The Military Times and other U.S. media outlets recently reported that with the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Army, the top military officials are having a tough time deciding between ensuring combat readiness and maintaining the health of soldiers.

Epidemic prevention and combat readiness affect each other. 

Catering to various risk factors, including the impact of non-traditional security threats on national security, is part of the military's combat readiness. At the same time, poor performance against epidemic inevitably affects the troops' fighting capacity. If the military cannot guarantee its own security, how can they maintain national security? A case in point here is the influenza pandemic at the end of the World War I. The flu had substantial adverse impacts on the armies of the participating countries, including their combat effectiveness.

So far, the U.S. military has poor performance in the battle against COVID-19. Therefore, the U.S. military is now troubled by how to deal with the relationship between combat readiness and response to COVID-19. The poor performance in fighting against COVID-19 is mainly embodied in two aspects.

One is the failure in early warning and prevention of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. military. The armies of all countries have the most advanced intelligence systems and can obtain the highest level of confidential information related to various security threats from their respective national departments. Therefore, the military should have the ability to achieve foresight, early prevention and curb the spread of the disease in military. 

At the same time, as an organization with strict discipline, the military can more effectively adopt various prevention and control measures internally. Of course, the premise is that the military wants to do this, rather than dismiss the officers and soldiers who actively call for epidemic prevention measures. 

Obviously, the U.S. military failed to do this. The confirmed cases first appeared in overseas garrisons, then the Pentagon and the domestic garrison were infected, and then the major military exercises, such as Defender Europe 2020, were canceled. 

The most impressive event in the world and in the United States is the dismissal of Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt CVN-71. Under the premise of Hollywood blockbuster efforts to promote American heroism around the world, the dismissal of Crozier is clearly incompatible with the American values promoted by Hollywood blockbusters.

The other is the U.S. army is not playing a critical role in the national fight against COVID-19. 

The USNS Comfort arrives in New York to help with the overcrowding at the city's hospitals with COVID-19 patients, March 30, 2020. /AP

The USNS Comfort arrives in New York to help with the overcrowding at the city's hospitals with COVID-19 patients, March 30, 2020. /AP

The armies of many countries are actively braving the global COVID-19 storm.

Admitting and treating patients, developing vaccines and delivering necessities for the people, the Chinese armed forces have been active in all aspects of fighting the epidemic. 

The Russian army is not only playing an active part in fighting the epidemic in its own country, but also became the main body providing assistance to foreign countries. Dozens of Russian medical teams went to Italy and Serbia to provide assistance. 

In addition, the military forces of Germany, France, Italy and other countries are also actively involved in the battle against COVID-19 from various aspects, such as patient admission, disinfection, epidemic prevention and implementation of isolation measures. 

However, the performance of the U.S. military is quite disappointing. Not to mention the late start of U.S. military involvement in the national fight against COVID-19. Of course, the "confident" U.S. President Donald Trump's national epidemic prevention measures also lag behind. 

The performance of USNS Comfort hospital ship is sufficient to reflect the role of the U.S. army in the fight against the epidemic. After arriving in New York on March 30, the ship at first only admitted diseases except COVID-19 in order to alleviate overcrowding in New York hospitals. Then, in the next five days in New York, the ship with thousands of hospital beds only received 20 patients. On April 7, a crew member of the ship was confirmed with COVID-19. On the same day, the ship announced that it had begun receiving COVID-19 patients. Contradictory information about whether the ship has the capacity to treat COVID-19 patients, coupled with that a specialized hospital ship could not guarantee the security of its own crew, the real role of U.S. military in the national fight against COVID-19 can be imagined.

The deeper reason for the poor performance of the U.S. military in response to COVID-19 is that the U.S. military failed to deal with the relationship between traditional and non-traditional security threat. 

This is one of the dilemmas of the U.S. military's transformation after the Cold War. The deeper reason for this dilemma is that the U.S. military has a misunderstanding of non-traditional security threats. 

The U.S. military mainly understands "non-traditional security threats" as an extension of "traditional security threats" in new combat areas. To be frank, the response to "non-traditional security threats" is an excuse for its continued expansion of military preparations and its reliance on military forces to establish and maintain global hegemony. 

For that reason, the U.S. military has continuously strengthened its military strength in fields such as network and space, and has used anti-terrorist operations and anti-terrorist wars to interfere internal affairs of other countries and shape the regional pattern. 

In this case, the response to strengthen the so-called "non-traditional security threats capacity-building" is only to strengthen the ability of response to "traditional security threat." The imbalance in the relationship between non-traditional security threats and traditional security threats cannot only be alleviated, instead it will be expanded further. 

One of the bad consequences of the further expansion of this imbalance is that the U.S. military failed to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic effectively, and this imbalance has affected the ability of the U.S. military to respond to "traditional security threats" as well.

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