01 June 2006

Combating a Collective Threat: Protecting U.S. Forces and the Asia-Pacific from Pandemic Flu

Andrew S. Erickson, “Combating a Collective Threat: Protecting U.S. Forces and the Asia-Pacific from Pandemic Flu,” An Avian Flu Pandemic: What Will It Mean, and What Can We Do? (Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research, June 2006), 11-20.

In light of the substantial global responsibilities of the U.S. armed forces, the U.S. military cannot afford to be immobilized by pandemic influenza. Yet the widespread deployment of U.S. forces and the sheer scope of U.S. military operations illustrate the challenges inherent in guarding against this contingency. Within the U.S. government, efforts to prepare for pandemic influenza are apportioned as follows: the Department of Homeland Security has overall responsibility, the Department of Health and Human Services oversees domestic efforts and medical issues, the Department of State manages public diplomacy (and most overseas issues), and the Department of Agriculture manages animal related issues. The U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), due to its scope of operations and interactions with regions in Asia known to be potential incubators of avian flu, is also on the front lines of the pandemic flu threat. Though not itself a lead agency in avian flu prevention efforts, PACOM is preparing to support the U.S. government in its effort to combat domestic and international outbreaks of influenza.

This essay surveys the strategic planning goals formulated by PACOM to respond to a pandemic outbreak in the Asia-Pacific region. Given the importance of cooperation between countries in combating a pandemic, this essay also explores the challenges and opportunities of working with China–the Asia-Pacific’s largest developing member–to combat the spread of avian flu. Working with China in this regard may be a potentially productive area of cooperation for the U.S. and Chinese militaries.