The U.S. Department of Defense’s Role in Health Security

Current Capabilities and Recommendations for the Future


Protecting the homeland against biological threats begins with preventing those threats from reaching our shores. The Department of Defense (DOD) contributes to overall U.S. health security through programs specifically aimed at countering biological threats from all sources—through public health activities coordinated with civilian counterparts at home and abroad and through research and development of medical countermeasures aimed at protecting U.S. Forces against health risks throughout the world. Civilian and military scientists, public health experts, and disaster planners are somewhat familiar with DOD’s health security capabilities, yet most lack a clear understanding of the breadth, depth, and limitations of DOD’s capacities.
A solid and consistent U.S. policy framework has steadily evolved over the past few decades that identifies health as a national security issue and calls for a broad-based, inclusive national response to addressing the issue of health security. Now is the time to more fully integrate DOD’s unique expertise and capabilities in a more cohesive and efficient manner. This paper provides a broad overview of DOD health security activities and capabilities and also offers select concrete recommendations for strengthening the coherence and integration of DOD activities, with a special emphasis on leadership, novel diseases and new dangerous forms of resistance, surveillance, building host country capacities, and expanded exercises.

This report is a product of the CSIS Commission on Strengthening America’s Health Security, generously supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Thomas R. Cullison

Adjunct Fellow