Responding to Health Emergencies: The Ethical and Legal Considerations for Militaries

  • Adam Kamradt-ScottEmail author
Part of the International Library of Ethics, Law, and the New Medicine book series (LIME, volume 82)


The twenty-first century has already witnessed a number of public health emergencies of international concern. Current indications suggest this trend is set to continue. Traditionally, health crises have resulted in a different set of actors responding to the event than if it is declared a humanitarian disaster, and vice versa. The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa blurred these boundaries though, as the event proved to be both a public health crisis as well as a humanitarian disaster. In an unprecedented move, during the outbreak over 5000 foreign military personnel were deployed to assist civilian authorities contain the spread of the virus, build treatment facilities, train health workers, and provide medical care, while domestic military forces were engaged to enforce quarantine, provide protection, and in some instances, assist with burials. The involvement of military personnel in a health emergency has generated concern amongst some communities though that it is yet further evidence of the “militarisation” of humanitarian assistance, while some militaries have since indicated they would be prepared to assist in future health emergencies. This chapter examines the ethical and legal issues arising from the involvement of military personnel in health emergencies. Drawing on work undertaken on civil-military cooperation in humanitarian disaster contexts, the chapter considers the extent to which health crises are qualitatively different from other disasters and what this may mean for the involvement of military personnel and other actors. It explores questions around the types of activities military personnel can be expected to perform and whether these differ between foreign or domestic militaries, how militaries conduct themselves during health emergencies, as well as the limits of military assistance.


Military assistance Ebola Militarisation Humanitarian assistance 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for International Security StudiesUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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