As the United States federal government works to mobilise against the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Armed Forces are set to assume an increasingly higher role in the response.

In a new research brief released today by the United States Studies Centre, Non-Resident-Senior Fellow Dr Jim Golby discusses the ways in which the United States military, including the National Guard, are able to be deployed during the crisis. Dr Golby closely examines the precedents that could be utilised by state governors and President Trump.

“Despite the recent proliferation of conspiracy theories asserting otherwise, it is extremely unlikely President Trump will use the military to impose large-scale martial law,” Dr Golby says.

“It is possible, however, that the National Guard – and even active duty troops – could play a role in enforcing quarantines, limiting movement, or securing critical infrastructure and supply nodes. Active duty troops on alert usually provide the fastest way to reinforce civil authorities if a state’s law enforcement capacity becomes overwhelmed.”

Key takeaways

  • The US federal government has been slow to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, but the US military will assume a much higher role as the virus and its impact spread to other states.
  • The US military’s response will primarily support civilian authorities to confront the public health crisis and quickly re-establish a fully functioning economy as rapidly as possible.
  • The large-scale, combined use of National Guard units, active duty troops, and civil authorities will create coordination challenges and complicate response effectiveness.
  • The United States is unlikely to recall troops from overseas deployments to augment the domestic response, but the COVID-19 response will hinder military training and readiness.

View research brief

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