The 2014 Ebola outbreak was a health crisis that pushed the international community to further examine the securitization process. Securitization occurs when a health issue is politically “presented as an existential threat requiring emergency measures and justifying actions outside the normal bounds of political procedure” (Buzan, 1998). Although there are upsides to the process, there are also some downfalls demonstrated in the case of Ebola.
Securitization has helped raise awareness around important health issues. Diseases that were previously overlooked by the international community have gained attention through the securitization process. “There is little doubt that the concept of health security has played an important role in public health and particularly communicable disease control rising in importance in international affairs, moving health from its traditional domain of low politics to a concern of foreign affairs” (Stevenson & Moran, 2015). In the case of Ebola, the disease created economic, political, and social tensions in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. These three countries suffered from previous civil unrest and instability, which prompted urgent solutions for the Ebola outbreak. Securitization served as a “political and symbolic purpose, in particular to generate momentum and additional political, operational and financial commitments by the international community” (Burci, 2014). Funding for Ebola proved to have a positive impact. “In mid-November, approximately $1.2 billion had been committed to the fight against Ebola in the three most-hit countries. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said international aid efforts and awareness campaigns helped slow the spread of the virus in West Africa” (Huang, 2013).
Securitization, however, can also have several drawbacks. “While securitization might be necessary to address the ongoing Ebola outbreak, it may have negative impacts on socioeconomic stability, civil-military relations, risk management, and long-term health system capacity building” (Huang, 2013). Securitizing Ebola created panic in countries that were minimally affected, or not at all affected, by the virus. The outbreak was not considered a pandemic threat and was contained in West Africa. The United States and Spain did experience cases, but only four non-fatal cases were reported in the U.S. Nevertheless, Russia, China, the U.S. and Canada all began to respond quickly by facilitating Ebola trials and treatments. President Obama sent thousands of troops to West Africa in response to the disease. “In an extraordinarily rare consensus, the Council declared the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, ‘a threat to international peace and security.’ With this declaration, a public health epidemic was officially labeled a global security issue” (Sagan, 2015).
Panic and overreaction can lead to greater problems such as poor health risk management and imbalances of funding and prioritizing. “The logic of securitization often works against effective risk management” (Huang, 2013). For example, the risk of Ebola spreading to the U.S. was low, but some policy makers still pushed for interventions such as tighter border security. This can lead to discrimination against certain immigrant populations who aren’t affected by the outbreak, but may be labeled a threat. Furthermore, securitization triggers the allocation of resources towards one disease while others can remain neglected. This can greatly affect counties that already have suffering health systems. “Securitization has led to a distortion in funding priorities, which has meant that a large group of countries neither have the capacity nor the resources to safeguard the health of their own populations” (Stevenson & Moran, 2015).
Burci, Gian Luca. “Ebola, the Security Council and the Securitization of Public Health.” Questions of International Law. QUL, December 23, 2014. http://www.qil-qdi.org/ebola-security-council-securitization-public-health/.
Buzan, B., Waever, O. and de Wilde, J. (1998) Security: A New Framework for Analysis, London: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Martin, Susan. “The Role of Biological Weapons in International Politics: The Real Military Revolution.” Journal of Strategic Studies 25, 1. March 2002. (pgs. 63-98)