The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a harsh spotlight on U.S. and global healthcare, manufacturing, supply chain, and resource shortfalls that continue to undermine efforts to contain the crisis. The lessons learned from the past six months indicate a need to broaden the definition of national security to include ensuring availability of and access to the institutional, human, and natural resources needed to maintain at least a foundational level of resilience to any threat to the United States.
COVID-19: Linking Resource Security and National Security
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted shortfalls in the availability of and access to key resources.  Resources are used to address individual and societal needs. Abraham Maslow wrote that all people have needs, and certain needs must be satisfied before attempting to achieve others. Insecurity in access to and availability of those resources increases the likelihood of unrest and tension – regardless of country or community.
Whether resource insecurity affects national security depends on circumstances. Currently, national security prioritizes state security. Many perceive issues like Great Power Competition, cybersecurity, and terrorism as meeting this definition. Others adopt a “human security” perspective, which considers human rights, economic security, and economic development as affecting national security. Resource security would almost certainly fall into this category. According to the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community, health security – including pandemics – also falls under human security. However, unless these issues directly affect the survival of the entire state, U.S. law relegates issues like resource security to affecting the “general welfare,” not national security.
Since COVID-19 has affected entire countries, one could argue COVID-19 has been promoted to the level of a national security issue. COVID-19 shows that the general welfare – in the United States or elsewhere – can affect national security. However, COVID-19 is not only a national security issue because it has caused casualties; the virus alone threatens resource security. The influx of cases revealed access and distribution gaps associated with medical infrastructure, equipment, and personnel, and highlighted the manufacturing shortfalls affecting provision of key support supplies. Quarantines and lost jobs have also hindered access to certain resources and infrastructure, like food, for individual people.
Resources security overall depends on the availability of and access to institutional, human, and natural resources. Institutional resources refer to the political, economic, legal, and infrastructural resources marshaled to keep society running. Human resources refer to human capital and security that is required to sustain society’s institutions. Natural resources include such items as food, water, and energy. COVID-19 highlights how the availability of these three types of resources drive processes essential for national stability and national security, or, rather, the consequences of their unavailability.
To preserve institutional resource security, a country must have the governing infrastructure (i.e., law, policy, strategy) in place. Without governing infrastructure, no resources will be available. Fighting the COVID-19 outbreak, like fighting wars, depends on concentrated governing strategies. Therefore, consistency across the actors in the response, and the ability to readapt to changing circumstances, increases the chance of victory.
The countries most successful in the COVID-19 response implemented such national-level strategies to ensure consistency in the response, and mitigate diversion at the lower levels of government and society. Of course, consistency is only viable if resources are concentrated on the right means of addressing the outbreak. For instance, while New Zealand instituted a national lockdown that defeated the virus in just a few months, Sweden instituted a national policy that, in fact, resulted in more virus cases than any other Scandinavian country. 
Therefore, most viable responses included nationwide lockdowns early in the outbreak, making medical resources available for widespread testing, contact tracing, and treatment, and ensuring those on the frontlines treating the virus had access to protective equipment.
Of course, strategy and policy to make resources available depends on whether governments have the ability to make those resources available. Ability rests in the availability and integrity of physical infrastructure. As of July 2020, COVID-19’s origins remain under investigation. What is clear is that the availability of and access to infrastructure affected the spread. Inadequate healthcare access and ineffective healthcare systems even before the outbreak exacerbated national and community vulnerabilities to certain pre-existing health conditions, putting some at higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19 than others.  
However, making governing and physical infrastructure available requires the will to invest in both, which also requires seeing these issues worthy of priority investment. Certainly, no one imagined that such a pandemic would happen when it did, but COVID-19 has created widespread disruption to various social, economic, and security sectors. Therefore, political will is the third, and arguably most important, factor that defines institutional resource security, and a prerequisite for resource security in general.
Developed countries seem to discuss human resource security as a ‘poor-country’ problem. Poorer countries are more likely to experience human security issues. However, economically developed countries have poor populations as well who had inadequate access to resources and infrastructure long before COVID-19. Therefore, developed countries are not immune to human resource insecurity. The insecurity just manifests differently.
COVID-19 poses direct risks to human security, even in developed countries Unemployment surges jeopardized economic livelihoods. Quarantining and social distancing, though vital, has eroded psychological health or forced people into toxic housing situations.  Marginalized populations in developed countries have less access to goods and services and are at higher risk of contracting and dying from the virus. Implementing COVID-19 also requires bolstering human resilience to the effects of those restrictions.
Human resource security also depends on the availability of human capital to carry out society’s functions. COVID-19 revealed alarming, and potentially broader, labor shortfalls. Increased demand for sanitation and cleaning services revealed improprieties in medical waste disposal procedures.  Increased demand for commercial shipping highlighted gaps in delivery personnel, truckers, and supply chain infrastructure, which would be catastrophic in the event of a more destructive crisis.  Although healthcare workers are on the frontlines of responding to COVID-19, there are not enough professionals to manage the infection cases and not enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure they are safe while treating people. Before COVID-19, the Department of Defense identified U.S. manufacturing sector gaps, highlighted more publicly by the delays in medical equipment manufacturing.  
Around the world, non-military disasters are requiring military assistance and military reserves to respond. However, the COVID-19 ‘combat force’ includes more than just military personnel, which requires investing in more than just the military’s human resources to ensure national security.
Natural resource security depends on reliable access to geostrategic resources like food, water, and energy, known as the food-water-energy nexus. It is not enough for countries to simply have natural resources to ensure reliable access to them. Institutional and human resources are required to make natural resources available for human use. In particular, natural resources are inextricably linked to human resource security. COVID-19 alone has directly affected food, water, and energy insecurity worldwide for many vulnerable populations. For developed countries COVID-19 highlighted natural resource security measures might be insufficient.
COVID-19 has directly challenged access to food around the world. The annual UN report on global food security and nutrition projected that COVID-19 alone could an 83 million-132 million-person increase in hunger by the end of 2020. This increase is due to reduced food supplies and resultant price increases, which vulnerable populations are less likely to afford. If realized, this increase would be almost 40 percent more than number of hungry people recorded between 2014 and 2019 combined.
Developed countries risk experiencing food insecurity in other ways, particularly from hoarding, leaving others without access to necessary food staples. This behavior was more of a concern earlier in the outbreak in developed countries, but it suggests a lack of systemic resilience among these populations in times of crisis. This lack of resilience could signal proclivity to unrest in the event of more disruptive catastrophes in the future.
COVID-19 affects water security in equally systemic ways. Movement restrictions place additional stress on household and municipal water supplies, which are already finite. Increased water use strains water and wastewater treatment infrastructure, which is subpar in even many developed countries. Further, those municipalities lacking access to adequate water and affiliated sanitation and health infrastructure experience higher COVID-19 infection rates, indicating direct correlation between water and COVID-19 vulnerability.
COVID-19 directly challenges energy security, and revealed critical vulnerabilities to the energy security even of developed states. Energy security is a key aspect of natural resource security, and is involved in ensuring access to food and water resources. Attaining energy resources has been both a symbol of economic development and stability, and a catalyst for conflict. Although energy demand has declined since COVID-19 due to reduced business operations, usage has increased.  Further, COVID-19 hindered energy distribution, trade, and transportation. Also, the increase in home-based work and operations requires that energy resources become more sustainable.  If this type of work increases when society returns to normal, sustainable energy security might become more necessary.
Beyond COVID-19: A Contextual Approach to National Security
COVID-19 revealed how the availability of institutional, human, and natural resources affects resource security. When governments are unable to marshal all of these resources, tension emerges or increases in society, and if governments fail to adapt to and address that tension, the conditions risk the emergence of unrest or even conflict. As the global population is projected to increase 12 percent by 2030 from more than 7.6 billion today to more than 8.5 billion, the conditions for unrest caused by resource insecurity likely will increase.  
The national security implications of resource security transcend the COVID-19 threat. In fact, the IC has recognized the availability and unavailability of critical resources as catalysts for unstable security situations for more than a decade. U.S. military doctrine highlights the importance of understanding the operational environment as a precondition for successful military operations in a particular area of responsibility.
Resource security is often the context, the root cause, behind the issue seen as the “high-priority” national security threat. For instance, human resource and institutional resource insecurity makes people vulnerable to join terrorist organizations, but terrorism is listed as the national security threat. Natural resource insecurity motivates countries to pursue territory, intensifying Great Power Competition, but Great Power Competition, not natural resource insecurity, is listed as the national security threat.
Yet, context is not often a priority. National security policy explicitly requires analysts to consider the current nature of the operational environment, which often negates the historical context that shaped the current environment, and excludes factors that could shape the future nature of that environment. As a result, failing to consider the context itself as a national security threat risks leaving policymakers and intelligence organizations blind to a comprehensive picture of a security situation. As literary theorist Kenneth Burke once said, “A way of seeing is also a way of not seeing.”
Although the IC assessed vulnerability to a future pandemic, no one knew that one would emerge when it did. This is why ensuring resource security is so important. It is impossible to know when a specific threat will emerge, regardless of the kind of threat it is. However, ensuring resource security can provide a foundational layer of resilience that could make that threat less disruptive when it does emerge. In the case of a military threat, this might involve investing in robust diplomatic relations to mitigate any potential for military engagement, or promoting more diverse training for existing military members when the threat is more apparent. In the case of COVID-19, this might have involved implementing more adequate health security measures to ensure that whenever a pandemic did arrive those governments would be more prepared.
As long as national security perspectives are tied to a particular national security issue, and not the context behind that issue, it is unrealistic to believe that any national security threat will alleviate. After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, governments worldwide mobilized all aspects of society to prevent another such catastrophe. For more than 20 years, the global war on terror dominated the national security. Some former national security leaders believe this emphasis contributed to the disruption COVID-19 was able to cause. National security threats are more than military ones.
The world has tried to institute contextual security measures when encountering the possibility of complex threats before. To prevent a lack of food in the event of nuclear war, governments worldwide developed seed banks around the world.   However, even these measures failed to consider broader context for proactive resource security. Some of those seed banks and vaults now appear vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. Further, these banks do not include stores of animal pollinators, whose populations are declining, yet 35 percent of the world’s food crops still require them for reproduction.   
National security institutions must expand the national security paradigm to consider context. Addressing the resultant issue without addressing the context behind it treats the symptoms, not the disease. This can start by adopting a resource security perspective. It is only a matter of time before the reports publish about the failures to prepare for COVID-19. However, intelligence is full of “lessons learned,” from the 9/11 and Iraq WMD Commission reports, to those published after the Three Mile Island and Fukushima accidents. The IC thinks it is good at learning from what has already happened. However, perceptions of history and the historical context might not be accurate, or the wrong lessons might be learned. Even the threats world governments think they are accustomed to facing are becoming more complex. Adopting a contextual paradigm of national security through a resource security lens might be a way to ensure baseline resilience for whatever forms those threats take, military or microbial.
The authors are responsible for the content of this article. The views expressed do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Intelligence University, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Intelligence Community, or the U.S. Government.
Beverly Barnhart. B.S., Heidelberg College, M.S., Purdue U., M,S., National Defense University, is the WMD Department Chair in the School of Science and Technology Intelligence at the National Intelligence University in Bethesda, MD. Ms. Barnhart has over 30 years experience in the defense and intelligence communities, supporting counterproliferation and emerging science and technology programs. Her prior expertise includes working space defense issues, emerging energy technologies and foreign and domestic nuclear programs.
Jordan Beauregard. B.A., Global Affairs, George Mason University, M.S., National Intelligence University is a Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, specializing in how water, food, and human security resources and infrastructure shape national security situations worldwide. He also serves as the senior environmental security analyst at the Center for Development and Strategy.