Multilevel Governance and Complex Threats: The Case of Pandemic Preparedness in the European Union and the United States

Erik Brattberg and Mark Rhinard                                                                                          

The scale of dangers posed by influenza pandemics, combined with a series of actual outbreaks, has led policymakers in both the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) to frame the issue as a security threat and to call for extraordinary action. In the US, the 2006 and 2010 National Security Strategies identified pandemics as a “catastrophic challenge” while the 2006 US Pandemic Plan argued that “pandemics should be viewed as a national security issue.” The EU’s 2008 review of its own European Security Strategy broadened the scope of threats facing the continent to include pandemic influenza. Identifying an influenza pandemic as a security threat, however, is relatively easily done. More challenging is to act upon that designation, through implementing security strategies in practice and managing governance processes in multi-level governance systems. Drawing upon securitization theory and traditional implementation theory, this article compares the extent to which the EU and the US have turned words into action on pandemic preparation. The findings show that increasingly securitized rhetoric following the H5N1 and H1N1 outbreaks has indeed been followed by new policies, structures, and operational capacities. As such, the article provides preliminary evidence that securitizing a public policy problem can increase political leverage over administrative processes of implementation.