The United Nations is "most unlikely to be up to the job" of ending the Ebola epidemic and should "let Nato do it for them", the former chief of Britain's armed forces has said.
General Sir David Richards said that he was "strongly supportive" of a proposal for Nato to take command of the international response to West Africa's Ebola outbreak, adding that the crisis demanded "a grand strategic response".
A group of leading political, military and diplomatic figures wrote to Nato's Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, last week urging him to commit the military alliance's "unique capabilities" to the fight against the disease, which has killed nearly 5,000 people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
So far, the international response has been spearheaded by aid organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, which have been stretched beyond their limited capacity.
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
See the Ebola outbreak mapped
1/7 25 March 2014
This outbreak of the Ebola virus first emerged in the Guéckédou region of Guinea, at a crossroads with both Liberia and Sierra Leone
2/7 31 March
On 31 March the WHO confirmed the outbreak was now international, spreading first into Liberia's northern-most Lofa region
3/7 27 May
The virus spread to Sierra Leone at the end of May - just as agencies were hoping the worst was over
4/7 27 July
In Sierra Leone the virus boomed, and then it spread to Nigeria when the Liberian diplomat Patrick Sawyer flew from Monrovia to Lagos
5/7 9 August
The Nigeria cases sparked fears around the world, and there have now been deaths in Spain and Saudi Arabia involving people who had travelled to West Africa. The numbers of cases continue to rise
6/7 17-20 September
In mid-September, Senegal confirmed its first case linked to the Ebola outbreak, a development the WHO described as a top priority emergency. Numbers of cases continued to grow exponentially in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, as experts warned they could number one million by January if not contained
7/7 8 October
Two cases of Ebola have now been reported in the US and Europe - the first times the virus has been contracted among health workers outside Africa
The US and the UK have now sent military personnel to support the effort, but there are still concerns that the huge logistical operation required to set up treatment centres, trace patient contacts, and guarantee safe burials in countries with poor infrastructure and where many flights have been cancelled, demands a broader response.
"What a crisis like this requires more than anything else is efficient organisation and leadership. It is quite clear that currently these vital ingredients are missing," said Sir David, who stood down as chief of the defence staff last year.
"The military's core skills are to analyse a problem, devise a plan ... and then to execute that plan under pressure. Individual nations, even the US, cannot and should not be expected to meet a problem of this scale and danger by themselves," he told The Independent on Sunday.
He said that the "challenging time-scale" meant the UN was unlikely to control the epidemic, and said it should let Nato take the lead.
The letter, coordinated by the London-based European Leadership Network, was signed by George Robertson and Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, both previous Nato secretary generals, along with two former UK foreign secretaries, David Owen and Douglas Hurd.
Britain's military capability in Sierra Leone was boosted last week by the arrival of the RFA Argus in the capital, Freetown.
The ship, which is equipped with a 100-bed hospital, has delivered vital supplies including three cargo helicopters, which will be used to bring help to remote parts of the country. So far, the UK has committed to sending 750 military personnel, including troops and medical personnel to the country.
In neighbouring Liberia, the US has taken the lead, with the Pentagon committing up to 4,000 troops.
Yesterday, Canada became the latest country to issue a visa ban on people coming from countries with widespread Ebola infections. A similar decision by Australia last week has met with criticism from the World Health Organisation, which has said that restrictions on movement will not help contain the virus and could hamper the international response.Reuse content