The Military Instrument of Power and Pandemics: A Long-Term Perspective.

Martin Bricknell, Zenobia Homan, Chiu-Yi Lin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The potential consequences of a pandemic were predicted in many security risk assessments published over the past decade. The short-term impact has resulted in significant loss of life and disruption to health services and wider domestic security. The focus for NATO has been to prevent the health crisis becoming a wider security crisis. This paper examines the breadth of activities undertaken by the “military instrument” to contribute to global and national responses to the crisis. It also identifies an emerging consensus on the longer-term effects of the Covid pandemic on defence and security from an Alliance perspective. It takes a mixed-methods approach, combining evidence from a collation of open source information on the role of the armed forces during the Covid crisis in five NATO countries (UK, Canada, Netherlands, France and Belgium), and a review of twelve academic papers specifically focussed on the implications for NATO.
The paper identifies many uses of the military instrument under four themes: maintain military capability; protect health and provide healthcare for armed forces personnel (and other beneficiaries of military health systems); provide generic assistance to the civilian response; and to augment civilian health and social care with military reinforcements. The Covid crisis has reinforced “domestic resilience” as an “instrument of national power” alongside others (strategic communications, political, digital, intelligence, financial and legal) that lie beyond the conventional Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic (DIME) paradigm. Looking to the future, the cost of the military instrument in the “Comprehensive Approach” to global and national crisis response needs to be balanced against investment in other instruments of national power.
NATO has supported information sharing, collaboration, and brokering of mutual support across members of the Alliance. The Alliance will need to determine how much of this should endure, noting the improvements in civil-military cooperation, greater health intelligence and public health capacity, increased understanding of the interdependency of key military capabilities with equivalent civilian functions (health, logistics, digital services), and the value of existing standardization and coordination mechanisms.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Feb 2022


Dive into the research topics of 'The Military Instrument of Power and Pandemics: A Long-Term Perspective.'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this