Militaries face being quarantined as the virus spreads moving up different chains of commands with non-state actors potentially reaping the benefit.

The coronavirus pandemic is now spreading to military forces around the world and there are signs that this could have an impact on geopolitics. 

Up until now, coronavirus has mostly upended civilian life with limitations on everyday activities as well as the economy, however, as military forces enter the front line fight against the virus, their chances of infection are also increasing.

The UK Ministry of Defence has withdrawn troops from Iraq in light of the coronavirus and is one of several military forces rethinking how their troops operate. 

In a statement, the UK Ministry of Defence added that the coalition set up in 2014 to fight Daesh "has been paused for 60 days as a precaution due to the global pandemic". 

Such actions are early signs of the political consequences that could emanate from the virus. 

US troops in Iraq have been confined to their bases as Iraqis have yet to come to terms with social distancing, as the country only has 772 confirmed infections and 54 deaths. With US troops now mostly limited to their bases, this could open up opportunities for other actors. 

With Iraq, a central battleground for influence between the US and Iran, the impact that the coronavirus could have is anybody's guess. 

The US Atlantic Council think tank put the calculus as follows: "If Iran is focused domestically on pressures created by the coronavirus and chooses not to mobilise another round of Iraqi proxy militia attacks on US personnel, it could end the cycle of escalation. However, if Tehran elects to expend resources supporting renewed strikes, it should understand that the coronavirus is reconfiguring strategic equations in the United States in real-time."

American military power was dealt another setback as the largest aircraft carrier in the world, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, has seen the numbers of infected sailors increase to 114

A symbol of American global military might could be out of commission for weeks if not months as not all 4,000 soldiers on board the aircraft carrier have been tested

The New York Times summed up the potential shift in American military priorities as either "protecting troops from the virus" or "continuing its decades-old mission of patrolling the globe and engaging in combat if ordered to do so". But as the virus spreads its ability to do both will be limited.

There are also signs of discord within US military ranks when the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Modly, was fired for raising the alarm on the spread of the coronavirus aboard his ship after his memo was leaked to the press. 

"We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die," said Captain Modly in the memo as he begged for help from his superiors

Preceding the decision to fire Modly, the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced last week the military would no longer publish granular data on infections in regards to the US military for fear that it may help adversaries analyse US weakness in different parts of the globe.  

With the US now the epicentre of the virus with more than 245,000 infections and more than 6,000 dead, and an election year, policymakers will continue to deal with the fallout of the virus for the foreseeable future. 

But it’s not just the US global military hegemony that is being challenged by the coronavirus.

Armies as in-country support

As countries implement wholesale lockdowns, they increasingly need to rely on armies to achieve them. French President Emmanuel Macron has said “we are at war” with the pandemic. 

The French army has been brought onto the streets to help implement the curfew. Like the US, however, France is engaged in several controversial military operations in West African countries which it says is to fight against "jihadists".

As ailing economies face increasing strain, security experts warn that countries will draw down forces or confine them in a bid to prevent them from being infected. And many African countries are yet to see the worst of the virus. 

In Egypt, for instance, there are reports that two senior generals have died from the virus and rumours that the numbers could be much higher

The country is a de-facto military dictatorship with the current President Abdel Fattah el Sisi, formerly the Commander in Chief of the Armed forces before overthrowing his democratically elected predecessor the late Mohamed Morsi. 

With the Egyptian army fighting an active insurgency in the Sinai province and generally regarded as the economic backbone of the country as well as one of its few functioning institutions, the spread of the virus will have severe implications for the security and stability of the country.

The economic fallout from the pandemic around the world is guaranteed to trigger talk about the balance between "guns or butter" which is how nations divide investment between defence and civilian goods.    

The coronavirus is unlike any conventional war where politicians can justify increased defence spending. Rather the disease may see societies clammer for more public goods, more investment in healthcare and after the virus ends investment in getting the economy up and running and creating jobs. The implications for militaries will, therefore, be long-lasting.