Since the beginning of modern human civilization, military might has always been a measure of the power of a nation in both the local and global geopolitical playfield. In other words, an extended arm of politics. Military matters where politics and closed room discussions fail.
The size, number, technology and the expense on security and military-related field often ensure a country’s ability to be sovereign and causes external military and political pressures and intervention to lessen, in the process, gives the nation an additional lead on influencing other countries and regions.
There are four main ability components that affect the military strength of a nation:
- Expenditure on military.
- Availability of military personnel.
- Availability and development of advanced personnel training programs.
- Ability to acquire and foster the latest and advanced military technologies.
However, when measuring and ranking the world nations by military strength, 3rd, and 4th components, availability of advanced training programs and technologies respectively are challenging data to acquire and often guarded watchfully by any country as top confidential military secrets. Therefore, we use the terms of size and expense on military to rank what are the largest armies in the world.
Top 5 Countries By Military Strength
This top 5 ranking is made by globalfirepower.com and is based on 55 individual factors such as active military personnel, aircraft strength, navy strength, etc.
- United States
Largest Armies In The World
The following list shows the top 20 countries by total available active military manpower.
- China: 2,035,000
- India: 1,440,000
- USA: 1,358,193
- Russia: 1,013,628
- North Korea: 950,000
- Pakistan: 653,000
- South Korea: 599,000
- Iran: 523,000
- Vietnam: 482,000
- Egypt: 438,500
- Myanmar: 406,000
- Indonesia: 395,500
- Thailand: 360,850
- Turkey: 355,200
- Sri Lanka: 346,700
- Brazil: 334,500
- Colombia: 293,200
- Mexico: 277,150
- Taiwan: 275,000
- Japan: 247,150
These are the largest armies in the world. These numbers show the current standing army.
Why Are Armies Sized So Massive?
Some armies are massively sized. To think there are armies that have millions of soldiers. This list raises some question marks as well. Is your country not here? Where are all the European armies? Why are most of the large armies from developing worlds?
Did you know that during the Second World War,
the USA mobilized nearly 20 million people?
Armies from European countries are not that big. Later in this article, if you keep reading, you’ll see that although European, Canadian and Australian armies are not that big, their budgets are impressive.
A reason why most Asian and African armies are so big is that these countries face major internal and external threats. Mainly they are,
- Terrorism in the Middle East and Africa are the breeding grounds of many of the Islamic terrorist organizations such as,
- Hezbollah and some of the terrorist forces have overrun even countries at times and have toppled many governments
- Civil Wars: this is commonplace too in Asia and Africa. Civil war is when the people of the same nation divide and fight each other, often due to political reasons. Fathers fight against sons and brothers turn on brothers.
- Hostilities between countries: Noticed both India and Pakistan, North and South Koreas have huge armies? They are not just for the show. These countries have fought bloody battles in the past with each other and are prepared for more in the future.
Islamic extremism and terrorism is the biggest military threat in Asia and Africa. Nearly hundreds of people and soldiers die every day due to car bombs and suicide bombs in Asia.
Total Military Strength
The table below is ordered by the total military size of the top 20 countries. There are 3 types of personnel in military. These are,
- Active Military (standing army)
- Reserved Forces (auxiliary army)
- Paramilitary (people who can bear arms but not “officially” army soldiers, like the police and SWAT)
Also, these numbers include people from all the branches of military such as army, navy, air force, police, and special paramilitary forces.
Note that in the above table of information, the last two columns depict the number of total military personnel and active military personnel per 1000 residents of a country respectively.
A Brief History
If you look at the list of the armies, the most ancient armies would be that of India and China, though in those days there were a number of kingdoms and were many small militias as well. Reportedly there were well-organized armies in India and China since 700 B.C. Also, Turkey has had big armies in the ancient past as well.
50,000 Greeks crossed the Aegean Sea and landed on
the Beaches of Troy in 11th Century B.C in 1000
ships to fight the epic and the most-sung war in
history, the Battle for Troy.
Navies have been around since the ancient times as well. Phoenicians, Carthage, Rome, Greece, and Egypt had a powerful military and merchant vassals in the past.
Countries With The Most Battle Tanks
Armies often include powerful war machines to assist their troops in the battlefield, and the most formidable and feared machine out of them is the battle tank. It is simply the symbol of power in any army. The following are the top 10 countries by battle tanks.
- Russia: 21,932
- China: 13,050
- USA: 6,287
- North Korea: 6,075
- Syria: 5,035
- India: 4,184
- Turkey: 3,200
- Israel: 2,760
- South Korea: 2,654
- Vietnam: 2,575
See that Russia has more than 20,000 tanks? Russia inherited a massive fleet of tanks from the USSR, and most of them are in reserve and will most likely never be used.
Countries With The Largest Navy Force In The World
Navy is the most important factor for any nation with a sea region as it helps to control any occupation before it reaches the land border of the country. Also, the navy plays a vital role in controlling illegal human traffickers, drug traffickers and piracy.
Nations with the largest navies:
- North Korea: 967
- China: 714
- USA: 415
- Iran: 398
- Russia: 352
- Egypt: 319
- India: 295
- Finland: 270
- Colombia: 234
- Indonesia: 221
Note that North Korea is number one? That’s in terms of total naval assets. It does not reflect the “power” of the navy. US, Chinese and Russian navies are way more powerful in terms of technology and types of ships than North Korea. The most formidable naval force in the world belongs to the USA. With 24 aircraft carriers and 68 submarines. Most of these aircraft carriers and submarines are nuclear powered and takes millions of dollars to maintain and billions to be built.
Countries With The Most Powerful Air Force
The following map shows the top 10 countries with the most powerful Air Forces in the world! The power of an air force is considered by the number of aircrafts an air force holds at any given time.
- USA: 13,398
- Russia: 4,078
- China: 3,187
- India: 2,082
- South Korea: 1,614
- Japan: 1,572
- Pakistan: 1,342
- France: 1,248
- Egypt: 1,092
- Turkey: 1,067
The USA has the utmost and uncontested air superiority in the world and has more aircraft than the next largest 5 nations with aircraft combined.
Biggest Spenders On Military
Money matters, especially when it comes to military. Military expenditure is extremely important as it entails expenses for the development of new technologies, research, maintenance, upkeep costs of military personnel and war equipment.
In addition, these expenses also include expenses on nuclear missile maintenance and upkeep of intelligence services. The following list shows the countries with the biggest military budgets in the world.
Top 10 Countries By Military Spending (US$ Bn.):
- USA: 649
- China: 250
- Saudi Arabia: 67.6
- India: 66.5
- France: 63.8
- Russia: 61.4
- United Kingdom: 50.0
- Germany: 49.5
- Japan: 46.6
- South Korea: 43.1
World total: 1,822 billion dollars.
The USA is the unparallel and uncontested military superpower. US military budget accounts for nearly one-third of the global overall military spending and spends an amount greater than the next five biggest spenders combined. The above list showcases military spending in dollars. The list below shows the top military spenders by the GDP of the country in percentage.
- Saudi Arabia: 8.8%
- Russia: 3.9%
- USA: 3.2%
- South Korea: 2.6%
- Turkey: 2.5%
- India: 2.4%
- France: 2.3%
- Australia: 1.9%
- China: 1.9%
- United Kingdom: 1.8%
Why European Countries Have Small Armies?
During the Cold War era, from the end of World War 2 to the fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union posed a significant military and intelligence threat to Western Europe and American Allies. USSR could field massive land armies and shared a vastly-stretched border with Europe. In order to oppose this threat, the USA and its allies formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Today, NATO is nearly 4 million personnel strong and has a financial contribution from all the member-states. NATO reduces the military personnel requirement for individual European countries.
The Pact of NATO includes the term that if a member
country is attacked by any foreign nation, all members
of the organization declare war upon the Aggressor.
Great protection, right?
Today, NATO is the most powerful military alliance in the world and its budget is 1 trillion dollars. The alliance fought many big wars including War on Iraq, War on Afghanistan and the Ongoing War on Islamic terrorism.
List of NATO Countries
- United Kingdom
- Czech Republic