Published On: Fri, Jan 15th, 2021

The Largest Militaries in the World

Chinese Army

When it comes to pure manpower, no country in the world comes close to China. According to Global Firepower estimates, the People’s Republic currently has roughly 2.19 million active military personnel at its disposal. With far fewer in second and third place are India and the United States with 1.45 and 1.40 million, respectively. North Korea and Russia are the only other countries with more than one million in manpower. Iran, seemingly on the brink of war with the United States throughout the Trump administration (and at various other points in time), is in eighth place, with 525 thousand.

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Defense and arms – Statistics & Facts

For those who adhere to a realpolitik interpretation of international affairs, a bigger military is akin to a greater share of global power and influence. Whether such a framing of international relations is what dictates patterns in military spending or not, global defense spending appeared to plateau from 2009 to 2016, although has increased slightly in 2017 and 2018. The largest contributor to the vast sums of money spent on defense and arms each year is the United States military. A look at the 15 countries with the highest military spending in 2018 shows that the United States spent almost 650 billion U.S. dollars, more than double that of China in second place.

This high amount of spending has helped to maintain the military dominance of the United States around the world. This stretches to a number of aspects and is evident in the United States accounting for more than a quarter of active military aircraft globally. Although current aircraft are important, new drone technology has created a new arms race arena. By 2022, the expected market value for military UAVs worldwide is set to reach 15 billion U.S. dollars.

Given the variance in country sizes and the strength of their respective economies, military expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product is a useful tool for evaluating the importance particular states place on their military. In this measure Saudi Arabia stands out from all other countries. In 2018, 8.8 percent of the country’s gross domestic product was spent on defense and arms.

But when it comes to military power, size certainly matters. As such, larger states such as the United States and China have massive militaries despite spending less as a portion of their gross domestic product. China has the biggest military in the world in regards to military personnel, counting almost 2.2 million people in their ranks. Despite placing more emphasis on technology and weaponry, the size of the United States military still numbers almost 1.3 million.

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