Mapped: All the World’s Military Personnel
While much of the world is living in one of the most peaceful periods in history, the spark of new conflicts like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminds us of the importance of military personnel.
Between ongoing armed conflicts to building of defenses preemptively, many countries have amassed significant militaries to date.
This map, using data from World Population Review, displays all the world’s military personnel.
Who Has the Largest Military?
So who has the largest military? Well, the answer isn’t so simple.
There are three commonly measured categories of military personnel:
- Active military: Soldiers who work full-time for the army
Country with the largest active military: China (over 2 million)
- Military reserves: People who do not work for the army full-time, but have military training and can be called up and deployed at any moment
Country with the largest military reserves: Vietnam (5 million)
- Paramilitary: Groups that aren’t officially military but operate in a similar fashion, such as the CIA or SWAT teams in the U.S.
Country with the largest paramilitary: North Korea (an estimated 5 million)
NOTE: Of these categories of military personnel, paramilitary is the least well-defined across the world’s countries and thus not included in the infographic above.
Which country has the biggest military? It depends who’s doing the counting.
If we include paramilitary forces, here’s how the top countries stack up in terms of military personnel:
|Country||Active Military||Reserve Military||Paramilitary||Total Military|
|United States||1,388,100||844,950||Not disclosed||2,233,050|
Source: World Population Review
When combining all three types of military, Vietnam comes out on top with over 10 million personnel.
And here are the world’s top 10 biggest militaries, excluding paramilitary forces:
|Country||Active Military||Reserve Military||Total Military|
Even in this case, North Korea remains near the top of the list with these much larger nations. Excluding estimates of paramilitary forces, the Hermit Kingdom has nearly 1.9 million active and reserve troops.
Building up Military Personnel
The reasons for these immense military sizes are obvious in some cases. For example, in Vietnam, North Korea, and Russia, citizens are required to serve a mandatory period of time for the military.
The Koreas, two countries still technically at war, both conscript citizens for their armies. In North Korea, boys are conscripted at age 14. They begin active service at age 17 and remain in the army for another 13 years. In select cases, women are conscripted as well.
In South Korea, a man must enlist at some point between the ages of 18 and 28. Most service terms are just over one year at minimum. There are however, certain exceptions: the K-Pop group BTS was recently granted legal rights to delay their military service, thanks to the country’s culture minister.
Here’s a look at just a few of the other countries that require their citizens to serve some form of military service:
In many of these countries, geopolitical and historical factors play into why they have mandatory service in place.
In the U.S., many different factors play into why the country has such a large military force. For one, the military industrial complex feeds into the U.S. army. A longstanding tradition of the American government and the defense and weapons industry working closely together creates economic incentives to build up arms and defenses, translating into a need for more personnel.
Additionally, the U.S. army offers job security and safety nets, and can be an attractive career choice. Culturally, the military is also held in high esteem in the country.
Nations with No Armies
For many countries, building up military personnel is a priority, however, there are other nations who have no armies at all (excluding the paramilitary branch).
Here’s a glance at some countries that have no armies:
- Costa Rica
Costa Rica has no army as it was dissolved after the country’s civil war in the 1940s. The funds for the military were redirected towards other public services, such as education.
This is not to say that these nations live in a state of constant peace—most have found alternative means to garner security forces. Under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, other countries like the U.S. are technically obligated to provide military services to Costa Rica, for example, should they be in need.
The Future of Warfare
International conflicts persist in the 21st century, but now go far beyond just the number of troops on the ground.
New and emerging forms of warfare pose unforeseen threats. For example, cyber warfare and utilization of data to attack populations could dismantle countries and cause conflict almost instantaneously. Cybersecurity failure has been ranked among the top 10 most likely risks to the world today.
If current trends continue, soldiers of the future will face off on very different fields of battle.