Numbers may not be everything, but being able to overwhelm an enemy with sheer size does lend a certain advantage. There are a lot of other factors to consider when you’re trying to determine the strongest military on the planet (like firepower, technology, training and more), but if you’re curious about the largest armies in the world in terms of active personnel, read ahead.
Keep in mind that these figures are combined totals, incorporating not only army personnel, but also navy, air force, special operations, marines, and other branches.
1. People’s Republic of China – 2,285,000
It shouldn’t come as any shock that the largest army in the world belongs to the People’s Republic of China, also the most populous country on the planet. China has a population of 1,354,040,000 according to an official estimate at the end of last December. In theory, all Chinese men are required to serve a term of military service if called upon in the People’s Liberation Army, but there are enough volunteers that there has never been a need to call on conscripts.
2. United States of America – 1,429,995
The U.S. has the second-largest army on the planet, and as you can see, it has substantially fewer active members than that of the world’s largest army. Interestingly enough, however, there are actually more reserve personnel in the U.S. military than there are in the Chinese military. There are also more military personnel per capita in the U.S. than in China.
3. India – 1,325,000
You may not think about India when thinking of the largest army in the world, but it does come in at number 3 as far as active military personnel are concerned. This isn’t surprising in light of it being a hugely populous nation. There are almost twice as many reserve military members as active members in India.
4. North Korea – 1,106,000
Not far behind India comes North Korea. North Korea is a small country which literally cannot afford its sizeable military. North Korea already has a tiny budget, but chooses to allocate around one quarter of its financial resources toward its military. In a country where a lot of people can’t even eat, many agree this is pretty pitiful. Incredibly enough, North Korea has a reserve military force of more than 8 million personnel. It may not have the biggest active military on the planet, but it does have the largest reserve military on earth.
5. Russia – 1,027,000
6. South Korea – 687,000
The South Korean military is much smaller than the North Korean military, but being as South Korea has long received assistance from the United States, this makes a lot of sense. Naturally South Korea’s budget is a lot more balanced than its belligerent neighbor to the north. South Korea is preparing to come into its own over the next couple of years and assume independent control of its military forces. As such, it is directing more of its budget toward its weapons systems and technological upgrades.
7. Pakistan – 617,000
Pakistan has long has bellicose relationships with its neighboring countries, particularly India. Pakistan imports many of its weapons from the United States and China and continues to work closely with the two largest armies in the world to develop new technology and maintain the security of its borders.
8. Iraq – 578,269
The Iraqi military forces have collapsed and been rebuilt a number of times over the years. The most recent crisis in Iraq was the invasion in 2003, which overturned the rule of Saddam Hussein. After Hussein’s downfall, the U.S. assisted the Iraqi government with the rebuilding of its forces into the current incarnation of the Iraqi military. Currently, the military in Iraq is overseen by the Iraqi Armed Forces and the Ministry of Interior. Iraq has 0 military reserve personnel.
9. Iran – 523,000
Right behind Iraq comes Iran. Iran has contentious relations with its neighbors, with the United States, and with pretty much everybody else, including its own populace. This figure does not include the Iranian military police force, which includes around 60,000 personnel.
10. Turkey – 510,600
Turkey fought as one of the Central powers in WII and fought counter to the Axis powers in WWII. After WII when NATO was formed, Turkey joined up and started to revolutionize its military forces with new technology and cutting-edge weapons. Today it is the 10th biggest army in the world, ranking ahead of Egypt. Yemen and Vietnam, the next two countries down on the list, have comparable active militaries, but massive reserve forces numbering more than 4 million personnel each.
Now that you know the 10 largest militaries on the planet, you may be curious which countries are at the other end of the scale! There are eight countries with zero military personnel, some of which are territories belonging to other countries: Vanatu, Panama, Palestine, Monaco, Mauritius, Iceland, Haiti and Costa Rica. Some of these countries have alliances with neighboring countries, while others simply have no standing military and rely on other tactical forces. Countries with fewer than 500 active military personnel include Tonga, Seychelles, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis.
Finally, one more interesting measure of military size is the total per 1000 capita, which measures the density of military forces against the total population. For reference, the number for the United States military is 7.3. Topping the list is North Korea, with a total of 386.7 military personnel per 1000 residents! Not far behind are South Ossetia and Yemen, with 256.9 and 200.7 personnel per capita respectively.
Having a large military is definitely a great asset, but in today’s geopolitical sphere, technology is becoming increasingly important. The countries which will stay on top in the coming epoch will be those which not only have large militaries in terms of personnel, but also invest in developing technology which reduces the need to field those forces.