Military

These are the Countries That Go to War Most Often

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Conventional wisdom has it that democracies are less warlike than authoritarian regimes. Is this actually true? Research studies have shown that countries of either ideology fight roughly equal numbers of wars, but undemocratic regimes tend to fight larger and more severe wars. Let’s check out some international wars in the 21st century to see if recent experience supports this conclusion.

Rationale 

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French soldiers in a military parade in Paris.

Knowing which countries are most likely to go to war can be useful information for citizens who want to influence their governments one way or the other on these issues. It can be helpful for people who want to invest in military-related industries. It can also be useful to individuals who are making plans to immigrate and considering which country would be most likely to give them opportunities to see active duty . . . or to avoid it! 

What Counts as a War?

Group of middle-eastern migrants in masks standing in line for food and medicine while soldier making notes
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Military deployments sometimes focus on humanitarian aid and peacekeeping rather than combat. Of course, even these types of deployments also have geo-strategic purposes.

Wars today are rarely declared in a formal way as they were in previous centuries. It’s not always evident which countries are involved and to what level. A country might deploy “advisors” to a conflict who may or may not be active military personnel and may or may not be involved in actual combat versus training, logistics, peacekeeping, or humanitarian relief efforts. Some countries use mercenaries or deploy their troops without national insignias so that they can deny overseas involvement. Wars often do not have clear resolutions, either. Iraq, for example, has been unstable and faced repeated military interventions since the first Persian Gulf War started in 1990. 

Methodology

The fight between citizens and the police in the insurgency,uprising,People causing rioting against the government.
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Our research has not included internal conflicts in which a country uses military forces to suppress civil unrest or insurgencies within its own borders.

Without parsing out these details, we have simply researched the known participants in major conflicts of the 21st century and seen how many wars the main countries have been involved in. We have not included internal conflicts, in which a country attempts to suppress an insurgency within its own borders. We’ll follow this up with some analysis from our own geopolitical expert with 20 years of college teaching experience in this area.

Canada: 5 Wars

Female Woman Soldier, Canada Flag Military Salute, CADPAT Army Veteran Saluting
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Canada’s wars have been fought in cooperation with the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • War in Afghanistan (2001-2014)
  • Libyan Civil War (2011)
  • Iraqi Wars (2013-present)
  • Syrian Civil War (2015-present)
  • Red Sea Crisis (2023-present)

Canada prides itself on its international cooperation. This is especially evident in its foreign wars, which have been fought in cooperation with its closest allies in NATO and the South Pacific. The five conflicts Canada has been involved with in the 21st century are all in the Middle East and North Africa and associated with the War on Terror.

New Zealand: 5 Wars

Flag of New Zealand on soldiers arm (collage).
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New Zealand’s military deployments have been coordinated with Australia and other allies.

New Zealand’s Wars

  • War in Afghanistan (2001-2021)
  • Solomon Islands (2003-2013)
  • Iraqi Wars (2003-2017)
  • East Timorese Crisis (2006-2013)
  • Syrian Civil War (2014-2017)

New Zealand is one of the most isolated countries in the world, but through its alliances with Australia and other Western powers, it has been involved in 5 wars so far in the 21st century. Surprisingly, there is some possibility that conflict could come to New Zealand’s own distant neighborhood. In June 2023, the press reported clues that the Russian Wagner military group may have targeted New Zealand’s distant Chatham Islands for unknown purposes. 

Australia: 5 Wars

Silhouette of soldier saluting on background of Australia flag and the sunset or the sunrise background. Anzac Day. Remembrance Day.
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On ANZAC day, Australia and New Zealand remember those who have given their lives in military service.

Australia’s Wars

  • War in Afghanistan (2001-2021)
  • Solomon Islands (2003-2013)
  • Iraqi Wars (2003-2017)
  • East Timor (2006-2013)
  • Syrian Civil War (2014-2017)

Australia has taken leadership in military operations in the South Pacific region, including the stabilization of the Solomon Islands and East Timor at times of intense social unrest. The country’s close alliance with the United Kingdom, United States, and other Western powers has involved it in multinational military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. In recent years, Australia has been expanding its cooperation with the United States to counter growing Chinese assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region.

United Kingdom: 6 Wars

Flag of United Kingdom on military uniform. UK Army. British Armed Forces, soldiers.
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British armed forces coordinate closely with the country’s NATO allies.

The United Kingdom’s Wars

  • Sierra Leone Civil War (2000-2002)
  • War in Afghanistan (2001-2021)
  • Iraqi Wars (2003-present)
  • Libyan Civil War (2011)
  • Syrian Civil War (2014-present)
  • Yemeni Civil War (2023-present)

The United Kingdom coordinates closely with its NATO allies. Its 21st-century military activities have all been in multinational operations in the Middle East and North Africa. The one exception is its intervention in the civil war in Sierra Leone, one of its former colonies in West Africa. The “special relationship,” as Winston Churchhill first called it, between the United Kingdom and the United States is so intense that the UK will often join in a U.S. military operation when no other country does.

United States: 10 Wars

Pride of the USA. Soldier and military dog covered with American national flag celebrating Independence day.
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The U.S. military has high morale and is the most powerful fighting force in the world.

The United States’ Wars

  • War in Afghanistan (2001-2021)
  • Iraqi Wars (2003-2021)
  • War in Northwest Pakistan (2004-2018)
  • War in Somalia (2006-2009)
  • Somali Civil War (2007-present)
  • Uganda (2011-2017)
  • Libya Conflict (2015-2019)
  • Niger (2013-2024)
  • Syrian Civil War (2014-present)
  • Yemeni Civil War (2002-present)

The United States spends more on its military than the next 10 strongest countries combined. Military spending amounts to about 12% of the entire federal budget. This power not only defends the American homeland, but maintains freedom of the seas for international trade and intervenes to address threats before they become large and unmanageable. Major American interventions in the 21st century have been in the Middle East and North Africa: the two main theaters of the War on Terror. 

Russia: 10 Wars

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Russia displays its military power in its annual May Day parade.

Russia’s Wars

  • Russo-Georgian War (2008)
  • Russo-Ukrainian War (2014-present)
  • Syrian Civil War (2015-present)
  • Sudan (2017-present)
  • Libya (2018-present)
  • Central African Republic (2018-present)
  • Mozambique (2018-present)
  • Mali War (2021-present)
  • Kazakhstan Uprising (2022)
  • Burkina Faso (2024-present)

Since the year 2000, Russia has been involved in 10 foreign wars. Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has attempted to reassert control over the territories of the former Soviet Union. It has also deployed troops to places like Kazakhstan to put down uprisings that threatened allied governments. Finally, through the Wagner mercenary group (now renamed the Africa Corps), Moscow has deployed troops to Africa and the Middle East to gain access to naval ports and mineral resources as well as distract Western attention from its activities in Ukraine.

France: 13 Wars

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In 2015, France deployed additional security in tourist areas due to terrorist threats connected with its overseas military activities.
  • War in Afghanistan (2001-2021)
  • Insurgency in the Maghreb (2002-present)
  • Ivorian Civil Wars (2002-2007, 2010-2011)
  • Chadian Civil War (2005-2010)
  • Somali Civil War (2009-present)
  • Boko Haram Insurgency (2009-present)
  • Libyan Civil War (2011)
  • Mali War (2012-present)
  • Syrian Civil War (2015-present)
  • Iraqi Civil War (2014-2017)
  • Central African Republic Civil War (2012-2021)
  • Insurgency in Northern Chad (2016)
  • Yemen (2024-present)

France is one of the world’s most active countries in international conflicts due largely to its colonial past. It has intervened repeatedly in its former colonies in northwestern Africa to stabilize friendly governments and help them fight off insurgencies. France is also a leader in NATO and the European Union, which has involved the country in multinational military activities in the Middle East.

Are Democratic Regimes More Warlike?

Military parade of American troops. A warship with sailors on the deck against the background of the us flag. American fleet. The naval forces of America. Protection of the country's water borders.
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The U.S. military has deployed to at least 10 conflicts in the past 24 years.

At first glance, our data suggests that Western democratic regimes are actually more aggressive than authoritarian regimes. The United States and Russia have been involved in about 10 major conflicts each, while France exceeds them both at 13. The UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have all played significant roles in U.S.-led multinational military operations, as well as conducting some independent interventions. Meanwhile, countries like China and North Korea, which the West considers some of the greatest threats to peace, have not directly fought other countries for decades. 

What is the West Doing?

War on Gaza strip in year 2021
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The war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has created a political backlash against Israel and its allies.

The Western world order is facing a backlash from autocratic regimes and terrorist groups in Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia. The United States and its allies have been busy globally putting out “brush fires” to prevent insurgents from getting powerful enough to overthrow friendly governments or launch attacks on Western homelands. Our data illustrates that this is a task the allies are sharing. A major complicating factor is Israel’s conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah in Gaza and southern Lebanon, respectively. In the world media, Israeli tactics sometimes overshadow the scope of terror attacks committed on them, creating a backlash against Israel and its allies. 

What Are Western Adversaries Doing?

Military rockets, wall with barbwire and Iran national flag
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Iran is in a regional power struggle with Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States.

Russia is using its military power to attack its former Soviet neighbors while China and North Korea bide their time and grow their military capabilities. In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran are engaged in proxy wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and other countries, positioning themselves to be the dominant power in the Islamic world. 

Autocracies at War

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Russian bombardment in Ukraine has targeted not only military targets, but infrastructure, schools, hospitals, and other essential facilities for non-combatants.

The only autocratic government on our list of countries that fight the most wars is Russia. Its wars in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine have been among the most brutal fought in Europe in modern times. Moreover, its Wagner mercenaries have been accused of the most vile atrocities in most of the countries where they have deployed.

Democracies at War

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High-tech weaponry like drones enables the Western powers to carry out precision military strikes with minimal civilian casualties.

Major Western interventions in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan have also been extremely violent and have used more munitions than every country used in World War II, combined. However, high technology and military tactics have been deployed specifically to minimize civilian casualties, which are both a humanitarian and public relations nightmare. It is also important to note that all three of these Middle Eastern countries were themselves autocracies that used brutal techniques of war against civilians and military targets alike. 

The Bottom Line

Globe Asia close-up
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While China is a long-term rival to the United States, in today’s world Russia poses the greater military threat to the West.

Limiting our data to the last 24 years does not give us a wide enough angle to see how democracies and autocracies compare in the long run. It is enough to illustrate, however, that the Western powers are currently the most active in many conflicts around the world. This is because they are trying to uphold a world order they have created, and they have the financial means, military strength, and will to do it.

It also shows us that, militarily, Russia is the most active threat to the West in the world today but that its activities are mainly confined to the former Soviet Union and to Africa. While we have to keep an eye on the continued growth of Chinese and North Korean military capabilities, Russia continues to be the primary adversary to the United States and its allies, as it was during the Cold War.

 

 

 

 

 

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