Countries With the Biggest Armies In the World

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Global military spending is booming once again following a period of tepid growth in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2009. The world’s military expenditures rose to $1.82 trillion in 2018, a 2.6% increase from 2017, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI. This is the highest level of spending since consistent global data became available in 1988, representing 2.1% of global gross domestic product, or $239 per person.

Military spending was far from even among the world’s countries. Sixty percent of 2018 military spending originated in one of the countries spending the most on war: the United States, China, Saudi Arabia, India, and France, according to SIPRI. But military spending does not necessarily indicate the size of a country’s military.

To identify the countries with the biggest armies, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the number of personnel in the armed forces as well as the 10-year percentage growth in armed personnel from 2007-2017 from the World Bank’s  “World Development Indicators Database”

While France and Saudi Arabia — the latter of which is among the nations increasing their weapons stockpiles the fastest — are big spenders, the size of their armed forces (in terms of number of personnel) does not even make it into the top 20. The United States, the world’s biggest spender, has reduced its military personnel over the past decade as it deescalates its military activities in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Click here to see the countries with the biggest armies in the world

SIPRI estimates that China, the world’s second largest military spender, grew its military expenditure by 5% to $250 billion last year, its 24th consecutive annual increase. China’s military expenditure represented 14% of global military spending in 2018. China’s ascension as a military power has had a knock-on effect in the Asia-Pacific region, contributing to an Asian arms race.

Because of ongoing tensions between India and Pakistan, both countries boosted military spending, with Pakistan, a much smaller military and nuclear power, boosting spending by 11% last year to $11.4 billion, the same percentage growth as 2017. India, a much larger county, increased spending by 3.1% to $66.5 billion, according to SIPRI figures.

The growing threat Russia poses to Eastern Europe has significantly contributed to military spending in Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states, Romania, and Bulgaria. Economic problems in Russia led to a decline in spending in that country last year, but it was still the sixth highest military spender.

To identify the countries with the biggest armies, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the number of personnel in the armed forces as well as the 10-year percentage growth in armed personnel from 2007-2017 from the World Bank’s “World Development Indicators Database.” Data on GDP, total population, and the percentage of the labor force in the military were also derived from the World Bank database. Spending figures and their respective 5-year and 10-year percentage changes were derived from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Military Expenditure Database.