Special Report

Militaries Stockpiling the Most Guns

There are at least 133 million military firearms in 177 of the world’s countries, according to the latest available comparable data.

These firearms make up the largest pool of centrally controlled weapons stockpiles and are a leading tool of conflict and violence, as exemplified by the current war between Russia and Ukraine. The two are No. 2 and No. 1 countries, respectively, with the most military firearms per military personnel, with nearly 21 weapons for each of the 1.5 million Russian troops and just over 21 firearms for each of the 311,000 Ukrainian troops, based on a 2019 estimate.  

To identify the militaries of the world with the most firearms, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2017 military-owned firearms data from Small Arms Survey, an international firearms-monitoring organization. We used 2019 troop count, which include paramilitary forces, from the World Bank to rank nearly 160 countries by the estimated number of military-owned firearms per enlisted troop. Troop counts as a percentage of the workforce, population figures, and military spending in current U.S. dollars and as a share of gross domestic product are also from the World Bank. 

The top 30 countries with the biggest military weapons stockpiles, which together have a population of 2 billion people, had 7.3 million armed forces personnel in 2019. These countries spent $399 billion on their defense budgets in 2020. By comparison, the United States spent $778 billion on its military in 2020, and that has increased to $817 billion for fiscal 2023. (This is every firearm currently used by the U.S. military.)

Though the U.S. leads the world by a long shot in how much it spends on defense, it is not among the countries with the most military firearms per troop. By that measure it ranks 54th. Still, the U.S. leads the world, by a very long shot, in the number of civilian firearms and civilian firearms per civilian. (These are countries with the most gun deaths per capita.)

Thirteen of these 30 countries with the most military firepower are located in Europe, including two Western European countries: Switzerland and Austria. Tanzania is the only African country on this list, while only three are South American: Paraguay, Argentina and Ecuador.

China has the world’s largest armed forces, with 2.54 million military personnel, while North Korea is second (1.47 million), and Russia third (1.45 million). As a share of the national labor force, North Korea leads the world with military personnel accounting for 8.7% of the workforce, followed by Israel and Armenia.

Among the 30 countries with the largest military firearms per troop, China leads in spending with a $252 billion budget in 2020. Russia, Israel, and Singapore spent between $10.9 billion and $61.7 billion each. The countries that spent the largest share of their GDP on their military, more than 4%, in 2020 are Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. The U.S. spent about 3.7% of its GDP on its armed forces that year.

Here are the militaries stockpiling the most guns.

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