Special Report

The 25 Countries Where the Most People Serve in the Military

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The United States has one of the largest militaries on Earth. In terms of spending, no other nation even comes close — The United States spends more each year on defense than the next eight countries combined. But much of that spending has to do with what the military refers to as “force multipliers” meaning using the latest technology to increase the relative fighting power of each soldier. In terms of  raw manpower, the United States is surpassed by some more populous countries, notably China, but still ranks fifth overall in total manpower. But the United States is also the third most populous nation on Earth. (Here are the 14 countries that make up 80% of the world’s population.) After adjusting for population, it isn’t even in the top 25 for military enrollment.

To find the 25 countries where the most people serve in the military per capita, 24/7 Wall St. used armed forces personnel and population figures for 2019 from the World Bank. Armed forces personnel are active-duty military personnel, including paramilitary forces that may be used to support or replace regular military forces. We also added 2019 population aged 15-64 from the World Bank.

Armed forces personnel account for at least 1% of the population in the 25 countries on the list. The countries tend to be small in population, with seven having populations smaller than 3 million, including Brunei, Montenegro, Cyprus, and Armenia. Thirteen nations have populations smaller than 10 million. Still, Russia, the ninth most populous country, ranks 23rd, with 1% of its population, or nearly 1.5 million, considered armed forces personnel.

Ukraine’s military personnel, as of 2019, consisted of 311,000 people, or 0.7% of the country’s population at the time (ranking 36th on that basis). Seeking to boost troop numbers following the Russian invasion, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a decree conscripting reservists aged 18-60. The government has banned all men that age from leaving the country. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin ordered 134,500 new conscripts into the army, though the Russians claim the order is part of the annual spring draft and not related to the war. 

Both countries have suffered significant losses so far, though casualty figures are difficult to determine. There’s no doubt, however, that Russia has a much larger population to draw on for military service, since its population aged 15-64 is more than 96 million, compared to Ukraine’s less than 30 million. 

The U.S., the world’s third most populous country, is not on the list. It ranks 73rd by military personnel per capita, with only 0.4% of the population, not quite 1.4 million people, considered armed or paramilitary forces. (These are the states where the most Americans serve in the military.)

Click here to see the countries where the most people serve in the military
Click here to read our detailed methodology

25. Myanmar
> Pct. military personnel: 1.0% (513,000 personnel)
> Population: 54,045,422 — #26 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 36,790,823 — #26 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $3.0 billion — #54 highest of 163 countries

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24. Colombia
> Pct. military personnel: 1.0% (481,000 personnel)
> Population: 50,339,443 — #29 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 34,539,596 — #27 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $10.0 billion — #25 highest of 163 countries

23. Russia
> Pct. military personnel: 1.0% (1,454,000 personnel)
> Population: 144,406,261 — #9 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 96,392,551 — #9 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $63.5 billion — #4 highest of 163 countries

22. Singapore
> Pct. military personnel: 1.0% (59,000 personnel)
> Population: 5,703,569 — #111 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 4,293,383 — #106 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $10.7 billion — #23 highest of 163 countries

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21. Jordan
> Pct. military personnel: 1.1% (116,000 personnel)
> Population: 10,101,697 — #88 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 6,318,040 — #90 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $2.2 billion — #62 highest of 163 countries

20. Bahrain
> Pct. military personnel: 1.2% (19,000 personnel)
> Population: 1,641,164 — #145 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 1,292,622 — #141 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $1.4 billion — #72 highest of 163 countries

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19. Cambodia
> Pct. military personnel: 1.2% (191,000 personnel)
> Population: 16,486,542 — #68 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 10,581,563 — #64 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $628.4 million — #88 highest of 163 countries

18. Lebanon
> Pct. military personnel: 1.2% (80,000 personnel)
> Population: 6,855,709 — #105 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 4,603,916 — #99 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $1.9 billion — #64 highest of 163 countries *Military expenditure for 2019

17. South Korea
> Pct. military personnel: 1.2% (613,000 personnel)
> Population: 51,709,098 — #28 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 37,330,545 — #25 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $47.7 billion — #10 highest of 163 countries

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16. Venezuela
> Pct. military personnel: 1.2% (343,000 personnel)
> Population: 28,515,829 — #49 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 18,530,950 — #44 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $2.1 billion — #63 highest of 163 countries *Military expenditure for 2017

15. Lithuania
> Pct. military personnel: 1.3% (37,000 personnel)
> Population: 2,794,137 — #134 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 1,807,978 — #134 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $1.2 billion — #76 highest of 163 countries

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14. Cyprus
> Pct. military personnel: 1.3% (16,000 personnel)
> Population: 1,198,574 — #151 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 829,948 — #149 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $490.5 million — #94 highest of 163 countries

13. Djibouti
> Pct. military personnel: 1.3% (13,000 personnel)
> Population: 973,557 — #152 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 644,358 — #152 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $36.3 million — #146 highest of 163 countries *Military expenditure for 2008

12. Greece
> Pct. military personnel: 1.4% (147,000 personnel)
> Population: 10,721,582 — #84 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 6,879,174 — #83 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $7.7 billion — #30 highest of 163 countries

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11. Sri Lanka
> Pct. military personnel: 1.5% (317,000 personnel)
> Population: 21,803,000 — #56 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 14,216,588 — #54 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $1.6 billion — #69 highest of 163 countries

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> Pct. military personnel: 1.6% (269,000 personnel)
> Population: 17,070,132 — #66 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 10,967,579 — #62 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $2.5 billion — #59 highest of 163 countries *Military expenditure for 2011

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9. Belarus
> Pct. military personnel: 1.6% (155,000 personnel)
> Population: 9,419,758 — #93 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 6,383,095 — #89 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $726.6 million — #84 highest of 163 countries

8. Armenia
> Pct. military personnel: 1.7% (49,000 personnel)
> Population: 2,957,728 — #130 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 2,003,872 — #130 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $600.8 million — #91 highest of 163 countries

7. South Sudan
> Pct. military personnel: 1.7% (185,000 personnel)
> Population: 11,062,114 — #82 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 6,090,263 — #92 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $141.3 million — #126 highest of 163 countries

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6. Lao PDR
> Pct. military personnel: 1.8% (129,000 personnel)
> Population: 7,169,456 — #101 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 4,554,972 — #101 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $22.7 million — #151 highest of 163 countries

5. Brunei
> Pct. military personnel: 1.8% (8,000 personnel)
> Population: 433,296 — #160 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 312,730 — #160 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $438.0 million — #98 highest of 163 countries

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4. Montenegro
> Pct. military personnel: 1.9% (12,000 personnel)
> Population: 622,028 — #155 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 413,404 — #156 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $93.0 million — #133 highest of 163 countries

3. Israel
> Pct. military personnel: 2.0% (178,000 personnel)
> Population: 9,054,000 — #95 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 5,423,867 — #97 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $22.5 billion — #15 highest of 163 countries

2. North Korea
> Pct. military personnel: 5.7% (1,469,000 personnel)
> Population: 25,666,158 — #53 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 18,158,455 — #46 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $1.6 billion — #68 highest of 163 countries *Military expenditure for 2018

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1. Eritrea
> Pct. military personnel: 6.3% (202,000 personnel)
> Population: 3,213,969 — #129 largest of 163 countries
> Population 15-64: 1,791,317 — #135 largest of 163 countries
> Military expenditure: $181.6 million — #122 highest of 163 countries *Population data is for 2011, military expenditure data for 2003

Methodology

To find countries where the most people serve in the military per capita, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed  armed forces personnel data from the World Bank. Armed forces personnel are active-duty military personnel, including paramilitary forces that may be used to support or replace regular military forces. Because armed forces personnel were for 2019, the most recent year of data available, we used World Bank population data for that year as well.

Military expenditure data came from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Military Expenditure Database and is in current U.S. dollars for 2021. When unavailable, we used military expenditure data for earlier years from the World Bank, also in current USD.

We also added each country’s population aged 15-64 – population that can be considered as potentially available personnel – from the World Bank.

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