Special Report

The Nations With the Largest Active-Duty Militaries

Rising tensions between China and Taiwan might be cause for concern for the small island nation. China has 10-times the military personnel that Taiwan has. While having the biggest military is not always indicative of military might, it certainly helps. 

Taiwan is not the only country concerned about defense and global security in today’s dynamic world – and in the face of large militaries like those of China’s. Ukraine is facing a much larger military force as well. Here we are taking a look at the largest militaries in the world.

To determine the 20 countries with the largest militaries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2023 Military Manpower Ranking from Global Firepower, an annually updated defense-related statistics website with information on 145 countries. We added each country’s Global Firepower PowerIndex score, which measures overall military strength with lower values indicating greater strength. 

The People’s Republic of China claims the title of the world’s largest active-duty military, with some 2 million personnel. As a rapidly-growing economic powerhouse in recent decades, China has continuously invested in building up its military capabilities, especially its navy. China’s military influence can be felt in East Asia, where tensions remain high with other nations that contest China’s territorial claims. (Also read: these are the US Navy’s 15 most expensive planes.)

Across the Pacific, the United States has the third-largest  active-duty military, with an estimated 1.39 million personnel. Even though the U.S. does not have the largest armed forces on the planet, it is still considered the most powerful and technologically advanced – and boasts a second to none defense budget that helps keep the war machine running.

Notably, countries at the top of this list with the largest militaries tend to have lower Global Firepower PowerIndex scores as well – meaning they are among the most powerful overall militarily. These countries also tend to have higher military spending, often a simple necessity for the larger troop size. Interestingly, countries with large militaries in terms of personnel also tend to keep sizable air forces as well as populations. (See the minimum age and obligation to serve in the military around the world.)

Here is a look at the largest active-duty militaries in the world.

Click here to see our detailed methodology.

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