Mapped: All the World’s Military Personnel
Mapped: All the World’s Military Personnel
While much of the world is living in one of the most peaceful periods in history, the spark of new conflicts like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reminds us of the importance of military personnel.
Between ongoing armed conflicts to building of defenses preemptively, many countries have amassed significant militaries to date.
This map, using data from World Population Review, displays all the world’s military personnel.
Who Has the Largest Military?
So who has the largest military? Well, the answer isn’t so simple.
There are three commonly measured categories of military personnel:
- Active military: Soldiers who work full-time for the army
Country with the largest active military: 🇨🇳 China (over 2 million)
- Military reserves: People who do not work for the army full-time, but have military training and can be called up and deployed at any moment
Country with the largest military reserves: 🇻🇳 Vietnam (5 million)
- Paramilitary: Groups that aren’t officially military but operate in a similar fashion, such as the CIA or SWAT teams in the U.S.
Country with the largest paramilitary: 🇰🇵 North Korea (an estimated 5 million)
NOTE: Of these categories of military personnel, paramilitary is the least well-defined across the world’s countries and thus not included in the infographic above.
Which country has the biggest military? It depends who’s doing the counting.
If we include paramilitary forces, here’s how the top countries stack up in terms of military personnel:
|Country||Active Military||Reserve Military||Paramilitary||Total Military|
|🇰🇵 North Korea||1,280,000||600,000||5,889,000||7,769,000|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||599,000||3,100,000||3,013,500||6,712,500|
|🇺🇸 United States||1,388,100||844,950||Not disclosed||2,233,050|
Source: World Population Review
When combining all three types of military, Vietnam comes out on top with over 10 million personnel.
And here are the world’s top 10 biggest militaries, excluding paramilitary forces:
|Country||Active Military||Reserve Military||Total Military|
|🇰🇷 South Korea||599,000||3,100,000||3,699,000|
|🇺🇸 United States||1,388,100||844,950||2,233,050|
|🇰🇵 North Korea||1,280,000||600,000||1,880,000|
Even in this case, North Korea remains near the top of the list with these much larger nations. Excluding estimates of paramilitary forces, the Hermit Kingdom has nearly 1.9 million active and reserve troops.
Building up Military Personnel
The reasons for these immense military sizes are obvious in some cases. For example, in Vietnam, North Korea, and Russia, citizens are required to serve a mandatory period of time for the military.
The Koreas, two countries still technically at war, both conscript citizens for their armies. In North Korea, boys are conscripted at age 14. They begin active service at age 17 and remain in the army for another 13 years. In select cases, women are conscripted as well.
In South Korea, a man must enlist at some point between the ages of 18 and 28. Most service terms are just over one year at minimum. There are however, certain exceptions: the K-Pop group BTS was recently granted legal rights to delay their military service, thanks to the country’s culture minister.
Here’s a look at just a few of the other countries that require their citizens to serve some form of military service:
- 🇦🇹 Austria
- 🇧🇷 Brazil
- 🇲🇲 Myanmar
- 🇪🇬 Egypt
- 🇮🇱 Israel
- 🇺🇦 Ukraine
In many of these countries, geopolitical and historical factors play into why they have mandatory service in place.
In the U.S., many different factors play into why the country has such a large military force. For one, the military industrial complex feeds into the U.S. army. A longstanding tradition of the American government and the defense and weapons industry working closely together creates economic incentives to build up arms and defenses, translating into a need for more personnel.
Additionally, the U.S. army offers job security and safety nets, and can be an attractive career choice. Culturally, the military is also held in high esteem in the country.
Nations with No Armies
For many countries, building up military personnel is a priority, however, there are other nations who have no armies at all (excluding the paramilitary branch).
Here’s a glance at some countries that have no armies:
- 🇨🇷 Costa Rica
- 🇮🇸 Iceland
- 🇱🇮 Liechtenstein
- 🇵🇦 Panama
Costa Rica has no army as it was dissolved after the country’s civil war in the 1940s. The funds for the military were redirected towards other public services, such as education.
This is not to say that these nations live in a state of constant peace—most have found alternative means to garner security forces. Under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, other countries like the U.S. are technically obligated to provide military services to Costa Rica, for example, should they be in need.
The Future of Warfare
International conflicts persist in the 21st century, but now go far beyond just the number of troops on the ground.
New and emerging forms of warfare pose unforeseen threats. For example, cyber warfare and utilization of data to attack populations could dismantle countries and cause conflict almost instantaneously. Cybersecurity failure has been ranked among the top 10 most likely risks to the world today.
If current trends continue, soldiers of the future will face off on very different fields of battle.
Map Explainer: Sudan
This comprehensive map explainer covers both key facts about Sudan, as well as information on the violent power struggle unfolding there
Map Explainer: Sudan
The African nation of Sudan has been in the headlines, as intense fighting has rocked the country. As this bloody power struggle plays out, the map infographic above aims to provides key information on the conflict, as well as general facts and context about the country.
To begin, what exactly is happening in Sudan?
The 2023 Conflict in Sudan: A Primer
As explosions echo throughout Khartoum—Africa’s sixth largest urban area—many around the world are left wondering how the conflict escalated to this point. Here are five things to know:
- Two generals have been sharing power since a coup in 2021. The first is General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the Sudanese Army. The second is General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo (aka Hemedti), who leads the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group. This power-sharing arrangement was meant to be temporary, with an eventual transition to a civilian-led democracy. Instead, the situation devolved into conflict.
- Fighting broke out around the country in mid-April, with Khartoum becoming a major flash point. Flames billowed over the Khartoum airport, and the city’s military headquarters was reduced to a burned-out husk.
- As violence began to grip Sudan’s largest city, there was an exodus of foreign officials and citizens. In one particularly dramatic scene at the U.S. Embassy, nearly 100 people were escorted onto an aircraft by Navy SEALs and flown to nearby Djibouti.
- There have been a number of ceasefire agreements so far, but they’ve done little to stem the intense fighting.
- The stream of refugees fleeing the violence continues to grow. There is growing concern that this conflict will cause further instability in the region, as most of Sudan’s neighbors have their own histories with recent conflict, and many areas are facing food insecurity.
Unfortunately, Sudan is no stranger to conflict, having been ruled by the military for much of its existence. As of the writing of this article, there is technically a ceasefire in place, but fighting rages on. It remains to be seen how far these warring generals are willing to push the situation to assert their power.
Fast Facts About the Country of Sudan
Beyond headlines of conflict, Sudan is not a well-known country to many in the West. In the map above, we’ve also included more general information about geography, climate, population centers, and more.
Geography and Climate
Sudan is the third largest nation in Africa (16th globally), so there is a lot of climate and geographic variance within the country’s borders.
The country is located in Northeast Africa, directly below Egypt. Roughly speaking, its climate changes along a north–south axis, moving from arid to tropical. About two-thirds of the nation is arid and semi-arid, which is typical of countries with territory that includes the Sahara Desert.
The further south one goes in Sudan, the greener the surroundings get. The map below (which also includes the relatively new country of South Sudan) shows the extreme difference in vegetation from the north to south in the region.
The Nile River is a prominent feature running across this arid region, providing two-thirds of the country’s fresh water. In the south, the Blue and White portions of the Nile enter the country from South Sudan and Ethiopia, respectively. The rivers meet midway through the country and the Nile River flows northward, eventually reaching Egypt.
This flow of water from country-to-country can sometimes be a point of contention between Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Egypt, who all rely on the river for power, fresh water, and irrigation.
Over 43 million people live in Sudan, which ranks it ninth in terms of population in Africa. Below, we can see that much of the Sudanese population is clustered in a couple of key areas, while much of the country remains sparsely populated.
Khartoum, the capital and largest city, is located in the interior of the country at the strategic point where the Blue and White Niles converge. This fast-growing city is shaped by the three sections surrounding the river junction—with Khartoum, North Khartoum, and Omdurman making up a metro area of 6.3 million people.
Sudan is divided into 18 states, five of which form the Darfur region in the west. If the name Darfur is familiar, it’s for good reason. In the 2000s, the region experienced a conflict marked by widespread violence, human rights abuses, and displacement, resulting in a humanitarian crisis. One of the generals involved in the current crisis, Hemedti, previously commanded the Janjaweed militias, which carried out some of the most egregious atrocities of the Darfur conflict.
In the northwest, Sudan borders the strategic Red Sea route. Port Sudan serves as the main entry point for imports and the primary export outlet for Sudanese commodities, including agricultural products (such as cotton, gum arabic, and sesame), minerals (such as gold), and livestock. The city has also been tapped to host a Russian naval base in the near future, though the recent power struggle in Sudan has potentially complicated negotiations.
As violence continues to rage in residential areas and people flee for safer areas, it remains to be seen how this conflict will influence population patterns within the country. How many people will be displaced? And once the smoke clears, will they return?
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