Mapped: All the World's Military Personnel
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Mapped: All the World’s Military Personnel

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map infographic showing military personnel by country. China has the largest active military.

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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:

CountryActive MilitaryReserve MilitaryParamilitaryTotal Military
🇻🇳 Vietnam482,0005,000,0005,040,00010,522,000
🇰🇵 North Korea1,280,000600,0005,889,0007,769,000
🇰🇷 South Korea599,0003,100,0003,013,5006,712,500
🇮🇳 India1,455,5501,155,0002,526,9505,137,500
🇨🇳 China2,185,0001,170,000660,0004,015,000
🇷🇺 Russia1,014,0002,000,000554,0003,568,000
🇺🇸 United States1,388,100844,950Not disclosed2,233,050
🇧🇷 Brazil366,5001,340,000395,0002,101,500
🇹🇼 Taiwan163,0001,657,00011,8001,831,800
🇵🇰 Pakistan654,000550,000291,0001,495,000

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:

CountryActive MilitaryReserve MilitaryTotal Military
🇻🇳 Vietnam482,0005,000,0005,482,000
🇰🇷 South Korea599,0003,100,0003,699,000
🇨🇳 China2,185,0001,170,0003,355,000
🇷🇺 Russia1,014,0002,000,0003,014,000
🇮🇳 India1,455,5501,155,0002,610,550
🇺🇸 United States1,388,100844,9502,233,050
🇰🇵 North Korea1,280,000600,0001,880,000
🇹🇼 Taiwan163,0001,657,0001,820,000
🇧🇷 Brazil366,5001,340,0001,706,500
🇵🇰 Pakistan654,000550,0001,204,000

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.

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Politics

Mapped: Geopolitical Risk by Economy

Prior to invading Ukraine, Russia had one of the highest levels of geopolitical risk. How does geopolitical uncertainty vary around the world?

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World map with countries coloured according to their level of geopolitical risk. Pakistan has the most geopolitical risk while New Zealand has the least.
The following content is sponsored by The Hinrich Foundation

Geopolitical Risk by Economy

The Russia-Ukraine war highlighted how geopolitical risk can up-end supply chains and weaponize trade. More precisely, the war led to trade sanctions, a food crisis, and energy shortages.

This graphic from The Hinrich Foundation, the third in a five-part series on the sustainability of trade, explores how geopolitical risk differs by economy. It pulls data from the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index, which The Hinrich Foundation produced in collaboration with the IMD World Competitiveness Center.

Breaking Down Geopolitical Risk

Geopolitical risk has a strong correlation with GDP per capita, meaning that developing economies typically have less stability.

The following table shows how geopolitical risk breaks down for select economies that are covered in the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index. A lower number indicates less stability, while a higher number indicates more stability.

EconomyGeopolitical Stability
Pakistan5.2
Myanmar9.9
Bangladesh16.0
India17.0
Mexico17.9
Philippines18.9
Papua New Guinea20.3
Russia20.8
Thailand24.5
Indonesia28.3
Ecuador34.4
China37.7
Peru38.7
Cambodia41.0
Vietnam44.8
Sri Lanka45.3
U.S.46.2
Chile49.1
Hong Kong50.0
Malaysia50.9
UK61.3
South Korea62.7
Laos69.3
Taiwan72.2
Australia73.1
Japan87.3
Canada90.1
Brunei90.6
Singapore97.2
New Zealand97.6

Source: World Bank, based on the latest available data from 2020. Values measure perceptions of political instability and violence, which are a proxy and precursor to geopolitical risk.

New Zealand has the highest level of stability, likely supported by the fact that it is a small nation with no direct neighbors. The country has taken steps to repair relationships with Indigenous peoples, through land and monetary settlements, though challenges remain. 

The U.S. has moderate stability. It has been impacted by increasing political polarization that has led to people having lower trust in institutions and more negative views of people from the opposing party. As the world’s largest economy, the U.S. also faces geopolitical risk such as escalating tariffs in the U.S.-China trade war. 

Want more insights into trade sustainability?

Sustainable Trade Index 2022 Report Cover

Download the 2022 Sustainable Trade Index for free.

Russia has one of the lowest levels of stability. The country’s invasion of Ukraine has led to war along with economic roadblocks that restrict normal trade activity. For instance, sanctions against Russia and blocked Ukrainian ports led to a food shortage. The two countries supply a third of the world’s wheat and 75% of the sunflower oil supply. 

The Impact of Geopolitical Uncertainty on Trade

Geopolitical risk can lead to civil unrest and war. It also has economic consequences including trade disruptions. As a result of the Russia-Ukraine war, the World Bank estimates that “world trade will drop by 1%, lowering global GDP by 0.7% and GDP of low-income economies by 1%.” A separate study found that Pakistan’s history of political instability has negatively affected trade in the country.

Of course, geopolitical risk is just one component of an economy’s trade sustainability. The Sustainable Trade Index uses a number of other metrics to measure economies’ ability to trade in a way that balances economic growth, societal development, and environmental protection. To learn more, visit the STI landing page where you can download the report for free.

The fourth piece in this series will explore air pollution by economy, and how it is influenced by economic activity such as trade.

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