bar chart showing the largest armies in the world by country

The Largest Armies in the World

China currently maintains the largest army in the world, commanded by a single country, with 2.18 active military personnel. India, the United States, and Russia each maintain 1.45 million, 1.33 million, and 1.32 million active military personnel, respectively. Additionally, NATO operates with an estimated force of 3.5 million active personnel, but because it is the result of an alliance between 31 countries, it cannot be considered a single army. 

The 7 Largest Armies In The World

Rank Name # of Active Military Personnel
1 China 2.18 Million
2 India 1.45 Million
3 United States 1.33 Million
4 Russia 1.32 Million
5 North Korea 1.28 Million
6 Pakistan 654 Thousand
7 Iran 610 Thousand
~ NATO 3.5 Million

Click Here To See: The 50 Largest Armies In The World

China - 2.18 Million Active Personnel

a platoon of Chinese soldiers with the Chinese flag
A platoon of Chinese soldiers with the Chinese flag. Image credit SemikArt via Shutterstock

An article in 1999, written by expert Bates Gill, declared China’s military to be a hollow and empty threat to its opponents, despite the former total of 2.8 million soldiers. Today, the 2 million units that comprise the Chinese military are better trained and better equipped. GlobalFirepower (GFP), an independent analytical group, ranked them 3rd in strength out of 142 countries.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the moniker for the Chinese forces, represents its Infantry, Navy, Air Force, Rocket Force, and Strategic Support Force. Every year, the PLA goes through a budget of around $229 billion in order to maintain its capacity. Despite the high number of personnel, there is no ongoing conscription of the civilian population. The GFP ranks consider only conventional deployments, as opposed to nuclear capabilities.

India - 1.45 Million Active Personnel

Indian armed force Officers are marching past with light machine guns, preparing for show for India's republic day celebration
Indian armed forces are marching with light machine guns for India's republic day celebration. Image credit Rudra Narayan Mitra via Shutterstock

The border between India and China is in a heated state of competition, which is one reason why India maintains almost one and a half million active personnel. In 2021, footage reported by CNN recorded a violent confrontation between Indian and Chinese troops.

The Indian Armed Forces, comprised of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, costs around $66 Billion to maintain each year. In 2019, that equated to roughly 2.4% of India’s total GDP. This expense does not go without merit, as India managed to place 4th on the GFP index. However, the vast distance between the strength of China and India is still palpable.

United States - 1.33 Million Active Personnel

US soldiers giving salute
US soldiers giving a salute. Image credit Bumble Dee via Shutterstock

The lionized war machine of the United States stands in third place with its active military personnel at roughly 1.328 million units. This is significantly complemented by its 2022 budget of $782 Billion, which is triple the amount of the PLA. However, the reserve unit bolsters around 1.1 million members which is identical to India's, while China has a little over 1.2 million.

GFP considers the US forces to be the strongest military in the world and considering its eleven sophisticated aircraft carriers compared to China’s two, the reasoning is sound. A VICE interview with a military analyst, Dylan Lehrke, revealed that it is unlikely the combined forces of the world could launch a successful invasion against the United States. Although, projecting force is much more difficult than defending a large territory.

Russia - 1.32 Million Active Personnel

The Russian army in red berets and green uniforms, Moscow, Russia
The Russian army in red berets and green uniforms, Moscow, Russia. Image credit Anton Brehov via Shutterstock

Currently, Russia has a force that consists of roughly 1.3 million active members. The ongoing invasion of Ukraine has resulted in the Russian government bolstering its military through increasing recruitment efforts. These sizes are not novel for the country, as the Russian military maintained up to 1.9 million active personnel in the 1990s.

The toll of casualties for the ongoing invasion is over a hundred thousand and potentially as high as 372 thousand, including both killed and injured. Recruitment efforts will, therefore, have to offset those losses, yet some skeptics are questioning whether the new personnel are either adequately equipped or trained. 

North Korea - 1.28 Million Active Personnel

North Korean soldier at the military parade in Pyongyang
North Korean soldier at the military parade in Pyongyang. Image credit Astrelok via Shutterstock

Nearly 30% of the North Korean population is in their armed forces, giving them the 4th largest military in the world. However, sheer numbers are not enough to grant them a top ten position, thus, they are 30th in terms of strength between Algeria and Thailand. Ruled by an oppressive and isolationist regime, North Korea's economic struggles alongside mass poverty have resulted in significant famines over the past several decades.

The nation sits between South Korea, its long-term rival, and China, which has a vested interest in tolerating North Korea’s presence. In the media, it is common for North Korea to announce its plans to attack western powers. In addition, dangerous missile tests have endangered the Japanese mainland, although a direct strike has not yet occurred.

Pakistan - 654 Thousand Active Personnel

Pakistani Military officials perform during the opening ceremony of Balochistan Sports Festival
Pakistani military officials marching. Image credit Asianet-Pakistan via Shutterstock 

The Armed Forces of Pakistan is the 6th largest military in the world with 654,000 active personnel. In a similar model to other nations, the military comprises an army, navy, and air force. At $10.4 billion in cost per year (4% of total GDP), the arrangement is not insignificant economically or politically.

However, despite the size, Pakistan is 9th according to GFP behind the United Kingdom, France, South Korea, and Japan. Due to long-term cultural and geographical disputes Pakistan’s primary opponent is India (and therefore Iran) as well as Afghanistan. Although open conflict simmers and tensions brew, the last significant confrontation between India and Pakistan occurred in 1965.

Iran - 610 Thousand Active Personnel

platoon of soldiers of the Iranian army with the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran
A platoon of soldiers of the Iranian army with the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Image credit SemikArt via Shutterstock

The subject of civil unrest is currently Iran’s greatest challenge, with protests breaking out across the country in 2021 and 2022. The active force of nearly 610,000 military personnel stands at the ready, however, to guard against all internal and external threats. The force cost $25 Billion in 2022, which accounted for 2.5% of its GDP.

Tensions between Iran, Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia have persisted for decades due to complex differences in ideology, politics, and geographical disputes. This state of passive (and sometimes active) conflict is a prime motivator for each named country to increase its military efforts in the region. In particular, Iran is seemingly outnumbered. However, Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon arsenal. Behind Egypt and Turkey, Iran is the 14th strongest military power according to GFP.

NATO - 3.5 Million Active Personnel

Patch flag and symbol of NATO force integration unit in Lithuania
Patch flag and symbol of NATO force integration unit in Lithuania. Image credit Michele Ursi via Shutterstock

Nearly 3.5 million personnel make up the combined troop numbers of NATO. The arrangement consists of 30 nations that have agreed to a defensive military alliance. These nations are Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Türkiye, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The structure is unique because NATO’s forces encompass an integrated enchainment of all member nations, rather than a singular body. However, because member nations such as France and Germany are much lower down on the list with only 205,000 and 183,000 respective troops, their combined forces are a commanding presence internationally. The combined defense expenditure for members of NATO in 2022, including the United States, was $1.2 trillion.

Final Thoughts

Perhaps an era will come that sees the total dismantlement of all the world’s armed forces and nuclear arsenals. That day has not yet come, and modern societies continue to brace themselves for ongoing or eventual conflict. Despite the tentative peace achieved worldwide since the end of WWII, it may take only one nuclear-armed leader to unleash a devastating global chain reaction. Plenty of tensions and disputes still exist between countries today, alongside a handful of open conflicts, which cements the need for each state’s investment in an armed force. In the future, space forces will likely become more prevalent as the warring nature of humankind turns its attention to the stars. Regardless, universal peace must remain the focus of every world citizen in the coming millennia.

The 50 Largest Armies In The World

Rank State Active Military Personnel
1 People's Republic of China 2,185,000
2 India 1,455,550
3 United States 1,328,000
4 Russia 1,320,000
5 North Korea 1,280,000
6 Pakistan 654,000
7 Iran 610,000
8 South Korea 599,000
9 Vietnam 482,000
10 Egypt 438,500
11 Myanmar 406,000
12 Indonesia 395,500
13 Brazil 366,500
14 Thailand 360,850
15 Turkey 355,200
16 Colombia 293,200
17 Sri Lanka 255,000
18 Afghanistan 250,000
19 Japan 247,150
20 Saudi Arabia 227,000
21 Mexico 216,000
22 Ukraine 209,000
23 France 208,750
24 Eritrea 201,750
25 United Kingdom 196,453
26 Morocco 195,800
27 Iraq 193,000
28 South Sudan 185,000
29 Germany 183,500
30 Israel 169,500
31 Syria 169,000
32 Italy 165,500
33 Bangladesh 163,050
34 Taiwan (Republic of China) 163,000
35 Philippines 143,100
36 Nigeria 143,000
37 Greece 142,700
38 Ethiopia 138,000
39 Democratic Republic of the Congo 134,250
40 Algeria 130,000
41 Azerbaijan 126,950
42 Cambodia 124,300
43 Venezuela 123,000
44 Spain 120,350
45 Poland 114,050
46 Malaysia 113,000
47 Angola 107,000
48 Sudan 104,300
49 Jordan 100,500
50 Nepal 96,600

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