Philosophers have long debated the necessity or futility of war but society has stubbornly set aside lofty theories while continuing to evolve and revolve around the nitty-gritty questions of territory, power and – essentially – military strength. Nations seem to function on the premise (or paranoia) that it has enemies, and those adversaries are hell bent on destroying them. Thus, they preemptively prepare for their enemy’s destruction. This theory has historically led to stalemate – none more notorious than the ‘Cold War’ between two superpowers, Russia and the U.S., when each invested inexplicable national funds into developing increasingly nasty nuclear weapons in order to out-scare the other. Sadly, and counter-intuitively, this tactic has led to the manufacture of weapons so lethal that their deployment would lead to certain destruction – not only of the enemy, but of one’s own nation. While countries invest heavily in their military power, for both defensive and offensive means, the total amount of its budget a country dedicates to military ends depends on a range of complex, weighted factors – including the size of the country, the state of its economy and the perceived military threat against the nation.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has been collecting military expenditure data of 172 countries since 1998. Their extensive database makes it possible to determine the most peaceful and the most violent countries – at least as far as military force is concerned. Having long-term, historically consistent military expenditure data can makes it possible to predict future international military trends more accurately.
The world military expenditure last year, 2012, was $1753 billion – around 2.5% of the world’s GDP. In practical terms, there was a 0.5% fall in the world military spending compared to in 2011. Since 1998, this was the first instance of a fall in the world military spending.
What these numbers tell us is that weapons are a big business, so if a country wants to be prepared for war it’ll be investing a significant portion of its yearly budget in securing top of the range materials and hiring the very best people. This is a strategy for the richest countries – the powerful nations with the most money to invest, and arguably the most to lose if they’re attacked. A country’s pattern of investment in their military can be revealing; tellingly, China have increased their military budget by 170% in the last decade, but – reflecting their economic growth – this still only represents 2% of the country’s GDP. Conversely, of course, a small military budget tells a lot about a country too. This doesn’t necessarily mean a nation is less powerful; peace-keeping nations, countries that operate largely independently or those who claim a neutral position internationally will typically dispense less of their GDP on military concerns. We’ve already looked at countries with the biggest military budget, but now we look at the other side of the coin; the 10 countries who spend the smallest portion of their country’s funds on military operations..
10. Mexico : 0.6% of GDP spent on military – $7 billion
The Mexican Armed Forces are made up of two entities: the Mexican Armed Force and the Mexican Navy. The Mexican Armed Forces comprise the Mexican Air Force, Military Police, The Presidential Guard, and the Special Forces. The Navy includes the Naval Infantry and the Naval Aviation. Their army currently has around 259,000 active soldiers – representing around 0.16% of the total population. Though Mexico has increased their military expenditure casually over the years, the economic boost witnessed at the turn of the century has actually reduced their expenditure relative to the nation’s annual GDP. Mexico spends a large portion of its military budget on tackling powerful and violent cartels responsible for nationwide drug trafficking.
9. Ireland: 0.6% of GDP spent on military – $1.2 billion
The neutral Irish military, also known as the Defense Forces, consists of Army, Navy, Air Corps, and Reserve Defense Force. The President of Ireland is officially the Supreme Commander the military, and all officers report directly to the President’s office. Currently, there are only around 9,500 active on-duty personnel in the Irish military. The main role of the Defense Forces is to safeguard national interests, but they also carry out other tasks such as fishery protection, drug Interdiction, maritime safety, diving operations, pollution control and overseas mission support.
8. Dominican Republic: 0.6% of GDP spent on military – $362 million
The Dominican Republic’s military consists of three branches: Army, Air Force and Navy. Although possessing just 44,000 active duty personnel, the Dominican Republic still boasts the second-largest military in the Caribbean. A boost in trade activities has reduced their military expenditure compared to their annual GDP in recent years but military spending has, in actuality, increased overall. Most of the army personnel are used for non-military operations such as, for example, providing security to non-military vehicles and government staff, manning toll booths, and scouting forests. Their Air Force has around 40 aircrafts, which also includes helicopters, and the Navy maintains three large vessels donated by the USA, two dozen patrol crafts and interceptor boats, and two helicopters. Most of the force’s military tasks revolve around countering illegal drug-trafficking, controlling contraband. Their armed forces are also instrumental in stopping illegal immigration from Haiti to the Dominican Republic – and from the Dominican Republic to the United States.
7. Malta: 0.6% of GDP spent on military – $53.1 million
The Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) are responsible for border control and national security, operating with minimal naval or air support. The AFM was formed when Malta gained independence in 1974, and since then it has added many regiments to expand its military presence inside the country. Most of their weaponry and vehicles are imported from the United Kingdom, Sweden and Russia. With just a little over 2,000 active personnel, Malta’s army is among the smallest in the world. Thanks to a boost in their economy due to tourism and banking industries, their military expenditure has remained stable but represents less of their total GDP; the country’s spending was 1.7% of their GDP in 2000 and was just 0.6% of the GDP in 2012.
6. Papua New Guinea: 0.5% of GDP spent on military – $84 million
The united military force of Papua New Guinea came into being in 1973 after Australian forces left the island. It’s also known as the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, or PNGDF for short. Currently, the island nation hosts just a small force of around 2,100 active personnel. The PNGDF consists of land, air and maritime divisions – all of which are involved in protecting the nation’s territories from external attack, internal security and nation-building tasks. Australia continues to assist the PNGDF in patrolling seas and providing training.
5. Guatemala 0.4% of GDP spent on military – $211 million
Guatemala’s total military expenditure is large compared to other small spenders on our list, but their military investment represents only a small percentage of the country’s national spending. The Military of Guatemala consists of the National Army, Navy and Air Force. A peace treaty signed in 1996 enabled Guatemala’s military to concentrate only on external threats, but persistent emigration of Mexican criminal organizations has forced the military to support the nation’s police in defending themselves against internal threats. The Kaibiles – the Special Forces unit of the Guatemalan Army – are well-known for their counter-insurgent jungle warfare tactics and operations.
4. Ghana: 0.3 % of GDP spent on military – $109 million
The Ghana Armed Forces were founded in 1957 and consist of an Army, Navy and Air Force. The Ministry of Defense, along with the Chief of Defense Staff, looks after all the military affairs in the country. Currently, their main arms suppliers are Iran, China and Russia – all of whom are soft rivals of the United States. Apart from discouraging external threats and maintaining order inside the country, the armed forces of Ghana are also involved in peacekeeping operations. A large reserve of Ghanaian forces are posted across the world as part of the United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts.
3. Moldova: 0.3% of GDP spent on military – $21.8 million
With an estimated active personnel of about 6,000, Moldova has one of the smallest armies in the world. The Moldovan military’s main foreign suppliers are Russia, Ukraine and the United States. It’s interesting to note that Moldova has no naval department, probably due to its lack of military investment and its mainly landlocked location. However, Moldova does have a relatively large Air Force with around 1,000 active personnel. Currently, the Moldovan Armed Forces are mainly involved in peacekeeping and disaster management operations.
2. Mauritius: 0.2% of GDP spent on military – $14 million
Mauritius has no standing army. The Commissioner of Police controls all the police, military and security operations in the country. The Special Mobile Force Unit and the National Coast Guard are the only divisions which perform paramilitary roles in the country. However, even these units are composed of police officers on a rotation basis. Being a small island nation, the Mauritian Coast Guard works closely with Indian Navy to ward off any antisocial elements.
1. Iceland: 0.1% of GDP spent on military – $9.9 million
Neutral Iceland has just 210 active personnel and 170 reserve personnel, making it the smallest military service in the world in terms of human resources. Iceland’s defense forces are made up of the Icelandic Coast Guard, a National Security Unit and the Special Forces Unit. However, Iceland maintains no standing army or military; in fact, it’s the only NATO member without a standing army, despite there being no legal impediments to possessing such a resource. The country’s Crisis Response Unit (CRU) handled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is involved in peacekeeping operations throughout the world. Iceland hosts the annual NATO exercise called Northern Viking, which sees participation from NATO members such as the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway; the exercise mainly tests the readiness of air and maritime defences of the participating nations. This generally neutral, peace-keeping nation hasn’t had much need for a large military – although they were invaded by Britain in World War II. The Brits violated Iceland’s neutral position but offered favorable agreements in return for Icelandic cooperation, but Iceland have maintained peaceful neutrality ever since.