Realistically, to accurately compare the strength of one military against another, war would need to break out. Not just the smaller, isolated incidents, uprisings, and localized conflicts seen today. What would be necessary would be a full-scale mobilization of military power the world has thankfully not seen since the Second World War.
In today’s day and age, there are only a few hypothetical ways to gauge a nation's military strength. Most methods employed by experts look at the size and capabilities of a military in an attempt to discern their traditional warfare making capabilities, take into account the nuclear arsenal a nation possesses (which, in some ways could render the whole comparison moot) and ultimately look at the budget each country allocates to their military. The fact is, the amount of money spent on military also generally points to how modern and well trained that military is, and also speaks to the financial stature of the nation. A wealthier nation is also one to have a higher position in global affairs and more influence on the global stage. Like anything else, as seen by this list, when it comes to the military, money is power, and that power fuels military supremacy.
With China’s continued rise as a global superpower, other Asian nations have upped their national budgets on military spending. Historically being an enemy of China, the Japanese remain wary of the massive military expansion and financial and territorial initiatives China has been undertaking. As 10th on this list, Japan boasts an active military force of nearly 248,000 people, with a further 50,000 plus in reservists. A defense budget of roughly $50 billion has also allowed Japan to build an impressive air force and navy, boasting over 1,595 total aircraft and 130 war ships. While Japan’s military is not massive, nor its budget exorbitant, Japan maintains a solid military presence in Asia via the country’s recent defense initiatives aimed at safeguarding traditional Japanese spheres of influence.
9 South Korea
A country in a most precarious position, in 2014 South Korea is acutely aware of two potential major threats to the nation’s sovereignty and security. Like Japan, South Korea is keeping an eye on China’s manoeuvring in the region, promoting military initiatives to maintain and train a massive reserve force of nearly 3 million soldiers to complement a regular force of 640,000. Beyond China, there is the nearly 70-year looming spectre of North Korea; easily South Korea’s biggest concern to national security, and still the source of aggression towards the Asian country today. With nearly 15,000 total land weapons including tanks and rocket launching systems, and an air force consisting of 1,393 total aircraft, South Korea is in a good position to withstand an air or land threat from the north. A tiny navy or a mere 166 ships may not help much on the sea; perhaps that is where a portion of their 2014 budget of roughly $34 billion is being allocated.
As a Middle Eastern nation, Turkey has maintained strong diplomatic ties with the United States, including allowing U.S. missile-launching sites on Turkish soil. Given Turkey’s involvement in recent Western-lead military exercises in the region, Turkey may have more than a few enemies as neighbours. As such, Turkey doesn’t maintain a large military, less than 600,000 troops including regular force and reserves, but the Turkish military does claim over 16,000 land weapons and 1,000 aircraft to their arsenal. What makes Turkey rank so high on this list is the projection of their military budget rising nearly 10% over the year, from the current $18.15 billion.
Germany has both a storied and extremely painful military past, but as the de facto leader of the European Union, at least financially, Germany has had no choice but to maintain a globally competitive military. That said, Germany has a very small land force; roughly 180,000 regular force and 145,000 reservists. Germany doesn’t fair much better in the air with 710 aircraft, total. On land, the German’s can deploy nearly 5,000 land weapons of various kinds, with Armoured Personnel Vehicles making up the bulk of their defenses. In fact, apart from a massive defense budget of $45 billion Germany has been in a process of drawing back their overall military expense, something that, given the current situation in the Ukraine, may be premature.
Another EU nation that is following Germany’s lead and scaling back military budgets, France still has the 6th largest military in the world based largely on a defense budget of $43 billion and combined regular force and reserve force personnel of near 500,000. Like many of the European nations that hold higher positions on this list than their global counterparts, defense spending is a major factor in determining the strength of a military. Less than 9,000 ground vehicles and just over 1,000 aircraft don’t make France a formidable military, but their solid position in the EU and the United Nations, with allies globally, mean that the likelihood of France fighting a war on it’s own is next to nil. It doesn’t hurt that France has a total of 290 nuclear weapons still readily available for deployment, with further nuclear technology still taking up a percentage of the country’s military expenditures.
5 United Kingdom
The final member of the EU on this list, the United Kingdom has a wealth of allies on the global stage. Like its peers, the UK is scaling back on both military spending and manpower through 2014. Given the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 13 years, the nation is understandably exhausted, and with a regular force of only 205,000 people, stretched thin. A relatively small air force of 908 aircraft and a miniscule navy of 66 ships certainly show how long ago the days when Britain dominated the air and the seas truly are. That said, powerful militaries are still made and maintained by the level of the national budget spent and with a budget of over $53 billion the United Kingdom can still run a formidable military machine if need be. 160 nuclear weapons doesn’t diminish Britain’s military position globally either.
With a massive military modernization project underway, India has climbed the list to become the largest importer of military goods on the globe. As such, they have also climbed the list of strongest militaries in the world. With a massive combined land force of regular and reserve troops totalling nearly 3.5 million, India has made uses of its enormous population. Complimented by nearly 16,000 land vehicles, including 3,500 tanks, and 1,785 aircraft, India’s military is sizable. A $46 billion military budget is aiming to fully modernize India’s military as the rest of the country follows suit. The nuclear weapons don’t hurt either.
The top three on this list come as no surprise; the heavyweights, the biggest overall threats to global security, and the nations most involved in global affairs as of late. China has always projected a formidable military, and with good cause. 2.3 million regular force soldiers and a further 2.4 million reservists make China’s land force the largest in the world. The nearly 25,000 military land vehicles and a further 2,800 aircraft are readily available to aid China’s massive land force on a whim. Not convinced? China also currently holds up to 300 nuclear weapons, with 180 different methods with which to deploy them. To go along with the country’s massive man power and devastating arsenal, a defense budget of $126 billion has ensured that not a single nation in Asia, or perhaps even the world, can compete with the Chinese military, resulting in the growth of Chinese power both within their traditional spheres of influence, and increasingly, across the globe.
Of course, as Chinese power and influence has grown considerably over the past decade, so has Russia’s since Vladimir Putin took hold of the nation in 2000. While the Russian military has been fighting wars on and off for over a decade within their own borders that have gone largely unnoticed by the international community, the majority of that same international community universally condemned Russia’s recent involvement in the Ukraine. While Russia has been slapped with economic sanctions, Russia has not backed down, making two things clear: Putin is confident in Russia’s military capabilities, and the rest of the world is intimidated enough by Russia in 2014 not to do anything dramatic in response. This build up in power is largely due to a regular and reserve force military of over 3 million soldiers that has been steadily modernized thanks to a $76.6 billion budget. Russia is also the world’s leader with nearly 8,500 active nuclear warheads.
1 United States of America
With the number one military in the world since the end of the Second World War, the United States’ global power and influence may be waning slightly, but President Obama is making sure to do all he can to hold on to that power. New missions in the Middle East still display the formidable power of the U.S. military, and help maintain the U.S.’s position as the most powerful nation on the globe. With the rise of China and Russia (again), and one day perhaps even India, the position to hold the title of most powerful nation on earth has a lot more competition that it has in the past. As such, the United States military maintains an enormously large amount of men and women in uniform with an active ground force of over 1.4 million soldiers, and a further 800,000 reservists. Leading the world in aircraft production, it also stands to reason that the U.S. has more aircraft carriers than the rest of this list combined. The U.S. military also flexes its muscle with over 7,500 nuclear warheads, second only to Russia. Where the United States truly demolishes its competition on this list however is in its defense budget; the United States spends $612.5 billion on the military, more than the other nine nations on this list combined. After two protracted wars over the past 13 years, and further missions commencing, it remains to be seen how long the U.S. can continue to spend at this rate.