As much as we may hate to admit it, the world is still very much a dangerous place. Moreover, almost every country is dependent upon its armed forces to keep the peace, protect its borders and ensure the safety of its citizens. Some countries, however, have more firepower than others. Certain nations have drawn strength from large populations, technological innovations or simply superior budgets to help create militaries that far out-rival those of their neighbors. As ranked by Global Firepower, these are the 20 countries that nobody should pick a fight with.
Budget: $6.3 billion
Active frontline personnel: 545,000
Just one year after its epoch-making revolution, Iran entered into a bloody eight-year war with neighboring Iraq in 1980. Perhaps this is why the country has retained such a large amount of active personnel in the intervening years, with no fewer than 545,000 soldiers serving as of today. Despite its strength in numbers, however, Iran’s military suffers from a lack of technological prowess. Indeed, outdated weapons and a comparatively low military budget see it at the bottom of this list.
Budget: $10.7 billion
Active frontline personnel: 300,000
While it retains a somewhat low population of only 23.4 million citizens, Taiwan nevertheless has a strong and impressive army. Furthermore, the nation’s military standing could improve in the coming years owing to a perceived threat from China. In early 2017, for example, Defense Minister Feng Shih-kuan admitted that his country – which its Sino neighbors consider a province of China – aims to boost its air force and navy capabilities as well as increase military spending.
Budget: $9.3 billion
Active frontline personnel: 120,000
Following Russia’s annexation of the Crimea in 2014, Poland has been wary of a similar strike within its borders. As a result, the country has seen rapid increases to its military might. The number of active personnel, for example, has risen from 100,000 to 120,000 since 2015. In addition, in 2016 the Ministry of Defense announced a $14.5 billion modernization program, which will surely add to the country’s growing power.
Budget: $24.5 billion
Active frontline personnel: 330,000
Despite being the fifth-largest country by landmass worldwide, Brazil has a surprisingly small army. And with only 330,000 personnel on active duty, the huge country lands at the comparatively low position of 17 on this list. Nevertheless, Brazil’s military does lead in other vital areas. To wit, the nation’s air force – which consists of 697 aircraft – is the Southern Hemisphere’s largest of its kind as well as the Americas’ second largest.
Budget: $3.4 billion
Active frontline personnel: 415,000
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, the People’s Army of Vietnam has proven adept at defending itself from larger and more advanced militaries. For example, the then-North Vietnamese Army successfully defeated U.S. and South Vietnamese troops in the Vietnam War. It also fought off a Chinese invasion just four years later. These days, however, Vietnam’s army is relatively inactive, although its numerous tanks and personnel maintain a formidable presence.
Budget: $15.5 billion
Active frontline personnel: 160,000
Though less than a century old, Israel has been involved in numerous conflicts with neighboring states throughout its life. Accordingly, the nation has belied its small size with a large army that now ranks as the third biggest in the Middle East. That’s partially because, as well as enforcing military service, Israel supports its army with technologies like drones and satellites. Furthermore, it’s one of only nine countries in possession of nuclear weapons.
Budget: $6.9 billion
Active frontline personnel: 476,000
In recent history, Indonesia has contributed military backing to international conflicts in Vietnam, Bosnia and Lebanon. However, the main branch of its armed forces has mostly been deployed on its own soil, combatting separatist and terrorist groups like the Free Aceh Movement and Jamaah Islamiyah. As a result, the country’s military comprises a considerable 476,000 active combatants, although it still possesses a smaller navy than those of other nations.
Budget: $9.4 billion
Active frontline personnel: 620,000
From a population of nearly 200 million citizens, Pakistan has, perhaps unsurprisingly, built up a large defensive force. Alongside its 620,000 frontline personnel, the nation has also accumulated a sizeable air force, while it has nearly 3,000 tanks at its disposal, too. That said, the might of the country’s conventional armed forces pale in comparison to its nuclear strength. Since reportedly gaining atomic weapons in the 1970s, Pakistan has built up a veritable arsenal which current reports estimate is made up of around 100 to 120 warheads.
Budget: $4.4 billion
Active frontline personnel: 470,000
With active frontline personnel numbering 470,000, Egypt can lay claim to the largest military in Africa and the Arab world. But part of the nation’s might comes from international backing; the country receives $1.5 billion each year from the United States, for example. Despite its overseas support, however, the Egyptian military has been under scrutiny in recent years. Specifically, 2013’s coup d’état led to outcries from African states as well as allegations of human rights abuses.
11. South Korea
Budget: $43.8 billion
Active frontline personnel: 625,000
Although its Northern neighbors have a larger army and an intimidating global presence, South Korea actually possesses a more powerful military. In fact, thanks to the involvement of the U.S. government, the South Korean air force features an array of technologically advanced fighters which give it considerable control of the skies. Moreover, the military benefits from a large annual budget of $43.8 billion as well as an impressive navy.
Budget: $34 billion
Active frontline personnel: 320,000
Consisting of 320,000 personnel in service, the Italian military maintains a large presence within the international community. Indeed, the country’s armed forces have taken part in numerous NATO and UN peacekeeping operations in nations such as Afghanistan, Lebanon and Kosovo. Recently, the country has also sought to improve the structure of its military, and a pending bill promises fuller co-operation between different branches of its armed services. That said, budget cutbacks remain a pressing problem.
Budget: $39.2 billion
Active frontline personnel: 180,000
Although Germany has maintained a low military profile since the end of World War II, the country’s armed forces are showing signs of growth in the wake of recent international developments. For example, the nation dispatched 1,000 troops to Lithuania amid growing tensions with Russia in January 2017. Furthermore, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen has pledged to increase the army’s number of active combatants following the announcement of a planned $148 billion modernization scheme in 2016.
Budget: $8.2 billion
Active frontline personnel: 410,500
While historically Turkey has always possessed NATO’s second-largest armed forces, the country’s military has faced numerous problems in recent years. Most notably, the abortive coup attempt of 2016 resulted in the arrest of thousands of high-ranking military officials. Nevertheless, Turkey’s armed forces have remained active on a global level – and particularly so in northern Syria, where 4,000 troops were dispatched to combat ISIS between 2016 and 2017.
Budget: $43.8 billion
Active frontline personnel: 250,000
Since its defeat in World War II, Japan has been restricted to operating a solely defense-based military. But that doesn’t mean the nation’s firepower should be underestimated. As military historian John T. Kuehn told CNN in 2016, Japan’s current army “can stand toe to toe with anybody.” And the East Asian country – bolstered by U.S. technology – now possesses a superior navy, which made headlines in April 2017 during a show of force in the Korean Peninsula.
6. United Kingdom
Budget: $45.7 billion
Active frontline personnel: 150,000
Although the size of its armed forces may be small, the United Kingdom nevertheless packs a powerful military punch. Part of its strength lies in the Royal Air Force, which boasts 856 aircraft – including technologically advanced F-35B fighters – under its command. In addition, the U.K.’s navy commands the seas with a fleet of 11 submarines, including the recently revealed HMS Audacious – an attack sub with a formidable 745-mile range.
Budget: $35 billion
Active frontline personnel: 205,000
Undoubtedly Europe’s strongest military power, France reigns supreme in land, sea and air combat. To wit, the country maintains 205,000 frontline personnel – 3,000 of which see regular service in Africa. France’s 1,305-strong air force, meanwhile, has been engaged in strikes against ISIS since 2014. Furthermore, France is one of just two countries – the other being the United States – to own and operate a nuclear aircraft carrier.
Budget: $51 billion
Active frontline personnel: 1,325,000
With a population that exceeds 1.3 billion people, India has, perhaps unsurprisingly, established itself as one of the world’s largest military powers. Compared to neighboring Pakistan, for example, the country has over twice as many active personnel, aircraft and submarines along with a budget that is five times greater. Yet although the two nations maintain an icy relationship, their last significant conflict occurred back in 1999 with the Indian-won Kargil War.
Budget: $161.7 billion
Active frontline personnel: 2,335,000
While it may lack the technological advancement of some other countries, China can lay claim to the world’s largest standing army. As of today, the People’s Liberation Army rests strong with 2,335,000 troops – just under a million more than its closest rival, the United States Army. China is also currently attempting to modernize and streamline its frontline personnel, while the recent launch of its first domestically built aircraft carrier further showcases its military power.
Budget: $44.6 billion
Active frontline personnel: 766,055
It’s over 25 years since the collapse of the USSR, but Russia is still one of the world’s leading military powers. Certainly, the nation’s involvement in Syria and the 2014 annexation of Crimea have demonstrated its military might – even if such moves may have weakened international relations. Alongside an army of over 750,000 individuals, Russia also possesses the world’s largest tank armada, with 20,000 such vehicles in service.
1. United States
Budget: $587.8 billion
Active frontline personnel: 1,400,000
The United States may only have the world’s second-largest standing army, but its military spending eclipses that of all other nations. At $587.8 billion, America’s annual budget is nearly four times higher than that of China – its nearest rival – which allows for exceptionally advanced craft like the F-35 fighter jet. Besides this, the U.S. lays claim to the world’s largest air force, while its navy operates more aircraft carriers than any other country, too.