The 25 Countries Where the Most People Serve in the Military

The United States has one of the largest militaries on Earth. In terms of spending, no other nation even comes close — The United States spends more each year on defense than the next eight countries combined. But much of that spending has to do with what the military refers to as “force multipliers” meaning using the latest technology to increase the relative fighting power of each soldier. In terms of  raw manpower, the United States is surpassed by some more populous countries, notably China, but still ranks fifth overall in total manpower. But the United States is also the third most populous nation on Earth. (Here are the 14 countries that make up 80% of the world’s population.) After adjusting for population, it isn’t even in the top 25 for military enrollment.

To find the 25 countries where the most people serve in the military per capita, 24/7 Wall St. used armed forces personnel and population figures for 2019 from the World Bank. Armed forces personnel are active-duty military personnel, including paramilitary forces that may be used to support or replace regular military forces. We also added 2019 population aged 15-64 from the World Bank.

Armed forces personnel account for at least 1% of the population in the 25 countries on the list. The countries tend to be small in population, with seven having populations smaller than 3 million, including Brunei, Montenegro, Cyprus, and Armenia. Thirteen nations have populations smaller than 10 million. Still, Russia, the ninth most populous country, ranks 23rd, with 1% of its population, or nearly 1.5 million, considered armed forces personnel.

Ukraine’s military personnel, as of 2019, consisted of 311,000 people, or 0.7% of the country’s population at the time (ranking 36th on that basis). Seeking to boost troop numbers following the Russian invasion, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy issued a decree conscripting reservists aged 18-60. The government has banned all men that age from leaving the country. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin ordered 134,500 new conscripts into the army, though the Russians claim the order is part of the annual spring draft and not related to the war. 

Both countries have suffered significant losses so far, though casualty figures are difficult to determine. There’s no doubt, however, that Russia has a much larger population to draw on for military service, since its population aged 15-64 is more than 96 million, compared to Ukraine’s less than 30 million. 

The U.S., the world’s third most populous country, is not on the list. It ranks 73rd by military personnel per capita, with only 0.4% of the population, not quite 1.4 million people, considered armed or paramilitary forces. (These are the states where the most Americans serve in the military.)

Click here to see the countries where the most people serve in the military
Click here to read our detailed methodology

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