With the war in Ukraine well into its second year and threatening to spill over the border, many European nations are eyeing their army reserves and considering reinstating military conscription rules that were largely phased out after the end of the Cold War. (These are the countries with the largest reserve forces.)
As many developed nations ended conscription, a trend began of military downsizing. The militaries of nations, including the U.S., Britain, and France, have been growing smaller for decades. According to the Global Peace Index, 61% of the 163 countries the index tracks reduced their numbers of armed personnel from 2017 to 2019. This includes some of the largest militaries in the world – China, India, the U.S., and Russia.
Despite downsizing, the Russian military remains the fifth largest in the world, with 900,000 active-duty personnel, or 6.3 armed personnel for every 1,000 residents. Over 200,000 Russian civilians were drafted into service after the start of the invasion into Ukraine in 2022.
To determine the countries where the most people are in the military, 24/7 Wall st. reviewed data from the International Institute for Strategic Studies Military Balance 2022 report. Countries were ranked based on the number of active armed forces per capita in 2021. Military counts were adjusted for population using 2021 data from the World Bank. Data on defense spending as a share of gross domestic product in 2019 also from the IISS.
The majority of countries on the list require compulsory military service by certain male citizens, whether defined by age or employment status. Many are in the Middle East, including Cyprus, Jordan, Syria, Iran, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. A handful of Asian and European countries on the list also require mandatory service, including Singapore, Cambodia, Taiwan, South Korea, Armenia, Greece, Russia, and Lithuania.
The three countries with the most people in the military are nations that require compulsory service regardless of gender. In Eritrea, all citizens from 18 to 40 must give 18 months of national service, according to the CIA. In North Korea, a mandatory service of five years for women and seven years for men begins at age 17, and in Israel, a mandatory service of 24 months for women and 32 months for men begins at age 18. These are the countries where a large share of the military are women.
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