10. Brazil – $35.3 billion (1.45 percent of GDP)
The Brazilian armed forces make up the largest force in Latin America with over 320,000 active-duty troops. Although they have no serious threats within their borders or outside, and haven’t really since the end of their military dictatorship in 1985, they have begun to shift their focus to play a more international role. Brazil has been instrumental in patrolling integral areas of South America, such as in the Amazon, and has been growing its presence in U.N. peacekeeping missions, particularly in nearby Haiti. It is also becoming more involved in civilian life, aiding with education, health care, and building infrastructure across the country.
9. India – $38.5 billion (1.98 percent of GDP)
It is not surprising that India makes the top 10, as its ongoing conflict with Pakistan has received much attention and attempts at mediation. The conflict is especially tenuous due to India’s nuclear-weapon status. It has been in possession of nuclear missiles since 1974. Although it maintains a nuclear-deterrence policy of no first use, this still serves to feed the conflict. This and more has contributed to India’s influence on the international stage as it has reached far beyond its role as just a regional power, and is expected to continue to do so.
8. Germany – $40.4 billion (1.2 percent of GDP)
After World War II, the Allied Forces Reparations Agreement mandated that Germany remain completely demilitarized. Thus, when the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949, it had no standing army (It had a limited quantity of naval mine-sweeping units, heavily scrutinized by the Allies). It wasn’t until 1955, after a proposal for a European Defense Community failed (a body that was to be made up of West German, French, Belgian, Dutch, and Italian forces), that West Germany was admitted into NATO and allowed to rearm. And rearm it did. The German Army currently employs 66,356 soldiers.
7. France – $48.1 billion (1.86 percent of GDP)
Although the French armed forces have been criticized in the past for failed attempts at guarding the country from invasion (most notably from a certain Deutsch-speaking neighbor mentioned earlier), it is a force to be reckoned with today. France still stands as one of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and is extremely active in multilateral peace-keeping efforts across the globe. The French government is a strong proponent of nonproliferation, and its armed forces work diligently to prevent the transfer of technologies that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons, although France already has them.
6. Saudi Arabia – $52.5 billion (7.99 percent of GDP)
Saudi Arabia’s armed forces total more than 200,000 active duty personnel, easily making it the largest force in the Middle East. Additionally, it has a high-tech arsenal that has made it one of the world’s most densely armed nations. Saudi Arabia has bought billions of dollars of equipment from the West, primarily from the U.S. and the U.K., further increasing its offensive capability. This was justified by the U.S. State Department in that it would allow for a familiar battle environment for American forces overseas. Although Saudi Arabia has not been in a formal war since the Gulf War in 1990, there are high tensions in the region, particularly with Israel.
5. Japan – $59.4 billion (0.99 percent of GDP)
As China continues to grow exponentially, Japan has begun to beef up its military to maintain its influence and safety. In 2012, it began offering military aid to other countries for the first time since World War II to firm up regional alliances, and has participated in disaster relief efforts in countries such as Cambodia and East Timor. Previously, Japan had tried to stay a pacifist nation and was reluctant to do anything that would portray it as a military power. However, as Japan’s international protector, the U.S., continues to experience draw down forces across the world, Japan has been forced to take steps to better defend itself.
4. Russia – $59.9 billion (3.06 percent of GDP)
The Cold War may be long over, but Russian President Vladimir Putin and the rest of the Kremlin remain determined to maintain a strong army that is prepared for battle. Pointing to the departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Russia has increased modernization efforts to its Army and Navy as it foresees the need for an increased presence on its Southern borders. In addition to ongoing conflicts throughout the Middle East and Northern Africa, Russia sees itself in an unstable region. Many civilians are not pleased about the move, however, as increased military spending comes at the cost of civic spending – clashes between the working class and ruling elite in Russia have steadily risen over the past few years as the recession continues. Russia has the largest standing Army in the European Union at over 1 million members.
3. United Kingdom – $64.1 billion (2.63 percent of GDP)
Although its Army consists of 206,600 personnel – far below Russia’s forces – the U.K. outspends the Kremlin considerably due to its enormous participation in international peacekeeping efforts. As the long-time ally of the U.S. in NATO, U.K. forces are spread thin after prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it is beginning the rebuilding process. It has reaffirmed its commitment to NATO and has pledged to beef up its presence in the Asia-Pacific region (in response to China’s growing power and influence), but it is unclear if this will be possible. It was reported in 2012 that there is a £63 billion gap (over $95 billion) between the 10-year defense budget and the available funds for U.K. forces. It’d be great if they had to borrow from China to protect themselves from China.
2. China – $102.4 billion (1.24 percent of GDP)
China’s armed forces, the People’s Liberation Army, is the military arm of the Communist Party of China, and is the largest standing army in the world with 2.25 million personnel. This isn’t surprising, given that military service is compulsory for all men over 18 and China boasts the largest population in the world by a long shot. However, a draft has never enforced due to the enormous numbers of volunteers. China’s influence and power has been on the rise as its economy booms, and military spending has grown about 10 percent annually for the past 15 years. There is enormous international concern over this growth, as there is very little transparency in China’s abilities. Although it is a prominent member of the U.N., China has poor communication with other member countries and does not participate in many multilateral efforts to the extent that other member nations would prefer, especially given its unique influence in many conflict areas – namely North Korea.
1. United States – $645.7 billion (4.12 percent of GDP)
Despite the influence and enormity of the armed forces of so many nations across the globe, no other country comes close to the military spending of the U.S. – in fact, it spends more on defense than the next 15-highest-spending countries combined. This isn’t necessarily surprising – most international conflicts have some type of U.S. involvement, whether it be through military aid, mediation, or active battle. Currently, U.S. troops are stationed in almost every country on the globe and are among the highest-trained personnel, also using the best technology and weaponry available. The U.S. also holds the largest nuclear weapon arsenal in the world as a nuclear deterrent – it has not taken nuclear action against a nation since the Hiroshima bombings in World War II. However, as the U.S. continues to deal with the economic crisis, there are increased calls for a dramatic reduction in military spending. Following the 2013 sequester, it will be interesting to see how much is truly scaled back in coming years.