The World’s 30 Most Expensive Militaries

By Sean HojnackiLast Updated Apr 18, 2020 9:13:35 PM ET
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According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), countries around the world spent over $1,822 billion on their militaries in 2018. This is more than a five percent increase since 2009.

So, peace is trending down, while military spending continues to trend up. This is why this list delves into the SIPRI report to find the countries around the world that invest the most into their military activities. Here are the 30 most expensive militaries that money can buy.  

30. Oman

The nation of Oman – nestled on the southeast corner of the contentious Arabian Peninsula beneath Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and directly across the Gulf of Oman from Iran and Pakistan – holds a unique global distinction. It spends more than 12 percent of its GDP on the military, leading all other nations in the world, according to the CIA’s “World Factbook.”

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Oman boasts a storied military history stretching back more than a millennium, and it has had close militaristic ties to the United Kingdom for decades. But the Sultan's Armed Forces are also bolstered by a multi-billion-dollar layered missile defense system, including a $2.1 billion agreement with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin in 2013. This agreement was entered into “As part of a U.S. drive to install a coordinated air defense system linking the region's Arab monarchies to counter Iran.” In 2018 alone, Oman spent an estimated $6.7 billion on the military, per the 2018 SIPRI report. 

29. Thailand

Long known as a haven for backpackers and scuba divers, Thailand is also nestled between politically fractious neighbors Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, and has contended with a separatist movement in its southern region for decades. Thailand was ruled by King Rama IX for 70 years, before a military coup placed a new king in power in 2014.

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As The Atlantic reported, “Thailand has been through so many military coups that they almost have a business-as-usual feel to them.”

The 2014 coup also paved the way for a huge amount of military spending — $6.8 billion was spent on the military in 2018 alone. The nation boasts more than 800 combat tanks, six dozen fighter jets and one aircraft carrier.

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28. Norway

You might not expect Sweden’s neighbor to spend such a vast amount on the military, but Norway also shares a border with Russia and has a long, jagged exposed coastline.

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According to National Geographic: “If you hammered Norway’s 63,000 miles of fjords, bays, and island shores into a single line, it would circle the planet two and a half times. All that in a country less than 1,100 miles from south to north.”

Beyond Norway’s substantial fleet of submarines, it has also invested heavily in aircraft, with that expenditure ramping up significantly in recent years. A member of the Joint Strike Fighter program, Norway signed on to receive 52 of the new F-35 fighter jets.

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27. Kuwait

History buffs may recall that prior to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, there was a previous U.S.-led invasion of Iraq prompted by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Despite having a population the rough equivalent to Los Angeles, Kuwait sits on top of substantial oil reserves, including the massive Burgan field in the country's east.

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Photo Courtesy: Tech. Sgt. H. H. Deffner/Wikimedia Commons

Awash in oil and situated at the crux of the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran, Kuwait spent $7.3 billion on the military in 2018. With dozens of aircraft and more than 500 combat tanks, few nations spend more per capita on the military than Kuwait.

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26. Indonesia

Indonesia spent $7.4 billion on the military in 2018, a stunning 99 percent increase from a decade ago, per the SIPRI report. And if being on an island equates with strategic vulnerability, then Indonesia leads in that category, with the CIA counting 17,508 islands in the nation’s sprawling archipelago.

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Overall, the Indonesian National Armed Forces has more than 450 aircraft, 300 combat tanks and 200 naval assets. Despite budget cuts to many sectors, Indonesia has continued to ramp up defense spending to modernize and keep pace with other nations in the region, such as wealthy Singapore.

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Politician and former general Luhut Pandjaitan even declared that, "By 2019, the national defense budget can increase to around $20 billion per annum," which would put it on par with the likes of Spain and Canada.

25. Algeria

No African country spends more on the military than Algeria. After the National Liberation Army overthrew French colonial rule in 1962, its leadership gained significant political influence. And while the Algerian People's National Armed Forces have rarely waged foreign wars, the yoke of foreign rule still looms large.

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According to SIPRI, Algeria’s military spending has increased a whopping 85 percent since 2009. $9.6 billion in military spending in 2018 has provided the country with six submarines, more than 500 aircraft and nearly 2,500 combat tanks. 

24. Colombia

You might say that Colombia has been battling a drug problem for a while now. Prior to his death in 1993, Pablo Escobar, the infamous drug lord, built a vast empire during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s with the Medellín cartel. At one point, Escobar earned an estimated $420 million...per week.

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Meanwhile, the Colombian government faced billions in debt. They also contended with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), which waged a protracted armed conflict against the government for more than 50 years. Colombia spent $10.6 billion on the military in 2018. It has more than 200 naval assets, including 11 submarines and nearly 500 aircraft.

23. Taiwan

To say that Taiwan is a sensitive subject for the Chinese government would be the understatement of the last century. In fact, it’s not really a subject at all, as Taiwan’s official name is the Republic of China. This doesn’t stop it from building an impressive military, however.

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Despite spanning just 14,000 square miles, roughly equal to the combined area of Connecticut and New Hampshire, Taiwan has incredible military resources. These include four submarines, four destroyers, more than 800 aircraft and 1,800 combat tanks, with their 2018 military spending totaling $10.7 billion.

22. Singapore

Singapore is a tiny, wealthy city-state situated just south of mainland Malaysia home to about six million people, that measures less than 300 square miles. The city-state issues surprisingly harsh fines for littering and smuggling chewing gum. It also spent $10.8 billion on its military in 2018, one of the highest per capita totals in the world.

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The Singapore Air Force has more than 100 multirole fighter jets, consisting mainly of American-made F-15s and F-16s. But those jets are getting a bit old, and Singapore’s defense minister has signaled that it’s time for an upgrade. Reuters reported that the tiny city-state plans to purchase four F-35s, with an option for eight more, costing around $100 million each. 

21. Netherlands

The Netherlands is far, far removed from the Eighty Years' War against Habsburg rule. Now the permissive, low-lying nation is known for tulips, wind power and innovative flood control measures. So, it might be surprising that the NATO member spent $11.2 billion on its military in 2018.

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A member of the Joint Strike Fighter program, the Netherlands signed on to purchase 37 of the new F-35 jets. Interrelated defense is a cornerstone of NATO and European military strategy, as Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson stated: “Dutch suppliers have provided high-volume production, structural-design support, and advanced technologies...the Netherlands will serve as a sustainment hub in the European region for maintenance, repair, overhaul, and upgrade projects."

20. Pakistan

How committed is Pakistan to strong military defense capabilities? Well, in 1965, future Pakistani President and Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto declared: "If India builds the bomb, we will eat grass or leaves -- even go hungry -- but we will get one of our own."

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Both countries had built nuclear bombs, which is why analysts were on edge after the conflict in the Kashmir region flared in February 2019. Suffice to day, there’s a lot at stake. Pakistan spent $11.4 billion on its military in 2018, part of a rising trend that has seen the nation's defense expenditure rise by 73 percent since 2009. 

19. Poland

Amid a troubling trend toward right-wing nationalism and repression, Poland also jumped from 24th to 19th on SIPRI's list of military spending, shelling out $11.4 billion in 2018. Situated between Germany and the former USSR, Poland has been invaded by the Nazis, is a signatory of the Soviet-driven Warsaw Pact and also a current NATO member.

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Poland has more than 100,000 active military members to go with more than 90 fighter jets, 200 helicopters and 1,000 tanks. The nation has further committed to modernizing the military, including plans to purchase 32 F-35 fighter jets to replace older Russian MiGs. 

18. Iran

U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton has been itching for war with Iran since last century. And now, he just might get it. Iran has long prepared for war, whether with its many regional foes or an increasingly aggressive U.S. administration.

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Despite contending with longstanding sanctions, Iran has continued to develop their military, and has more than 500,000 active military personnel and another 350,000 reserves. An invasion of Iran would have terrifying consequences for an enemy, with more than 30 submarines, 140 fighter jets and 1,600 tanks at the country’s disposal.

17. Israel

With its precarious geographic location, Israel couches its international relations in terms of an ever-present existential threat. Whether contending with Palestinian militants, hateful rhetoric from Iran or hostile forces in Syria, Israel uses its allies to help defend not just its borders, but its right to exist.

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The Israeli Defense Forces boast some of the most sophisticated military equipment in the world, including the Iron Dome missile defense system, and that’s in addition to 2,700 tanks and 250 fighter jets. There’s also an extreme likelihood that it has an undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons. 

16. Spain

Incredibly, dictator Francisco Franco ruled Spain from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until his death in 1975. The Generalissimo made the military a central power in the country, though in the intervening decades, the NATO nation has decreased overall military spending, seeing a 5.2 percent reduction since 2009 to a mere $18.2 billion in 2018.

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With more than 120,000 active military personnel, Spain also has one aircraft carrier and more than 130 fighter jets. But compared to other major European countries, Spain had modest capabilities for force projection and a relatively small military, instead relying on strategic partnerships with the U.S. and other European nations.

15. Turkey

Autocratic leader Recep Erdogan brutally suppressed an attempted coup in 2016, punishing his opposition and blaming allegedly malicious foreign influences. In fact, Turkish TV even decided not to broadcast the 2019 NBA Western Conference Finals because Enes Kanter, a vocal critic of Erdogan, played for the Portland Trail Blazers.

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The Turkish military has more than 3,000 tanks and 1,000 aircraft perpetually at the ready to confront foreign hostile advances, or hold various disputed territories within its borders. The $19 billion of military expenditures in 2018 represents a 65 percent increase over the past 10 years.

14. Canada

Canada is the world's second-largest country by land mass, spanning 3.9 million square miles. That’s a lot of territory to defend, even if most of that is a yawning expanse of trees and tundra. And yet, Canada plonked down $21.6 billion on military expenditures in 2018.

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Despite just 64,000 active military personnel, Canada has significant weapons systems and produces components for advanced military technology assembled in other countries, including the United States. A member of the Joint Strike Fighter program, Canada planned to purchase 88 F-35s, but political tensions and cost concerns could torpedo that deal.

13. Australia

Australia has more to protect itself against other than great white sharks, giant spiders and invasive species of plants and animals. The island so big they made it a continent, Australia, has one of the world’s longest coastlines to defend, as well as complex naval concerns in the region. So that accounts for $26.7 billion of military expenditures in 2018.

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Despite just 60,000 active personnel, Australia boasts two aircraft carriers, six submarines and more than 400 aircraft at its disposal. It is also a key partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program, planning to buy 100 F-35s as well as manufacturing and assembling key components for the new fifth-generation fighter jets. 

12. Brazil

With a population slightly above 200 million, Brazil has a robust military with more than 330,000 active personnel and another 1.3 million reserves. But despite its burgeoning economic might, Brazil struggles with political and social issues that have divided public opinion across the country. And Brazil’s army has even been called upon to quell violence within its own cities.

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Now far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, a former army captain, has ushered in a new regime of uncertainty. Brazil laid out $27.8 billion for military spending in 2018. And future plans for expenditures are unclear, with a contentious proposal on the table to cut military pensions while also increasing military pay.

11. Italy

Italy may be shaped like a boot, but it’s thigh-high in water. That's partly why the nation has five aircraft carriers, eight submarines, four destroyers, and 94 multirole jets. All that equipment and upkeep helped account for the country’s $27.8 billion of military expenditures in 2018.

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And Italy’s military personnel are particularly busy, despite the country spending just 1.3 percent of its GDP on defense, well below the 2 percent benchmark for NATO members. As Politico noted, the Italian navy and coast guard rescued tens of thousands of migrants at sea in 2017, while also sending thousands of troops on international missions to assist on numerous continents. 

10. Republic of Korea

Korea spent $43.1 billion on its military in 2018, a considerable 2.6 percent of its GDP and a 28 percent increase from 10 years earlier. And it’s easy to understand why. When fighting during the Korean war ceased, no peace treaty was signed, and the armistice that created the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is still in place.

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On the other side of the DMZ is an unstable dictator with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Seoul, the capital, is just 35 miles from the DMZ, with batteries of missiles constantly aimed at it. With just over 50 million people, Korea has 625,000 active military personnel and another 5.2 million reserves.

9. Japan

After the hostilities of World War II ended with twin nuclear bombings in the Pacific, the U.S. took administrative control, and has since maintained military bases throughout Japan. Roughly 50,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Japan, and Japan foots 75 percent of the staging costs.

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That represents nearly 10 percent of Japan’s $46.6 billion in military spending for 2018. Japan also faces the constant threat of North Korean aggression, watching numerous missile tests sail over their airspace. It's no wonder that Japan maintains nearly 300 fighter jets, four aircraft carriers and 18 submarines.

8. Germany

Germany paid out $49.5 billion in military expenditure in 2018, although that was "only" 1.2 percent of their GDP as Europe's economic leader. And this represents a 9 percent increase from 10 years prior, as Germany seeks to modernize older systems and equipment. At the same time, more than half of the United States' 80,000 military personnel are stationed at bases around Germany.

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After losing two World Wars, Germany has since become a key political and economic ally, holding increasing importance amid a fracturing of European unity. The nation has key military resources as well, including six dozen transport aircraft and more than 8,000 armored fighting vehicles.

7. United Kingdom

Where are the "Keep Calm and Spend $50 Billion on the Military" posters? More than just maintaining a stiff upper lip, the U.K. remains a steadfast partner of the American military, with some troops still stationed in Afghanistan for training purposes.

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In part because of the drawdown of troops from the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.K.’s 2018 military spend represents a 17 percent decline from 2009. But it still has 150,000 active personnel, more than 80,000 reserves, 10 submarines and an aircraft carrier. And it plans to purchase 138 F-35 jets from Lockheed Martin, although the program has been hounded by cost, safety and capability concerns. 

6. Russia

Decades after students learned to “duck and cover” under their desks to “protect” themselves from a Russian nuclear attack, now they are learning to beware of Russian trolls and malicious influencers on social media. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Led by prime minister turned president turned prime minister turned president Vladimir Putin, Russia spent $61.4 billion on the military in 2018 – that we know of – which is a 27 percent increase from 10 years prior. The nation has more than one million active military personnel and 2.5 million reserves, as well as more than 800 aging fighter jets, 20,000 combat tanks, 50,000 armored fighting vehicles and 56 submarines.

5. France

Once dubbed "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" by the cantankerous Scotsman Groundskeeper Willie in The Simpsons, France in fact maintains a robust and well-trained military. That's what $63.8 billion will buy you in 2018. France has more than 1,200 military aircraft, including nearly 300 fighter jets, 400 combat tanks, 10 submarines and four aircraft carriers.

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However, France also increasingly invests in new tools of warfare, including cyberdefense, and warns potential enemies about their willingness to use them.

In early 2019, Defense Minister Florence Parly stated: “In the case of a cyberattack against our forces, we reserve the right to retaliate, in a legal framework, with the means and at the moment of our choosing…We will also be ready to employ the cyber weapon on foreign operations for offensive purposes.” 

4. India

India continues to have a complicated and contentious relationship with Pakistan (see above), but it also outspends its neighbor on military expenditure by roughly six-to-one. In 2018, India spent $66.5 billion on the military, a 29 percent increase since 2009.

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With a population of more than 1 billion, India has 1.3 million active military personnel and 2.1 million reserves. That is supplemented by more than 2,000 aircraft, 4,000 combat tanks, 16 submarines and one aircraft carrier to protect the subcontinent – not to mention nuclear weapons. That would be more than enough to cover the Battle of Winterfell.

3. Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to have ordered the gruesome murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, at least according to the CIA. India has helped the U.S. maintain a substantial buyer of military technology and a strategic partner against Iranian interests.

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Saudi Arabia spent an estimated $67.6 billion on the military last year, which equates to a staggering 8.8 percent of its GDP. The nation maintains more than 1,000 tanks, 11,000 armored fighting vehicles and 200-plus fighter jets.

2. People’s Republic of China

China unfurled an estimated $250 billion for military expenditure in 2018, a stunning 83 percent increase from ten years ago. With more than 2.1 million active military personnel, China has more than 1,200 fighter jets, 1,500 light-attack aircraft, 13,000 combat tanks, 76 submarines, 33 destroyers and is preparing to double their total of aircraft carriers to two.

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Chinese state media has also made the claim that the Dongfeng-17 mid-range ballistic missile is capable of delivering a "hypersonic gliding warhead" that is ”impossible to be traced and intercepted” and “could be used to sink an entire U.S. aircraft carrier, if it is fired eight times,” according to UPI.

1. United States

In 2018, the United States lavished an astonishing $649 billion on military expenditures, which amounts to 36 percent of the global total of military spending. On the plus side, $649 billion buys a lot of stuff to supply more than 1.2 million active military personnel and 860,000 reserves.

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The U.S. also maintains military superiority in the air and at sea, ranking first in the world with more than 13,000 aircraft, including 2,300 fighter jets, 2,800 light-attack aircraft, 68 destroyers and 24 aircraft carriers.