The world's five biggest military forces are downsizing

Traditional militaries are reducing in size while non-state actors increase their presence.

While the world has become less peaceful since 2008, the global levels of militarisation have also been decreasing.

According to the Global Peace Index 2019, the five largest militaries in the world, belonging to Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, China and the United States of America, all reduced their armed services personnel rate over the last year.

More than half of the world’s countries followed suit, with 61 per cent of the 163 countries included on the Global Peace Index reducing their number of armed service personnel since 2017.

Three of the world’s largest militaries, China, India and the United States, also reduced their military expenditure as a percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP).

In the decade leading up to 2019, 98 per cent of countries reduced their military expenditure.

Regionally, Asia-Pacific lead the way while the Middle East and North Africa, and South Asia, saw a region-wide increase. Led by improvements in Iraq, the Middle East and North Africa region began to reduce the regional military expenditure.

Despite the world becoming less peaceful on average since 2008, as the majority of militaries reducing the number of their armed services personnel, global trust in a country’s own military has increased from 61 per cent in 2008 to 65 per cent in 2018.

In India, the world’s fifth largest military, 94 per cent of respondents reported having trust in the military. This is the equal fifth highest level worldwide, tied with Finland, but below Rwanda, which is at 99 per cent, Pakistan at 96 per cent, and Azerbaijan at 95 per cent.

In the United States and Russia, 91 per cent and 81 per cent of respondents trust in their military respectively.

There is no data available to calculate the perception of trust in the military in China or Saudi Arabia.

Dramatic increase in conflicts linked to non-state actors

Reductions in traditional militaries does not explicitly point to a more peaceful world. Instead, the data reveals a world where civilian organisations, including terrorist or organised crime groups, are rousing conflict.

Since 2011, non-state violent conflicts outnumber incidents of state-based violence. Since 2016, there has been a further uptick.

Non-state violent conflicts include the use of armed force between two organised groups, neither of which is the government of a state, which results in at least 25 battle deaths per year.

The Middle East has seen the largest number of non-state violent conflicts and the most fatalities. ISIL’s control of territory has diminished over the past three years. With the loss of 60 per cent of its territory between 2015 and 2017, ISIL’s power as a non-state violent actor is still significant but declining. Signs of recovery in Syria have begun to materialise and the country is no longer the least peaceful country in the world. However, it is still the location of the most lethal non-state violent conflict worldwide.

The African continent has also been characterised by substantial non-state violence related to non-state actors, with the Central African Republic reporting the second highest number of fatalities. Violence fuelled by religious sectarianism has killed thousands and displaced even more.

Significant non-state violence ensued when the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s former President Joseph Kabila failed to step down at the end of his second and final term. This violence saw the country listed as having one of the five greatest deteriorations in peacefulness on the 2018 Global Peace Index, and internally displaced more than five million people.

In Mexico and Brazil, organised crime is responsible for acts of non-state violence, which contributes to both countries incurring an economic cost of violence equivalent to ten and nine per cent of their GDPs respectively. While organised crime is rife, the military offers little promise of protection to locals. . Central America and the Caribbean, and South America, are the two regions with the lowest trust in their military.

Vision of Humanity

Editorial Staff

Vision of Humanity is brought to you by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), by staff in our global offices in Sydney, New York, The Hague and Mexico. Alongside maps and global indices, we present fresh perspectives on current affairs reflecting our editorial philosophy.