PPI | Trade Fact of the Week | May 28, 2008
Number of American Servicemen and Women Stationed Overseas: 289,000

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The Numbers:

World military personnel 2005, excluding reserves:

World: 30.9 million
China: 3.8 million
India: 3.1 million
EU members: 2.4 million
Russia: 1.5 million
United States: 1.4 million
Pakistan: 0.9 million
All other: 17.8 million

What They Mean:

Since 1985, military spending has dropped from 5.2 percent of world GDP to 2.5 percent; the world's armies, navies, and air forces likewise accounted for one in 75 workers in 1985 and now are below one in 100. In this age of e-mail and virtual reality, steady streams of immigration, container shipping and air cargo, does the warrior still have a place? Count and see.

In human terms, the world's 180 national military services enrolled 30.9 million servicemen and women as of 2005. Though their share of workers is down, the total is slightly more than the 28 million soldiers of 1985. And though most of them drill quietly at home, a half-million are on duty beyond national borders in nearly 30 live-fire zones, frozen conflicts, and fragile states. Iraq and Afghanistan account for about 180,000 and 47,000 overseas troops respectively; most of the rest are NATO forces based in Europe, Americans serving in Japan and Korea, and multinational forces assigned to U.N. peacekeeping missions. A brief rundown of the world's military patrols abroad:

  • United States: American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines make up over half of all the world's overseas troops, outnumbering all others combined. With the world's only blue-water navy and largest basing network, America now stations 289,000 of its 1.3 million active-duty servicemen and servicewomen abroad. The largest deployment is in Iraq, now host to about 170,000 American servicemen and women. Next come Germany at 57,000, Japan at 33,000, Korea at 27,100, and Afghanistan at 26,700;* the remainder are deployed in a long series of bases and training missions spanning 152 nations and territories. Another 92,000 naval personnel are at sea but formally based in American ports.

  • United Nations: The U.N. now manages 22 peacekeeping missions and 88,700 blue-helmet soldiers from 118 countries around the world. South Asian armies contribute more than a third of these soldiers: 10,597 Pakistanis, 9,045 Bangladeshis, 8,900 Indians, 3,669 Nepalis, and 1,065 Sri Lankans. Other large contingents come from Nigeria, Ghana, Jordan, Rwanda, Uruguay, and Senegal. Relative to population, the 38 Samoans and 13 Vanuatans are the largest national contributions to the U.N. forces.

  • Britain: Of the Royal Armed Forces' 217,000 active-duty military personnel, 41,000 are abroad -- still easily spanning latitudes from palm to pine, to borrow the phrase Kipling coined for the Diamond Jubilee. Britain's largest overseas contingents are at bases in Cyprus and Germany, training missions in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, and on active duty in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans.

  • France: The French military stations 34,000 of its 360,000 military abroad, with its largest contingents in Haiti, Lebanon, Cote d'Ivoire, and Afghanistan.

Elsewhere around the world, 7,551 German soldiers are serving abroad, mostly in Afghanistan and Kosovo. Italy counts about 5,000 in Afghanistan and on U.N. duties; Russia had another 5,000, including U.N. missions and often controversial "near abroad" deployments in Tajikistan and Moldova. Australia counts 4,000, divided among U.N. missions, South Pacific island deployments, and Afghanistan; Canada 2,900; the Netherlands 2,722; and China 1,981. Armies, then, require fewer of the world's workers and take less of its money than they did in the 20th century; but their work is not done.

* The total comes to more than 289,000, reflecting the fact that many soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan missions are formally based in Germany.

Further Reading:

PPI's Jim Arkedis ponders defense spending:

Far from home -- The Defense Department has a website for Americans wishing to donate food, send gifts, or deliver messages to U.S. servicemen and women abroad:

A bit more -- The 30.9 million-troop total is three times the world's 8 million refugees; roughly equal to the global merchant marine; and a sixth of the world's 180 million or so factory workers. Most of the soldiers, logically enough, are in the biggest countries. The Chinese, Indian, American, and Russian armed forces together account for 9.8 million of the world's military personnel. Indonesia and Brazil, ranked fourth and fifth by population, add another 1.2 million, fewer than their size suggests and consistent with the small Latin and ASEAN militaries. Costa Rica, Haiti, and Iceland, along with a dozen or so small island nations and European micro-states, are the least "militarized" nations, with no standing armies or navies at all. North Korea's 1.3 million troops make up the world's largest military force relative to population -- one in every eight North Korean adults is in the army -- and Eritrea follows closely at 11.3 percent.

Some homepages:

The Defense Department's review of U.S. forces abroad:

NATO in Afghanistan:

The U.N. Peacekeeping Office's data and statistics:

The BBC's count of British forces abroad:

Australia's Defense Ministry's Global Operations page:


Not too late -- Asia has suffered two horrific disasters in the last month: the Sichuan earthquake and the Burmese cyclone. Though the cyclone's toll has been vastly worsened by Burmese government inaction, help is flowing to Irrawaddy Delta survivors through ASEAN missions and international aid agencies. China's massive government rescue effort, with international help, is likely over the worst of the disaster, but Chinese towns and villages remain under threat from chemical spills, cracked dams, and other earthquake consequences. Two options for those wishing to donate money or in-kind help:

  • Sichuan earthquake -- The Chinese Embassy in Washington suggests two national charity groups -- the Chinese Charity Federation and China's Red Cross Society -- and has an embassy donation center as well:

  • Burma relief -- Mingalarama Vihara, the D.C. area's Burmese Buddhist temple, has a collection for non-political cyclone relief, donated through international charities: