Comparing Military Power


The other day I was reading an article which nonchalantly stated “X is one of the world’s top military powers” and I wondered, “How do you measure a country’s military power”. I am sure this is already a well-thought out question, but my graph above is where my explorations took me.

Major Caveat: I found this unreliable site listing many factors used to evaluate a country’s military strength. So since the data is highly questionable, so is my chart which was constructed using the data.  Nonetheless, that is what I used.

I chose to compare only four of the many factors listed on the site. Nonetheless, I think they are very important factors. To obtain relative strengths on a scale of 0 to 100, for each category I find the country with the highest number and then divide other countries by that number and then multiply by 100 to get relative strengths. I chose some of the most powerful countries and a few others to illustrate points.

Here, then, listed by each factor, are my thoughts (in light of the caveat) about the results:

  1. Fit for Military Service: Number of possible soldiers means little unless attack by air (either from planes, ships or launch pads). So though China and India are the highest, they are only immediate threats to her neighbors by that factor — and even then, weapons are what matter.
  2. Total Aircraft: This is key to modern warfare, especially unmanned aircraft — which takes a large budget and technology.
  3. Total Navy: North Korea oddly  has the highest number of ships (making me doubt this site), but then it is probably highest because all ships are counted irrespective of the power of the ships (including ability to carry planes, long-range guns and missiles).
  4. Defense Budget: This is huge. But one must also realize the China, owning much of US debt, could ruin the US economy and so comparing China and US Defense budgets does not tell the whole story.

Conclusion: The vast majority of the world’s countries have weak militaries but can do significant damage within their own countries.  And when it comes to international war, the analysis becomes complicated.  The vast majority of countries have poor international means for war and among the big powers the story depends on locations and means of war. Also, be careful of your data sources. (ouch)


1 Comment

Filed under Philosophy & Religion

One response to “Comparing Military Power

  1. rautakyy

    Exellent post! Such statistics, as the one on the site you linked to, are questionable on so many levels even though their sources might be reliable. For example, it gives an estimation on the manpower “fit for service”, but the site and the evaluation does not even mention military training some populations have. The US has no mandatory military service while countries like Israel, Austria, Switzerland, Finland, Russia and China do. In case of a war random dudes who belong to a certain age group, or even who are actually fit, are really not comparable to men and women who have had an actual training for military action. People who have served in peace time training units may have had very big differences in the quality of training they have recieved. For Finland the statistics mention 357 000, wich is about right, but it leaves out the inactive military reserve wich extends beyond 900 000. China has a rather large inactive military reserve of men who have been trained and assigned wartime duties, but who now live their peace time lives just like any other dude, who is not active in military reserve, but this group of Billions of men is not estimated in any way on the site. And I am not talking just about showell carrying foot soldiers, but actual specialized troops and officers.

    Ultimately no training surpasses actual combat experience and while a lot of combat veterans suffer from PTSD, or have been permanently handicapped, those that are not suffering from these, are of completely different quality, than the random conscript let alone just a representative of an age group. Yet the amount of veterans is in no way estimated on the site.

    Motivation is a nother thing, that is hard to calculate, it depends on the situation, where this military strength needs to be applied, but I would say history proves motivation often makes more difference, than technology.

    If military strength is compared between nations, first thing to do is to determine the situation in wich this strength is applied. Otherwise it is a study about nothing much. There are many different situations in wich military strength is applied. Some military forces are better suited to total global conflict than others, but then some guerilla forces have prolonged and even won wars against the mightiest economic and miltary empires on the planet. Different armies have been built to very different purposes. Some armies exist only to defend their own borders, some exist to discourage an attack by promising a prolonged conflict of guerilla warfare, some train and provide troops for UN peacekeeping operations and some are equipped for world domination to protect the interrests of the empire in some other (more or less sovereign) countries. Then we have a couple of countries, that could destroy most of civilization and the eco system on the entire globe, by just using a fraction of their ridiculously large nuclear weapons arsenal.

    Surprizingly often people try to fit complicated issues into ridiculously simplified models

    My homecountry Finland got an ultimatum few decades ago from France, for training an inappropriate amount of commando troops. Guess wether if Finland gave in to the demand to train less commandos?

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