Top 10 Smallest Armies in the World
Most of us could have a pretty good crack at naming the world’s 10 biggest armies, but what about the smallest armies? In fact what about naming the countries that don’t have any army at all.
As well as having small armies these countries have small populations and not a lot of land to protect. The armies are no doubt useful for a range of security matters, drug enforcement, border protection and other illegal activities, but protecting the country against a direct attack by a sizeable enemy is going to stretch them.
Hence most of these countries have close relationships with countries that have big armies. Fair enough to.
Active Military Personnel: 1,500
Where: Caribbean, barely 200 km’s south east of Miami, USA.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force is made up solely of the country’s Navy, although the Navy is responsible for the country’s military aircraft and works with the Bahaman Police on internal matters.
The Bahamas is part of the British Commonwealth of Nations and retains the Queen as the head of state. The British presence here goes back hundreds of years and the country formally became a colony of the British Empire in 1718 in part because of efforts to control pirates in the area. (Blackbeard used the Bahamas as a safe haven).
Nowadays Sean Connery is but one of many famous identities that call the Bahamas home. He can rest easy that the sea borders are well guarded by the Bahama’s strikingly large military force.
The Bahamas certainly has a good looking army.
9. The Gambia
Active Military Personnel: 2,500
Where: West Africa, a sliver of land along each side of the Gambia River in Senegal.
The Gambia, or the Republic of Gambia, was a British colony up until its independence in 1965. It is now part of the Commonwealth of Nations but has a Presidential style of government in which the President is the head of state as well as the head of government.
In the context of this list Gambia has a big defence force and it regularly assigns contingents of troops to joint operations around Africa and in other parts of the world.
There are sources that point to the lack of balance and accountability in the relationship between the government of Gambia and the control of the armed forces as being a pretty major problem. The occasional coup attempt and subsequent arrests and, more recently, executions, lends that view some credibility.
The Gambia Independence March Past 2013:
Active Military Personnel: 1,000
Where: Caribbean, about 400km’s north east of Venezuela
The Barbados Defence Force (BDF) was established in 1979 and is responsible for internal security as well as external security. The Royal Barbados Police Force is a part of the BDF structure.
Details are sparse, but the figure of around 1,000 military personnel looks accurate when we consider the number of battalions in the regular forces, the Coast Guard and the Air Wing.
The British had a garrison stationed here going back to the 1600’s and many of the original buildings are now World Heritage sites.
We particularly like the fact that the Air Wing of the BDF looks to comprise one Cessna plane. It’s not a big country so the Cessna would be a handy thing to have for a quick skirt around the coast.
The Barbados army has quite possibly the coolest, hippest military band in the world.
Active Military Personnel: 990
Where: A European country bordering France, Belgium and Germany.
The Luxembourg Army is a volunteer force that operates under the civilian control of the Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the Chief of Defence who both adopt the military rank of General while on Defence duties.
Although it’s a small force, the Luxembourg Army actively engages in peace keeping duties and other multinational engagements around the world, occasionally under Belgian operational command.
The commentary isn’t in English, but they’re running around in the night with rifles. You’ll get the gist of it.
Active Military Personnel: 900
Where: Indian Ocean, about 1,200km’s south east of Somalia
Information about the Seychelles army is surprisingly difficult to find. This tiny island nation (actually something over 100 islands make up the Seychelles) is less than a quarter the size of New York City.
Although the Seychelles was a British colony up until independence in 1976, it has been a socialist republic since a bloodless coup in 1977. Much of the available information on the Seychelles military is centred on foreign powers. For example, Russian announced just a few weeks ago that it intends to build a military base in the Seychelles.
However they clearly do have an army there and we believe the number of active personnel is in the ball park.
The Seychelles Military on parade. It must be their entire defence force.
Active Military Personnel: 700
Where: South Pacific Ocean, about 700 km’s south east of Fiji.
The Tonga Defense Service has a long history going back to WW1 where Tonga was a part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. The formal Defence Force entity came into being at the start of WWII and carried out operations with New Zealand and the US in the Solomon Islands and other parts of the South Pacific.
More recently they have been involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts.
Over the last five years the TDS has expanded its military strength to around 700 personnel along with infrastructure such as barracks, a new mess hall and general military equipment like rifles and things.
Tongan marines do their traditional dance. They are a big unit. Don’t practice hand to hand combat with them.
4. Sao Tome and Principe
Active Military Personnel: 600
Where: Gulf of Guinea about 300 km’s off the coast of Gabon, Africa.
Sao Tome and Principe is the smallest Portuguese speaking country in the world and the second smallest country in Africa after the Seychelles, which is also a small group of island but in the Indian Ocean, not the Atlantic Ocean like Sao Tome and Principe.
The army is variously described as being too small to be effective, rife with corruption, and hampered by an extremely humid and wet tropical climate. On top of that poor salaries and living conditions have led to several failed coups over the last twenty years.
A new military chief has just been sworn in to focus on “military discipline in the barracks” after a presidential honour guard failed to show up to give President Pinto da Costa a proper farewell as he left the country on a state visit.
Nevertheless, in the context of our list this is a reasonably large force and they no doubt have a strong and proud culture.
We’re not sure if they are displaying their military hardware or having a second hand sale. Perhaps if you understand Portuguese you’ll be able to find out.
3. Antigua and Barbuda
Active Military Personnel: 170
Where: Caribbean, about 400km’s south east of Puerto Rico
The Antigua and Barbuda Defence Force (ABDF) definitely exists and the figure of 170 appears to be pretty accurate, but like a lot of these small nations Antigua and Barbuda doesn’t like to talk about its military too much. When it’s the second smallest in the world I guess that’s fair enough.
We do know that new recruits go through a pretty extensive basic training process. The course is five months long which is pretty long as far as basic training courses go. The recruits learn marching drills, minor field tactics (learning major field tactics would probably be a bit of a waste), basic security, arms training and 30 hours of swimming.
The swimming intrigues us as you would expect soldiers would spend most of their time on land. As the Coast Guard is part of the ABDF and the islands have a lot of coast line it seems rational enough.
Military exercises in the Caribbean seem to have the same level of urgency that is apparent in other aspects of their lives in those gorgeous, tranquil isles.
2. Saint Kitts and Nevis
Active Military Personnel: 150
Where: Caribbean, about 300km’s south east of Puerto Rico
Reports vary on how big the Saint Kitts and Nevis army is. The official Government website makes no mention of their army although it does have press releases referring to their Defence Force. One welcomes 25 new soldiers, another talks about a new male barrack that can accommodate 200 soldiers.
Based on this evidence the country clearly has an army. Their Coast Guard falls within the Defence Force structure so this boosts the numbers a bit. As an aside, the US recently gave the SKN Coast Guard two boats, accompanying towing trailers, spare parts and a ‘4×4 Ford F350 pick-up truck’. Handy having the pick-up truck.
Whatever the exact numbers, the army is small. Very small.
Forget the army here, it’s so small there’s virtually nothing to see anyway. Just have a look around the islands.
1. Countries with No Army
Active Military Personnel: 0
These countries don’t have an army. Some of them have a small paramilitary force, civil guard or similar, but it’s just not the same as having something you can call an army.
Costa Rica, Iceland, Mauritius, Monaco, Panama and Vanuatu.
This is what a country looks like when it has no army (except Iceland):
After victory in the Costa Rica civil war in 1948, President Jose Figueres Ferrer disbanded the countries military forces and enshrined his act in the constitution. The budget that had been spent on the military was thereafter spent on education and culture instead. They kept on a police force for security purposes.
So there’s a precedent.
Haiti abolished its military forces in 1995 but late last year was starting them up again. 41 recruits returned to the country last September after training in Ecuador. The aim is to get military engineers to help the country continue its rebuilding efforts after the devastating earthquake three years ago.
None of the new recruits will have a weapon but they may get handguns in a few years if the recruits buy the weapons themselves, or the government gets financing for them. It’s a pity; they might have made the list if their army had had guns.
Top 10 Smallest Armies in the World