Two of the most powerful military powers in the world, Russia and NATO, are staring at each other over the borders of Ukraine following Moscow’s invasion of the country that has the world standing on edge.
Pictures of bombarded buildings, crowds huddling in shelters, caravans of refugees running for safety, flashes of explosions at night, and wounded people in despair are now a daily fixture on television screens.
At the same time, footage of Russian tanks rolling into Kyiv brings back to elders many memories of times they would like to forget.
Military power is back
For many years, military, or hard, power was widely considered the primary source of a state’s power. However, towards the end of the cold war, economic power took over. A prevalent narrative about the ‘end of history’, combined with a decrease in military confrontations, led to a belief – or hope – that wars would largely be a thing of the past.
But military power is back, says Ulrike Franke, Senior Policy Fellow of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Military confrontations, including those between great powers, have re-entered western Europeans’ collective imagination following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Global military expenditure has risen steadily in the last two decades. And, last year, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, it reached almost $2 trillion. US military expenditure alone accounted for an estimated 39 percent of this.
Looking at the world’s strongest military forces, one sees that the two arch-rivals are the same as in the times of the Cold War, with China emerging as a third player, but with unclear geopolitical intentions.
Top ten military powers
The United States
The star-spangled banner marks the strongest military power in the world. Despite the United States’ crushing defeat in Afghanistan, its armed forces have an imposing presence across the world.
With military bases in many parts of the world, the US armed forces remain the most powerful of any on the globe.
With a budget of $738 billion and 1,388,000 men and women in the armed forces, it boasts an awe-inspiring 6,125 nuclear weapons, 11 aircraft carriers, 68 nuclear submarines, 3,761 military aircraft, 867 attack helicopters, 6,209 tanks and 113 warships.
The archenemy of the United States after World War II of course was the communist Soviet Union. Today’s Russia is a capitalist country but it retains the military might of the former red empire.
Currently Russia has an army of 1 million men and women with a budget of $43.2 billion. It has double the number of tanks than the U.S. (13,830) and about the same number of nuclear weapons (6,500), but only one aircraft carrier.
It also has 70 warships, 28 nuclear submarines and 1,379 aircraft.
People’s Republic of China
The unpredictable rising power in the East is the third strongest military power; it has not been involved in major armed conflicts in recent decades.
Naturally, a country of over 1.4 billion people has a strong military presence, with a current budget of $193 billion and 2,185 million fighting men and women.
China has 5,651 tanks, two aircraft carriers, 133 navy vessels, 12 nuclear submarines, 1,093 military aircraft and 290 nuclear weapons.
Many would think that India is not a great military power, much less coming in fourth place. Yet, for a country of over 1.4 billion (similar to China), a $64-billion budget for national defense is a fair figure.
On the ground it has 1,455 million troops, 4,740 battle tanks, one aircraft carrier, 35 battleships, 14 nuclear submarines, 841 aircraft and 150 nuclear weapons.
One of the Axis forces in World War II, Japan has not been involved in major conflicts in recent decades.
Japan’s current budget is $49.7 billion and 247,000 men and women serve in the armed forces.
On the ground it has 580 tanks and at sea two aircraft carriers, 47 warships, and 22 submarines. In the air it has 606 warplanes.
South Korea has 600,000 people in its armed forces and a military budget of $40.4 billion. On the ground it employs 2,321 battle tanks and on the sea it boasts 35 naval vessels.
Even though it neighbors with unpredictable North Korea, it has no nuclear weapons. It has an air force with 595 aircraft.
The strongest military force in the EU, France is playing an active role in the defense of the union with a budget of $55 billion and 208,700 men and women serving in it.
France’s naval fleet dominates in the Mediterranean with one aircraft carrier, 27 warships and eight nuclear submarines.
Two years ago, France sent warships to the Cyprus EEZ to protect a French-interest research vessel from the Turkish Navy that was harassing it.
Another Mediterranean naval power, Italy has two aircraft carriers and 16 warships. Its military budget is $29.3 billion and has 165,500 servicemen, while in the air it flies 241 war-capable aircraft.
Italy has not been involved in major conflicts since World War II, when as a fascist regime it had allied with the Third Reich.
The United Kingdom
The armed forces of the once-mighty British Empire no longer dominate in Europe and the rest of the world. Nevertheless, it still retains a strong military force.
The UK has a budget of $61.5 billion and 138,500 men and women serving in the armed forces and 225 military aircraft.
On the ground the United Kingdom employs 227 battle tanks. At sea it has two aircraft carriers, 30 warships and 11 nuclear submarines.
In recent years Turkey has tried to establish itself as a major military force in a wide area covering northeast Europe, the eastern Mediterranean, Asia Minor and North Africa.
A prominent member of NATO, Turkey has an army of 355,200 men and women and a budget of only $11 billion.
Yet, in its arsenal it has 4,378 tanks, and at sea 26 warships and 12 submarines. Its air force is 310 aircraft strong.