The Knotted Gun by Carl Fredrik Reutersward, UN New York. Photo by Chris Suderman

World

Which Countries Have No Armed Forces?

Without any armed forces who would come to their defence?

The Knotted Gun by Carl Fredrik Reutersward, UN New York. Photo by Chris Suderman

Nation states generally have some form of defence, army or armed forces to defend them but not all countries do, which might seem at odds with a turbulent world which has often faced conflict through the ages.

As a species, our existence has been intrinsically intertwined with war for much of human history. 

There are many definitions of what 'war' itself is, but if we were to take one of them, and define 'war' as a violent conflict that claims more than 1,000 lives, then that would mean the world has been at peace for only eight percent of recorded history.  

Nomadic people fought wars over resources with nothing more than sticks and rocks. Settled agricultural societies had to protect their walls and fortifications. While the Ancient Greeks believed that their citizens had an obligation to fight for their city-states so that they could carry on enjoying their democracy and freedom. 

In the 19th century, the Industrial Revolution made it possible for governments to form and maintain large permanent armies, bigger and more organised than anything that the world has seen before. Permanent military forces became a key feature in modern society. It is hard to imagine a country without its own armed forces, yet those countries exist - there are at least 22 of them. 

What Is A Sovereign State? 

To put it simply, a sovereign state is a legal term for a country. 

When writing a list of countries without a military, it is necessary to define what a country is.

Located between the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, Greenland is the world's largest island, nine times bigger than the UK. Greenland does not have any armed forces of its own. Yet, it is not on the list because despite its large size it is not a considered a country in its own right, as it technically belongs to Denmark

More accurately, it is an autonomous Danish dependent territory with limited self-government and its own parliament, but not an official country in terms of being a nation state as such.

In order to be considered a country, a geographic location must have a population and a government that are contained within defined borders.  

Most countries have an armed force to defend their borders and protect those within them, whether from floods or foreign invasions. There are about 28 million people worldwide serving in the military, doing just that. 

There are about 206 countries on planet earth, although not all of those are officially recognised by the United Nations as countries. So there are 'about' this number because countries are social constructs and for political reasons, it is not always straight forward to define what a country is.

For example, Kosovo declared its independence in 2008 but is still considered a disputed territory and is only recognised by 97 United Nations Member states. 

South Sudan on the other hand is the newest country in the world, having gained independence in 2011 and it promptly joined the United Nations in the same year. 

There are 193 member states in the United Nations. This does not include the State of Palestine and The Vatican - these two hold observer status.

So it could be argued there are 195 official countries.

The Cook Islands and Niue are 'states of free association' and are not UN member states but are considered countries, therefore they have been included in this article.

Andorra Credit: Jumpstory

So which of these countries do not have armed forces as part of their national defence?

Countries In Europe

Andorra

Tucked in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France, Andorra is the perfect skiing holiday destination. Since it is a landlocked country, it has never had a navy.

The principality of Andorra covers less than 500km2  in territory. Before the First World War, a country of such tiny size had a proportionally sized armed force – 600 men. Their role was to serve within the borders of Andorra, therefore overseas deployment was out of the question.

In modern times, Andorra has not had a standing army.

In previous centuries, its forces were made up of heads of household – able-bodied men who would be called upon to fight or subdue civil unrest within the country. This civil defence force was known as the ‘Sometent’.

The proud tradition is still carried on today with uniforms and weapons being handed down through generations. Each household is still required to have access to a firearm, just in case their country ever requires ‘the head of the household’ to pick it up.

The Sometent has not been called upon to fight for more than 700 years. However, it does have a ceremonial unit consisting of a dozen men whose role is to march with the flag of Andorra at official events.

The country does not have a military budget and relies on volunteers. The Police Corps of Andorra takes on the responsibility of security within the country's borders. Andorra has treaties with its larger neighbours France and Spain, who it relies on for military defence.

Monaco

Technically this country should not even be on the list since Monaco has a very small military that employs around 250 personnel that operate alongside the police and fire department. The Palace Guards are also part of the military. However, their duties are more ceremonial in nature. 

Covering less than four square miles, this tiny country has earned itself a place on this list because it officially outsources all of its defence needs to its big neighbour - France. 

Liechtenstein 

The German-speaking microstate abolished its military soon after the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 in order to save money.

Liechtenstein is a neutral state but it is not wholly pacifist, as it allows military to be formed in times of war. However, that has not happened since the army was disbanded in mid 19th century. 

Although there was a rather unfortunate incident in 1980 when the Swiss Army mistakenly fired shells into a forest inside Liechtenstein, burning a small part of it. Allegedly, the incident was resolved over "a case of white wine" and the relations between the two neutral states have not been soured since. 

San Marino 

This tiny landlocked enclave is on the list for the same reason as Monaco - it has its own largely ceremonial military force - but relies entirely on its neighbour Italy for defence. 

Iceland

This may be the most surprising country on the list, as Iceland is the only NATO member state without its own military force. 

The island of Iceland has security agreements with other neighbouring nordic countries such as Denmark and Norway as well as other NATO member states. 

As the biggest microstate, Iceland's own defence forces may be lacking, however, it has some powerful allies that would step in in the unlikely event of Iceland's national security ever being under threat. 

Iceland has a defence treaty with the United States. Part of that treaty involves Iceland allowing the US to use a strategically located Naval Air Station on the island. The US has announced that it is interested in renovating a hanger to accommodate the Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft used for anti-submarine and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance. 

The country's closest equivalent to the military is its powerful Coast Guard, as well as highly specialised anti-terrorist defence unit called the Víkingasveitin. 

Iceland may not have a standing army of its own, however, it does have a peacekeeping force that operates overseas and is overseen by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Iceland. Credit: Jumpstory

Countries In The Regional Security System

Four countries in the Eastern Caribbean, namely St Lucia, Grenada, Domenica, St Vincent and Grenadines, do not have a military force of their own because they signed an agreement with Barbados stating that they would assist one another on matters of national security.  

The countries agreed to rapidly provide each other with “mutual assistance on request”. The headquarters of the Regional Security System is in Barbados – the country that would come to the defence of the signatories if the need ever arose.

St Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda are also signatories of the Regional Security System agreement. However, they still maintain a small military force.  

The Saint Kitts and Nevis Defense Force has an infantry and a maritime unit which consist of 300 personnel. While Antigua and Barbuda's military is even smaller, comprising of 245 people.  

The Royal Antigua and Barbuda Defense Force is better equipped at dealing with policing tasks within the country such as natural disaster relief and drug control, rather than providing a viable defence against a would-be foreign enemy – that is why the Regional Security System remains an integral part of the small island nation defence strategy. 

Since Antigua and Barbuda is a member of the Commonwealth Elizabeth II is the head of state and is also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.  

Dominica

Dominica has not had a military since 1981. In case a war is proclaimed, the police force would act as the military and the country’s first step would be to call upon “mutual assistance on request” as defined by the Regional Security System.

At almost 72,000, the population of Dominica is smaller than that of Guildford in Surrey - it could hardly muster a force to be reckoned with on its own.

Grenada

The ‘Island of Spice’ was the last country to join the Regional Security Agreement in January 1985.  

Grenada has not had a standing army since it was invaded by the United States in 1983.  

The invasion, codenamed Operation Urgent Fury, resulted in the occupation of Grenada by the United States. Grenada’s communist Prime minister Maurice Bishop was deposed and assassinated. 

A favourite holiday destination for many Brits, famous for its green mountains that roll right into sandy beaches, the volcanic Caribbean island has not seen any other conflict since the Second World War.

The islanders have been enjoying a mostly peaceful existence since 9 March 1942, when German U boats sunk two British ships in the Castries harbour during the Battle of the Caribbean.  

St. Vincent And The Grenadines 

The island has not seen major military conflict since the British had fought two wars with the country’s indigenous Carib population during the colonial period. The country was the last of the Windward Islands to gain independence in 1979 and has not had a permanent military presence of its own ever since. 

The Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force would take on the traditional role of the armed forces if the need ever arose, at least until assistance from the Regional Security System arrived. 

Mauritius. Credit Jumpstory

Africa

Mauritius

The island nation does not have a standing army although it does have two paramilitary units - the National Coast Guard and a 1,400-strong 'Special Mobile Force' which carries out law enforcement within the country. 

It may not be clear who would come to the rescue if Mauritius was ever faced with a would-be aggressor. However, due to the country's many well established economic and political ties with the region, it seems safe to say that Mauritius has nothing to worry about for the foreseeable future. 

Mauritius is an island off the coast of the African continent. Apart from strong political alliances with its neighbours, it also shares well-established relations with the EU. 

 

Costa Rica. Credit Jump Story

Central And South America 

Panama 

In 1903, the United States under the administration of Theodore Roosevelt created the country of Panama to gain control of the canal across the Panamanian isthmus that would open in 1914 to connect the world’s two great oceans. In terms of commercial importance for the shipping industry, the Panama canal is perhaps as significant as the Suez. The US has had a stake in the country ever since. 

The National Guard of Panama was created in 1983 but was short-lived. It was dismantled only six years later by the US after they invaded Panama in 1989. Although the transcontinental country does not have an official defence agreement with the US, it is assumed that America would provide military assistance due to its investment, strategic interest and geographical proximity.

Costa Rica 

Hailed as a peace-loving nation, this equatorial country is home to the UN's University of Peace.

Costa Rica abolished its military on December 1st 1948. The constitution was altered the following year, forbidding the country from ever forming a standing army.

In 2020, the country declared December 1st a national holiday and will henceforth be celebrating Army Abolition Day annually with a non-paid legal holiday. 

To commemorate the new holiday, President Alvardo said: "The resources that the government of the republic would have historically had to invest in a defence system based on weapons were wisely diverted to direct expenses for the well-being of Costa Ricans."

The Costa Rican's are proud of their pacifist ways. The abolition of the military was a well-received move following the Costa Rican Civil War which was the bloodiest event of the 20th century in the country's history. The move was also controversial because Costa Rica does not have good relations with its neighbour Nicaragua and, without an armed force to protect its borders and citizens, they perhaps made themselves vulnerable. However, Costa Rica has not had any major defense issues since the abolition. 

Compact of Free Association Countries 

The Compact of Free Association is an agreement between the United States and three small island states in the Pacific Ocean. Those countries are The Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia. The US provides the countries with full international defence in return for access to their air space and national waters. 

The Marshall Islands

As a signatory of the Compact Free Association, the island nation relies on the United States for its international defence. 

After the Japanese occupation of the country during the Second World War, the governing of the islands was passed onto the US. The country's atolls have been used for nuclear weapons testing. The world's first hydrogen bomb was tested at the Enewetak atoll. During the Cold War, 67 nuclear tests were conducted for which The Marshall Islands received $250 million in compensation. 

Since the Island gained independence in 1979, it has remained mainly conflict-free, apart from the time when Iran captured a container ship, MV Maersk Tigris, while it was sailing in the Strait of Hormuz. The US Navy immediately dispatched a destroyer and a reconnaissance plane to the area.  Although shots were fired, the 2015 incident was de-escalated without any casualties and vessels belonging to the Marshall Islands have not been involved in any international incidents ever since. 

Palau

The Republic of Palau is made up of 340 islands in the Western Pacific. The country joined the Compact of Free Association Countries in 1986, granting the US military access to the island and its waters for the next 50 years. 

The US has previously occupied the islands from 1944–1947, but their presence since signing the Compact of Free Association has been minimal. In the US, the Coast Guard is a separate part of the military alongside the Army, Navy, and Air Force. It patrols Palau's national waters, keeping Palauans safe. 

Federated States Of Micronesia 

The island country is comprised of 600 islands, all of which have the mighty military power of Uncle Sam backing them up.

At about 104,000, the population of Micronesia is no bigger than that of the District of Lichfield in Staffordshire, but if anyone in the country does aspire to a career in the military, they still have a chance, despite Micronesia not having a standing armed force of its own. The Compact of Free Association allows citizens of Micronesia to join the US armed forces. 

Federated States of Micronesia. Credit: Patrick Nunn

States Of Free Association With New Zealand 

New Zealand is in a State of Free Association agreement with two counties - Niue and the Cook Islands. Similar to the Compact of Free Association signed between the US and the three Pacific island states, whereby the smaller nation's defense is covered by the larger country in the agreement. 

Niue 

Also known as "The Rock" but not to be confused with Gibraltar, this island country lies 2,400km northeast of New Zealand and relies on its neighbour for military assistance. 

Cook Islands

The country is comprised of 15 islands in the South Pacific Ocean. In the previous century, the Cook Islands have been a British Protectorate and later a New Zealand dependent territory.

They gained independence in 1965 but still maintain close ties with New Zealand which is currently responsible for the island's defence.

Kiribati

Micronesia

Kiribati 

Like most countries without a military, Kiribati relies on its police force to carry out matters of national security. 

Although Kiribati is not a 'State of Free Association', the island nation outsources its defence to Australia and New Zealand. 

Polynesia

Nauru 

Measuring at just under 13 square kilometres, Nauru is the third smallest country in the world. It is no surprise that it does not have a need, let alone enough space for a military force. 

Nauru has strong diplomatic ties with Australia, which is fully responsible for the island nation's defence. 

Tuvalu

Tuvalu is one of the only countries in the world to have never had a military.

Since it was used as a staging post during the Second World War for the Battle of Tarawa and the Battle of Makin, Tuvalu has remained conflict-free. With a tiny population, no natural resources and not being in an area of strategic importance, the country will probably continue being this way. 

Vanuatu

The island nation's first line of defence is the Vanuatu Police Force. The South Pacific country is so peaceful that some islands have no police presence at all. 

Vanuatu technically does have a military but it is made up of volunteers which is why the country is on this list. 

The Vanuatu Mobile Force is made up of around 300 volunteers. 

Solomon Islands 

What the islands lack in military forces, they more than makeup for in coral reefs.

The country has been military-free since it gained its independence from Britain in 1976.

Samoa

The 1962 Treaty of Friendship signed between Samoa and New Zealand established informal defence ties between two countries. This has allowed the Polynesian country to not have its own armed forces. However, the nature of the treaty being informal, Samoa would have to ask New Zealand for assistance before it would be provided. 

Honourable Mentions

While the smallest country in the world,  the Vatican, is not on the list, perhaps it should be. The Holy city-state that is surrounded by Rome is protected by the oldest military unit in the world. Technically, the Swiss Guard belongs to the See of Rome - the governing body of the Catholic Church. But since its main role is to protect the the city-state, The Vatican as a country was excluded from the list. 

Other places that do not have standing armies on their territory are Aruba, Curacao and Sint Maarten. They didn't make the list because those islands belong to the Netherlands. Monserrat and the Cayman islands were also excluded because they are British Overseas Territories.

The Kingdom of Denmark governs Greenland and the Faroe Islands - there is no military there but it is obvious who oversees the defence of these islands.

French Polynesia and New Caledonia were also excluded because, as French overseas territories, if you mess with them you mess with France. Same goes for Puerto Rico - except the US has its back. 

Tags