Answer to Map #31

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Answer: This cartogram depicts the absolute sizes of each country’s active military forces.

The country with the largest army is China, which has around 2,333,000 on active duty. That means that the Chinese military has more people than 57 countries. China is followed on the list by the United States (1,492,200), India (1,325,000), North Korea (1,190,000), and Russia (845,000).

Of those top five countries, four are among the most populous countries in the world. The one that stands out is North Korea—a country with the world’s 52nd largest population but the fourth largest military. North Korea is a country in that spends around a quarter of its entire GDP on defense—a staggering total. But since North Korea is a poor country and its GDP is quite low, that 22.3% works out to only $8.21 billion per year on defense. Its richer and more populous neighbor, South Korea, has a smaller military and spends only about 2.8% of its GDP on defense, but that 2.8% works out to a remarkable $26.1 billion per year.

The fact that North Korea is larger than South Korea on our cartogram is an easy way to tell that this is a cartogram of military by number of soldiers, not by the total amount of money spent on the military. Another key difference would be that, on a cartogram of total military spending, the United States would be by far the largest country. The United States spends about $596 billion per year on the military, as much as the next seven countries combined. This is a good statistic to bear in mind when you read in the newspaper that Donald Trump’s proposed budget framework would boost military spending by another $54 billion.

The data used to make this map came from estimates collected in 2014 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. It is, obviously, a difficult task to figure out how many soldiers are serving in each country’s armed forces. After all, most countries are fairly secretive about their militaries. As a result, these statistics are the result of a lot of educated guesses, especially about countries that do not release accurate information.

There are some countries for which we can know the size of the military exactly. As mentioned in Thursday’s hint, Costa Rica, Panama, Iceland, and Haiti are among the countries that have no active military. Costa Rica is an interesting case to explore in greater detail. The Costa Rican military was abolished by the Costa Rican constitution in 1949, following the end of the country’s civil war. The funds previously directed toward military spending were rerouted to fund the police, schools, and cultural projects. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Costa Rica is the only Spanish-speaking country in Central America that has not had a coup attempt in the past half century. In fact, Costa Rica has been so stable that, in 1990, the government of neighboring Panama decided to abolish its own military.

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