5 Countries That Ditched Their Military Forces

By: Jonathan Atteberry  | 
You're certainly not going to see this sign if you live in a country without a military. See more protesting pictures.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Five countries globally operate without military forces.
  • These countries include Costa Rica, Iceland, Mauritius, Panama and Vanuatu.
  • Each nation employs unique strategies for national defense, relying on factors such as alliances, diplomatic relations and geographical isolation.

After decades of witnessing the destruction and misery of combat firsthand, U.S. Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman delivered the commencement address at the Michigan Military Academy in 1879. In his speech, he summed up his experience with three words: "War is hell."

Between 136.5 and 148.5 million people became casualties of war in the 20th century alone, according to Milton Leitenberg, a longtime scholar of arms control. The economics are equally staggering. For instance, U.S. spending on the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan could top $4 trillion [source: Watson Institute]. What's more, worldwide military expenditures for 2011 may reach nearly $2.2 trillion [source: GlobalSecurity.org].


Despite the exorbitant human and financial costs, the vast majority of governments consider defense spending to be a necessity. A few renegade countries have opted to shed their militaries, however. In this article, we'll explore both how and why they arrived at that decision and what defense (if any) they have in lieu of a full-fledged fighting force.

The first country is the most recent one on our list to get rid of its armed forces, but if the current president has his way, it might not be long for this article. Read on to see why.

5: Haiti

That's a Brazilian U.N. soldier, not a Haitian one, standing guarding in Port-au-Prince during the country's 2011 elections.
Allison Shelley/Getty Images

Haiti has the unfortunate distinction of being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, a status it held well before a magnitude 7.0 earthquake devastated the nation in January 2010 [source: World Bank]. Although the reasons behind the country's poverty are complex and varied, Haiti's history of political turmoil certainly has played a part in its current hardships, and that turmoil often involved the military.

For instance, less than a year after Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president on Dec. 16, 1990, his government was overrun by a military coup. Haiti endured the makeshift military government until 1994, when the United Nations intervened and forcefully ousted Haiti's leadership. After Aristide was reinstated as president, he moved quickly to disband Haiti's armed forces before they could pose any further problems. Nowadays, Haiti relies heavily on U.N. forces for security, though in 2011, President Michel Martelly announced his intention to build up a new military to replace the U.N. troops.


Unlike Haiti, the next candidate on our list has no plans to bring its army back, and thanks to its police force, it probably won't have to.

4: Costa Rica

Pura vida. Translated literally, it means "pure life," but for Costa Ricans, those two words mean much more, encompassing a rich, laid-back, community-focused lifestyle that pervades the Central American nation. And so perhaps it's no surprise that a country known for its happy and contented citizens would be just fine without a military.

What prompted Costa Rica to eliminate its armed forces? In 1948, after an unusual period of political upheaval, it burst into a civil war that lasted for 44 days, resulting in 2,000 casualties [source: U.S. Department of State]. In an effort to ensure such a conflict would never happen again, the new government drafted a constitution that not only guaranteed free and open elections but also abolished the country's armed forces.


That doesn't mean the country is defenseless. In 2011, Costa Rica is projected to spend nearly $300 million on a police force armed with military-grade weaponry and a coast guard [source: GlobalSecurity.org]. In fact, its defense budget has grown to be more than three times as large as Nicaragua's, a fact not lost on its neighbor to the north, in light of border disputes between the two countries.

Unlike Costa Rica, the next spot ditched its military at the very first opportunity: when it gained independence.

3: The Republic of Mauritius

Things have changed greatly since January 1968, when British soldiers patrolled the streets of Mauritius.
Monks/Express/Getty Images

Located east of Madagascar, the island nation of Mauritius is home to more than a million people and one of the strongest economies in Africa. What you won't find, however, are regular military forces. In fact, since gaining independence from Great Britain in 1968, Mauritius has never felt the need to develop a national defense. Perhaps the island had its fill of war when the French and British fought over it in the early 19th century or, later on, when it served as a naval base and airfield for Great Britain throughout World War II. Today, Mauritius spends only 0.3 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, which comprises a police force, Special Mobile Force (SMF) and National Coast Guard. All told, 10,115 personnel work for these agencies [source: U.S. Department of State].

These organizations are charged with handling everything from riot control to search-and-rescue missions, though they aren't equipped to handle national defense. Illustrating Mauritius' close ties with other nations, the country receives counterterrorism training from the United States, and its coast guard works closely with the Indian Navy, proving that if your country doesn't have a military, it's good to have allies that do.


For the next country on our list, the military wound up causing more trouble than it prevented. Read on to see what we mean.

2: Panama

A U.S. soldier stands guard near the Noriega residence on Dec. 28, 1989, in Panama City, Panama, after American troops invaded Gen. Manuel Noriega's residence.
Carlos Angel/Liason/Getty Images

In 1903, Panama entered into a treaty with the United States that would allow the U.S. to construct, administer and defend a stretch of land that would become the Panama Canal. By 1999, Panama finally had taken control of the maintenance and operation of the canal, but not before undergoing nearly a century of political turmoil that ultimately would lead to the dissolution of its military.

Panama first ran into the dangers of an unchecked military in 1968, when it threw the democratically elected president, Dr. Arnulfo Arias Madrid, out of office for the third and final time before taking over. The military would play a major role in Panama's government throughout the 1980s, when Gen. Manuel Noriega came to power. The U.S. originally supported Noriega, but as corruption, drug trafficking and election tampering became widespread in Panama, tensions between the countries mounted.


In 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama, removing Noriega from power and ushering in democratic elections. Thanks to the deep distrust Panamanians held for the military, the government adopted a constitutional amendment disbanding the military in 1994. Despite a much-improved relationship, Panama has refused to allow the U.S. to set up a military base for combating drug trafficking within its borders. After all, if you don't trust your own army, you probably won't trust that of another country.

When the very name of your nation screams "I'm tiny!," perhaps it's better to leave your defense up to a much larger ally, which is exactly what the next country on our list decided to do.

1: Federated States of Micronesia

The flag for the Federated States of Micronesia

Leading up to World War II, the Federated States of Micronesia were under Japanese control, which explains why Micronesia became the site of some of the most fearsome battles ever fought in the South Pacific. In fact, so many Japanese and American vehicles litter the seafloor surrounding the collection of islands that the oil contained within them poses an environmental concern. After the war, the region became part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, beginning a long relationship with the U.S. Given that history, the country didn't make military spending a priority when it finally gained independence in 1979.

In 1986, Micronesia entered into a Compact of Free Association with the United States, and its defense has been the U.S.'s responsibility ever since. What's more, citizens from Micronesia don't need a visa to work in the U.S. (and vice versa), and while Micronesians rely on the United States for their defense, they can also enlist in America's fighting forces. In fact, Micronesians play an active role in the American military and have actually suffered more fatalities as a percentage of their population in the Iraq and Afghani wars than the United States has [source: Nobel].


Keep reading for links to more military madness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there any economic implications for countries without military forces?
Yes, countries without military forces often allocate resources to social programs and development.
How do countries without military forces handle security threats?
They typically rely on international alliances, diplomatic negotiations and regional security arrangements.

Lots More Information

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