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The 12 Strongest Militaries in the 'Muslim World'

Amidst growing global turmoil, what is the state of the militaries in the 'Muslim World'?
The 'Muslim World' stretches from the far reaches of Western Africa to Southeast Asia. Though not homogenous, they are brought together in some extra-regional groupings, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation with its 57 member countries.

With wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan, Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and violence in Palestinian Territories, the region’s militaries have had to adapt to conventional and asymmetric warfare quickly, and in some cases relearn the art of conventional war after decades of inactivity.

The biggest military spender on the list is Saudi Arabia. In 2017, Riyadh's defence budget was third in the world according to the World Bank.

Defence budgets only tell part of the story. The Global Firepower (GFP) index, which is used for rankings looks at a number of factors, including quality of weaponry, missile range, training, alliances, manpower, and the strength of local defence industries.

Here are the countries form the 12 strongest militaries in the 'Muslim World'.


12) United Arab Emirates

Active personnel: 64,000

2017 budget: $14.37 billion

The UAE holds the highest rank among it's Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) neighbours. Arguably tested for the first time, they've honed their relatively small fighting force with front-line experience in Afghanistan, Libya and Yemen. The UAE’s armed forces only have 63,000 active personnel, with a heavy reliance on Latin American and Eritrean mercenaries, which coupled with its expansionist vision earning it the nickname: 'Little Sparta'.



11) Bangladesh

Active personnel: 160,000

2017 budget: $1.59 billion

Bangladesh defence budget accounts for nearly 6 percent of its national budget, as it contends with repeat violations of its territory by Myanmar. It was instrumental in providing safe corridors for Rohingya refugees escaping ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.

Bangladesh is located between three nuclear-states; sharing a 4,156 km border with India, and in close proximity to China and Pakistan. With a complicated role in the country, its military must also play a part in internal security, juggling both national security and internal stability, as well as UN peacekeeping missions and disaster relief operations.

Since 2009, it has continued to diversify its military arsenal, expanding ammunition manufacturing capacities, purchasing fighter aircraft and submarines.



10) Morocco

Active personnel: 198,000

2017 budget: $3.46 billion

The Moroccan Army is 175,000 strong personnel but is challenged by one of the lowest defence budgets in the Middle East.

The country’s military is heavily engaged with the disputed Western Sahara territory, and patrolling its long borders. Recently, it supported the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.



9) Syria

Active personnel: 154,000

2017 budget: $1.87 billion

After more than six years of gruesome fighting, Syria’s military is a shadow of what it used to be, but battle-hardened.

Its military is bolstered by Iranian militias, Russian forces and local private militias to keep the Assad regime, after suffering from heavy losses, rampant desertion, and general war fatigue.



8) Malaysia

Active personnel: 110,000

2017 budget: $4.7 billion

While Malaysia has never fought in a conventional conflict before, it boasts a modern military with a balanced strategic posture between naval strength, technological modernisation, and air superiority.

Malaysia is in dispute with China’s claim over the South China Sea, and an active member of UN Peacekeeping forces.

While struggling with financial limitations and currency instability, its military continues to grow and modernise. It faces the challenge of matching assets that are incompatible with the domestic and international threats they face.



7) Algeria

Active personnel: 520,000

2017 budget: $10.6 billion

Algeria is the largest Arab country by size and has invested steadily in its military since independence. The Algerian People's National Army has been on active footing since its founding, first fighting a bloody war of independence, a gruesome civil war dubbed 'The Black Decade', followed by more than two decades combatting terrorism, and protecting its significant borders. It is also the only country aside from China that procured the Russian S400 missile system.

Algeria has troublesome borders with neighbours including Libya and Mali, and actively supports the Polisario Front, which seeks Western Sahara's independence from Morocco.



6) Saudi Arabia

Active personnel: 231,000

2017 budget: $69.413 billion

The Saudi Arabian military is the best-armed military in its region. In past years, it has fought a bloody war in Yemen as the head of an allied coalition. While Yemen has been a proving ground for its military, the drawn-out war has drawn significant international condemnation over the heavy human toll it has taken, and humanitarian concerns over famine and disease in the war-ravaged country.



5) Pakistan

Active personnel: 637,000

2017 budget $7 billion.

The Pakistani military is robust, with a long-standing military tradition. In recent years, it has leveraged stronger engagement with Saudi Arabia and China to modernise its forces, with heavy military technology exchange and weapons development.

Operationally, Pakistan boasts one of the largest armies in the region, with a strong combined arms doctrine supported by a powerful intelligence service and a consistent drive to develop defence industry capacities and manufacture modern firearms and ammunition. It is also one of the few countries in the region with nuclear capability. The Arms Control Association puts Pakistan’s nuclear stockpile at 140 weapons, ranked as the world’s sixth largest nuclear arsenal.



5.5) Israel (added for context)

Active personnel: 170,000

2017 budget: $18.5bn

Surrounded by Arab neighbours on all sides, Israel has done all it can to ensure its armed forces are superior to anything they may have to face in battle. Its military posture is heavily based on maneuver warfare doctrine, and the ability to fight decisive battles quickly from front to front. The Israel Defence Forces are well equipped and funded through deep financial and technological support from the United States.



4) Indonesia

Active personnel: 975,750

2017 budget $6.9 billion

With Indonesia set to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2050, its military continues to grow in leaps and bounds. Aside from its active duty personnel, it is home to an additional 281,000 paramilitary personnel. It’s manpower, economy and political clout are enough to ensure internal stability and growth, as it pursues an aggressive military diversification strategy. Recently, it applied an Anti-Access/Area-Denial (A2/AD) strategy, giving it even stronger leverage over its neighbours, while it aims for a 274-ship navy, 10 fighter squadrons, and 12 submarines. Indonesia’s modernised capabilities may be the precursor to larger regional ambitions in its future.



3) Iran

Active personnel: 534,000

2017 budget: $14 billion

With more men in arms any other country in the Middle East, with an additional 125,000 in its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), as well as other regional militias sourced from different countries. It has also managed to effectively manage large militias while aligning them with its overall military posture through tried-and-tested embedded officers and leadership. Over years of sanctions, Iran developed a significant national defence industry and made major progress towards becoming a nuclear state.

Its armed forces are also viewed as particularly strong in asymmetric warfare. Iran has provided extensive technical and military support to the Assad regime in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen.



2) Egypt

Active personnel: 438,500

2017 budget: $2.7 billion

With the rise of President Abdel Fatah el Sisi, the Egyptian military has been given free reign to expand and embed itself in nearly every aspect of Egyptian society, on top of a larger defence budget, tax exemptions and lucrative private contracts.

The Egyptian military has made major progress in modernising its military since Sisi took power, with gradual procurements of new state-of-the-art weaponry, revamped supply chains and more attention given to its navy.

Egypt is still struggling to deal with insurgents in the Sinai Peninsula for several years.



1) Turkey

Active personnel: 355,800

2017 budget: $10.2 billion

Turkey's armed forces have been on an active footing for a number of years. On top of its heavy presence in Syria, Turkey has developed a strong defence industry, manufacturing autonomous armed drones, state-of-the-art cruise missiles, a cutting-edge indigenous battle tank, and battle-tested attack helicopters.

While it ranks as the strongest military force in the 'Muslim world' and the Middle East, it was also ranked 9th worldwide by the Global Firepower Index, above Germany.

Turkey has also established large forward operating bases in Qatar and Somalia, expanding its geopolitical reach and force projection capacity.

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