21 countries that don’t have an army

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We take a look at the world’s 21 countries that don’t have an army, from tiny island nations to states who abolished their militaries.

Vatican's Swiss Guard Corps are not considered an army
The Vatican’s Swiss Guard Corps (Shutterstock)

The CIA World Factbook lists over 30 nations and territories without armed forces, many of which rely on other countries and international groups to provide their defence.

However, many of these countries – such as the Cook Islands or the Faroe Islands – are not sovereign states.

If you begin to include territories such as Puerto Rico and the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean or the Cook Islands and French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, then the list can grow considerably longer.

Some formerly foreign-administered territories — including Micronesia, Palau, Samoa and Tuvalu — simply never established standing militaries after gaining independence. For example, Micronesia and Palau left the USA in charge of their defence.

There are other countries that once had militaries but then disbanded their forces. In the Caribbean, the armies of Grenada and Panama were both abolished after the US invasions of 1983 and 1989, respectively.

Case studies

While several countries and territories do not have a standing military, their national police act as de facto military forces.

Iceland

Unique among NATO allies, Iceland does not have a military. Iceland has traditionally been a pacifist country, which goes back further than its independence from Denmark in 1944. 

Iceland is one of the countries that don't have an army
Iceland is traditionally a pacifist country (Shutterstock)

According to the CIA World Fact Book, Iceland has no regular military forces and only maintains the Icelandic Coast Guard which includes both air and maritime elements and the Icelandic National Police.

Haiti

Haiti disbanded their army in 1995 following a coup, leaving the national police responsible for security. However, in 2017 Haiti’s president decided to re-establish the country’s military after 22 years.

The aim is for the military to help the country with natural disaster relief, border security, and combating transnational crime. Haiti set up an army command in 2018.

Haitian soldiers in 2017
Haiti re-establish the a military in 2017 (Shutterstock)

When Hait gained sovereignty in the early 19th century, it became the first independent Caribbean state and the first independent nation in Latin America.

The move to re-establish the military was seen as controversial as previously the military mounted dozens of coups and its forces were accused of rampant human rights abuses.

Haiti also maintains a small coast guard which is not considered part of the military, but rather the Haitian National Police. As such, Haiti can no longer be counted as a country without an army.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica abolished its military in 1948 at the initiative of then-President José Figueres Ferrer, even though he came to power through armed insurrection and potentially abolished the country’s military so as to avoid any future potential military coups against him.

The constitution has forbidden a standing military since 1949 and the armed forces budget was transferred under the umbrella of internal security and funds redirected to the police force, education, environmental protection and cultural preservation.

A water fall in Costa Rica – a country that has no army
Costa Rica dissolved its army in 1948 (Shutterstock)

The country is also the headquarters for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the UN’s University for Peace.

As such, Costa Rica became known as a “civilized nation” – a designation that it could not have claimed before the abolition of the armed forces.

Marshall Islands

From 1947 to 1994, the Marshall Islands were part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI), a United Nations trust territory administered by the USA.

In 1986, the Marshall Islands gained complete independence after adopting its constitution in 1979 and joined the United Nations in 1991.

The Marshall Islands are one of the countries that don’t have an army
The Marshall Islands don’t have an army (Shutterstock)

The USA still controls the security and defence of the Marshall Islands and provides millions of dollars in aid annually. The USA also rents the Kwajalein atoll as a base and missile test range.

As a former US-administered territory, the Marshall Islands did not found an army after gaining independence. Instead, the USA is responsible for its defence.

As such, the Marshall Islands are one of the 21 countries that don’t have an army

Vatican City

The Vatican is one of the countries that does not have an army. However, it does maintain the Pontifical Swiss Guard Corps (Corpo della Guardia Svizzera Pontificia) which is largely ceremonial.

The Vatican does not have an army
The Vatican’s Swiss Guard is largely ceremonial (Shutterstock)

The Vatican City also maintains the Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City (Corpo della Gendarmeriais) as a police force that helps to reinforce the Pontifical Swiss Guard Corps during the Pope’s appearances, as well as providing general security, traffic direction, and investigative duties for the Vatican City State.

21 countries that don’t have an army

The list below recognises the 21 independent sovereign states of the world that do not have a standing army or regularly military force.

  1. Andorra
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Dominica
  4. Grenada
  5. Iceland
  6. Kiribati
  7. Liechtenstein
  8. Marshall Islands
  9. Mauritius
  10. Micronesia
  11. Monaco
  12. Nauru
  13. Palau
  14. Panama
  15. St. Lucia
  16. St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  17. Samoa
  18. San Marino
  19. Solomon Islands
  20. Tuvalu
  21. Vanuatu

Sources:
Countries Without Militaries, The Atlantic
CIA World Fact Book Field Listing: Military and security forces
NATO – Declassified: Iceland and NATO
Haitian army set to make controversial return after two decades, Reuters
Marshall Islands country profile, BBC
Having An Army Might Be Practical, But It’s Not Obligatory, NPR
Costa Rica: An Army-less Nation in a Problem-Prone Region, Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA)


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