Who Are Warlords?
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield is the highest official in the United States government with primarily military duties. (The U.S. President, while being commander in chief, in theory, in practice devotes only a modest portion of his time to military affairs.) All sovereign nations, with the exception of a handful of very small ones, have an equivalent chief military official. There are about 180 sovereign nations in the world, and dozens of insurgencies, many of which are organized enough to have chief military official of their own. These two hundred to three hundred people are the warlords who, collective, direct and manage all of the world's organized military force.
Donald Rumsfield, however, is extremely atypical of this group of the world's warlords as a whole. None of the others have anything close to his budget to play with (military budgets are to a great extent of a function of national GDP), and only a very few have anything close to the number of personnel he has at his disposal (active duty force sizes are to a great extent a function of national population).
The Greater Warlords.
Total military spending by all sovereign nations in the world combined in 2001 was 835 billion U.S. dollars. (The source for budget and personnel numbers is the 2006 New York Times Alamanac, hard copy, which cites as its source the Institute for Strategic Studies). The twenty largest military budgets (all budget numbers are rounded to the nearest billion) were as follows:
1. United States $322 billion
2. Russia $64 billion
3. China $46 billion
4. Japan $40 billion (240,000 active duty military personnel)
5. United Kingdom $35 billion (211,000 active duty military personnel)
6. France $33 billion (274,000 active duty military personnel)
7. Germany $27 billion
8. Saudi Arabia $24 billion (201,000 active duty military personnel)
9. Italy $21 billion (230,000 active duty military personnel)
10. India $14 billion
11. South Korea $11 billion
12. Brazil $11 billion
13. Taiwan $10 billion
14. Israel $10 billion (164,000 active duty military personnel)
15. Canada $8 billion (57,000 active duty military personnel)
16. Turkey $7 billion
17. Spain $7 billion (144,000 active duty military personnel)
18. Australia $7 billion (51,000 active duty military personnel)
19. Netherlands $6 billion (50,000 active duty military personnel)
20. Mexico $6 billion (193,000 active duty military personnel).
Thus, there are only seventeen other countries in the world that have even 2% or more of the U.S. military budget, and a majority of them are close U.S. military allies.
The top twenty list when it comes to active duty military personnel is similar, although not identical (the numbers shown are rounded to the nearest thousand):
1. China 2,310,000
2. United States 1,368,000
3. India 1,263,000
4. North Korea 1,082,000 (military budget $2 billion)
5. Russia 977,000
6. South Korea 683,000
7. Pakistan 620,000 (military budget $2 billion)
8. Turkey 515,000
9. Iran 513,000 (military budget $5 billion)
10. Vietnam 484,000 (military budget $2 billion)
11. Egypt 443,000 (military budget $4 billion)
12. Iraq (pre-war) 424,000 (military budget $1 billion)
13. Taiwan 370,000
14. Myanmar (aka Burma) 344,000 (military budget $1 billion)
15. Syria 321,000 (military budget $2 billion)
16. Germany 308,000
17. Thailand 306,000 (military budget $2 billion)
18. Ukraine 303,000 (military budget $5 billion)
19. Indonesia 297,000 (military budget $1 billion)
20. Brazil 288,000
The 31 countries listed above comprise the most powerful military forces in the world (perhaps omitting a handful which just barely miss the cut above, but are strong in a particular area, like Greece's significant naval forces). Yet, even among them many at the bottom of the two lists above are comparative bit players compared to military powerhouses like the United States, Russia and China.
Characteristics of the World's Lesser Warlords
There are, at least, 140 sovereign countries not listed above, and likewise, no insurgent force in the world is listed above. This post is really above them, and merely mentions the greater military powers becuase a process of elimination is easier to do, given the number of countries involved in each group.
Every military force not listed above on either list has a military budget of $5.6 billion or less, and an active duty force of under 255,000 military personnel. Most countries not listed have far less money to spend, and far few troops than that. No country not listed above has nuclear weapons.
Looking at foreign naviess leads to a similar analysis. The only country not listed above with a surface combatant (i.e. warship) of destroyer size or larger is Greece, the rest of the countries in the world have no warships largest than frigates, the smallest class of warship in the U.S. Navy (often around 3,000 tons). In addition to Greece, Columbia (which has four submarines) and Argentina (which has four frigates and three submarines) are the only countries in the world not listed above which could conceivably somehow end up hostile to the United States in the conceivable future whose navies have more than a couple of submarines.
Finally, almost no country not listed above, other than South Africa which developed a significant domestic arms industry when it was isolated internationally during the apartheid regime, has its own significant defense industry. None of the countries (or insurgencies) not listed above has the capacity to build military aircraft, or naval ships or submarines, or intercontinental ballistic missiles, or military satellites of its own. Most countries not listed would be hard pressed to build their own tanks, armored personnel carriers, artillery pieces, rifles, ammunition and anti-tank missiles. In practice, almost every country not listed above buys its military equipment from somebody else in the international arms market (most often, the U.S., Russia, China, or a NATO member), often second hand when a wealthier country's military no longer needs or wants it, and occassional, from transnational companies to which their own industries contribute minor components.
Insurgent military forces are typically even more strapped. The only insurgency in the entire world I am aware of which has used a submarine (and it only has one or two) is in Columbia, and it didn't make it from scratch. I am aware of no insurgency in the world that has a ship as capable as a frigate at its disposal. Likewise, I am not aware of any insurgency in the world that has even a single jet fighter, or a single plane designed to be a military bomber or a helicopter gunship at its disposal. While a number of military insurgencies use light towed artillery pieces, mortars or mobile rocket launchers, I known of none that have a large self-propelled artillery piece (like the U.S. Paladin or the Bradley fighting vehicle based MLRS system used by the U.S. military) or cruise missiles larger than man portable anti-aircraft missiles like the "Stinger" at their disposal. Few insurgencies have even a single tank.
The lesser military powers can be broken up into rich, but small countries and poor countries that aren't third world superpowers. The ranks of the wealthy but small countries include countries like Austria, Denmark, Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Singapore and Switzerland, as well as mineral rich countries like Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE, Brunei and South Africa. Countries representative of the less affluent nations include Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Congo (both), Eritrea, Ethiopa, Malaysia, Paraguay, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Yemen.
Of course, some countries are intermediate. Where does not fit Serbia, Morocco, or Chile?
Why should we care about these lesser warlords? Because they are the ones doing much of the world's actual war fighting, and many could conceivably end up crosswise with a United States force at some point in time. Better understanding the world's lesser warlords is key to knowing what kinds of tactics we need to train for, what kinds of threats our own military spending needs to be able to counter, and where our vulnerabilities may be. Moreover, because so many of the world's wars are being fought by these types of military powers, there is a wealth of information from which U.S. military planners can derive lessons learned about what does and does not work in conflicts with such military forces, without doing so the hard way, as they are currently doing in Iraq, at a price of American blood and treasure.
Equally important, necessity is the mother of invention. One of the great temptations facing a military planner in the Pentagon is to favor expensive solutions to problems that are only marginally more effective (or even less effective than) less expensive solutions to the same problem. For example, many countries use commercial off the shelf manned general aviation fixed wing aircraft (think cousins of the Cessna and low end Lear Jets) for reconnaisance in low intensity conflict situations, because they can't afford more. Is there a place for that kind of system instead of more expensive drones or helicopters or purpose built reconnaisance systems in the U.S. military?
Reaching those conclusions is a task for another day, but today, I simply note that the lesser warlords are out there in large numbers and deserve more attention.