States without military forces

Currently about 26 million people, about a third of one percent of the global population, live in countries which do not have, nor are they seeking to obtain, formal military forces.  Despite the consistently stated goal of general and complete disarmament, few states have completed the disarmament process, as a national priority, unilaterally. Fifteen[i] states do not possess, or no longer require, armed forces, and can pursue national development economically unencumbered by a military burden. Several others maintain only border guards.[ii]

A precise list of the number of states which do not have military forces is difficult to compile, since there is no agreed definition of what is an ‘unarmed state’. For the purposes of this report the author uses the following definition: the state concerned does not have an Army, Air Force or Navy, and existing security entities have not acquired heavy weapons which have offensive capabilities. An unarmed state can, and most likely will, have police services, and a border or coast guard. The later may have ships or air surveillance vehicles, but which are unarmed.

Some states have never prioritized the creation of a military since their birth as an independent state, quite a few of which are small Pacific island states. However, the fact that a state did not originally chose to build a military force is not to be taken lightly, given significant pressure to do so in today’s highly militarized world. Many states which do not require military forces have acquired one anyway, either because they believe that a modern state must have one, or because they believe that to be respected by the international community they must have a military force, or because other states offered military assistance and material, or because of a desire to be a part of regional or international military activities, or regional military organizations. The following is a brief survey of governments which do not maintain armed forces, followed by observations about what this means for a global movement toward general and complete disarmament.

Costa Rica formally disbanded its military in 1948. This came about as a consequence of a very brief civil war in which the military allied itself with one political faction to the conflict, the faction which lost. Subsequent to the conflict, the new government formally disbanded the national army and turned over the grounds of the former army barracks to the national university (which turned it into a museum), and in 1949 amended the constitution of the country to make the abolition of the military permanent. On the day of the dissolution of the military, the government made it known that the former military budget would be applied to the national education budget. Public opinion polls reportedly show continued high support for not having a military force. In 1986, then President Oscar Arias promulgated a public law making 1 December Military Abolition Day. Costa Rica has consistently offered assistance to other countries who will consider abolition of their standing army. In 2009 addressing the United Nations General Assembly, then President Oscar Arias asked for support for a ‘Costa Rica Consensus’, an international mechanism which would remove external debt from a highly indebted country which significantly reduces military expenditures and instead prioritize national expenditures on human development.[iii]

Panama‘s military was abolished in 1990 following the United States invasion and the seizure of Panamanian military supremo Manuel Noriega. In 1994, the Panamanian Parliament unanimously decided to amend its constitution reflecting the decision to abolish the national military. Panama does maintain a national police force and coast guard and a national aeronaval service, none of which have heavy weaponry.

Haiti, under the presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1995, disbanded its widely despised National Army. Some elements of the former military waged guerrilla warfare and in 2004 staged a coup to oust Aristide, but the military forces were not reconstituted. Subsequently, in 2012, some 2-3000 former military officers publicly regrouped and rearmed themselves and occupied former military bases in a unilateral effort to force the government to re-establish the army. France, Brazil and Ecuador have offered to provide assistance in reforming the national army in Haiti. The UN, however, believes this could cause conflict in Haitian society due to the widespread human rights abuses committed by the former national armed forces, and detract from international efforts to build up an effective national police force.[iv]

Iceland has not maintained a military force, but it has allowed foreign military forces to be housed on the island. During the Second World War, Iceland allowed the construction of an extensive US base. Post WWII, Iceland was approached to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Iceland agreed to become a charter member of the military alliance with the unique understanding that its membership would not require it to establish an armed force, for which it stated no resources were available. Additionally it stated it would not allow for the basing of foreign forces on the island in peacetime. However, NATO began to exert pressure on Iceland to make some kind of military commitment. This resulted in the establishment of the Iceland Defence Force, oddly named since it was entirely made up of US military personnel. The Iceland Defence Force was reportedly under the joint control of Iceland and the United States and based on the island from 1951 to 2006, when it was dissolved because the US needed its military forces elsewhere. No other military entity has been formed since its departure.[v]

Andorra, Liechtenstein and Monaco are three European Principalities which are unarmed, and have been for centuries. All are UN member states and members of the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. None are members of the EU. The Principality of Andorra has no military forces. It is the last remaining ‘March State’, created in the Eighth Century as a buffer state between Moorish Spain and Christian France. It established its first parliament in the 1400s. The Principality of Monaco also does not maintain a military force with the exception of a ceremonial palace guard. It abandoned military efforts in the 17th century when advances in warfare (development of cannon) left it defenseless. Both Andorra and Monaco have  defense pacts with France and became UN member states in 1993. The Principality of Liechtenstein abolished its military in 1868 for financial reasons but has a national police force. It became a UN member state in 1990. All three declared neutrality during WWII, of the three only Monaco was occupied.

Grenada gained independence from Britain in 1974 and did not establish an armed force. In the late 70s a pro-communist political movement vying for power within the country established an armed wing, the National Liberation Army. After seizing power, it was transformed into the Grenada’s People’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, (PRAF) and grew rapidly in size. In 1983 the country’s Deputy PM, backed by the PRAF undertook a coup. In subsequent days the PM and many of his ministers were executed. The PRAF then set up the short lived Military Revolutionary Council government. Within the same month, the United States invaded the island and brought an end to the existence of the PRAF, and to the political movement to which it was tied.. Subsequently, Grenada again possessed no military forces, but has a small national police force and coast guard. Grenada is party to the 1996 Regional Security System joint security pact which pledges common action should any of its members be attacked.[vi]

Neither Saint Lucia nor Saint Vincent and the Grenadines established an armed force following their independence. Both have a national police force, a single very small para-military unit, and a coast guard.  With Grenada, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are party to the 1996 Regional Security System joint security pact which pledges common action should any of its members be militarily attacked.[vii]

Mauritius is an island state in the Indian Ocean some 500 miles east of Madagascar. It is a member of both the African Union and the Commonwealth and is comprised of an amalgam of  European, Indian and African people. The island gained independence in 1968, and has no military force. It does have a national police force and coast guard.

Palau was colonized by a sequence of European and Asian governments until the end of WWII at which time they became part of the US administered territories in the Pacific. Palau became independent in 1994, and has no military forces. It relies on the US coast guard for patrols of its waters through a defense pact which runs for 50 years after independence.[viii]

The Solomon Islands did not have a military at independence in 1978. However two major ethnic groups developed paramilitary organizations during the civil war. The national police force is being re-constituted with the assistance of a regional initiative supported by Australia. The Solomon Islands is one of the few countries to have a Ministry of Peace, which is also a post-conflict institution within the country.

The Pacific Island States of Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Nauru, Samoa and Tuvalu do not have military forces. Kiribati has a police force and coast guard. The Marshall Islands also has a police force and coast guard. Like Palau, it has a compact with the US to provide for its defence. The FSM also has a police force and coast guard and has a compact with the US to provide for its defence. Nauru has a police force and an informal defence agreement with Australia. Samoa has a police force and coast guard and an agreement with New Zealand to provide for its defence.  Tuvalu has a police force and coast guard.

The Holy See (Vatican) does not maintain a military force, but does have a ceremonial guard. Its strict neutrality prohibits it from seeking a military defence pact with any state.Kosovo and the Occupied Palestinian Territories do not possess formal military forces. Kosovo’s defence is provided by the International Stabilization Forces. While the OPT does not have formal military forces, some Palestinian political factions have well armed wings capable of offensive military activity.


[i]  Andorra, Costa Rica, Grenada, Kiribati, Liechtenstein, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vatican City.

[ii]  Haiti, Iceland, Mauritius, Monaco, Panama, Vanuatu all maintain Border or Coast Guards, in addition to a Police Force, with small arms, but not heavy weapons.

[iii]  Óscar Arias Sánchez President of Costa Rica: UN General Assembly Address, Maxims News Network, 9 October 2009.

[iv]  “Haiti holds dozens of ex-soldiers for pro-army protests”, BBC 21 May 2012,   also “Haiti’s former soldiers demand reinstatement of army”, the Guardian, 1 May 2012,   also “Reviving Haiti’s army would harm democracy” Miami Herald, 6 September 2012,

[v]  Iceland Defense Force, Global, undated,

[vi]  The treaty applies to: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, The Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines. “Treaty Establishing the Regional Security System” (1996),

[vii]  The treaty applies to: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, The Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Saint Christopher and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and The Grenadines. “Treaty Establishing the Regional Security System” (1996),

[viii]  “Compact of Free Association”,