The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Militarism is an ideology which claims that military strength is the source of all security, and that the military represents the forward direction of the society as a whole, as it expands into the world, asserting its influence. Militarism asserts that civilian populations are dependent upon (and thereby must be subservient to) the needs and goals of its military as the military may claim. While military preparedness may refer to aggreeable and practical matters related to defense, "militarism" connotes the more broad doctrinal views which claim the notion of "peace through strength" as supreme among the interests of society — overriding all others, including diplomacy and issues related to social welfare.

Militarism tends to be defined in direct opposition to peace movements in modern times. Historically the term occurred with reference to specific states engaged in imperialism, e.g. Sparta, Empire of Japan, British Empire, German Empire and Nazi Germany, First French Empire, New Roman Empire of Mussolini, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Today it is often applied to the loosely allied Anglo-Saxon powers led by the United States (along with the United Kingdom and Australia), and others such as China, France, Israel, North Korea, Iran and Syria.

Miltarism is sometimes contrasted with the concepts of comprehensive national power and soft power and hard power. For example, the current Chinese leadership believes that a strong China is necessary to national security, but that the military is only one component of national power, and that an excessive focus on the military may lead to less national power in areas such as the civilian economy. Nonetheless, militaristic themes often predominate in Chinese attitudes such as the dispute with Taiwan.

One aspect of militarism is the ascendancy of a small clique of military officers to unchallenged power, as in Iraq, Nazi Germany, and most of Latin America up until the 1980s. Nevertheless, although many militaristic states are military dictatorships, militarism is not synonymous with dictatorship or authoritarianism; liberal democracy and militarism are not mutually exclusive.

One way to measure militarism is the percentage of a country's GDP that is spent on the military. In 2001, North Korea had the highest expenditure of 31.3% of national GDP, followed by Angola (22% in 1999), Eritrea (19.8% in 2001), Saudi Arabia (13% in 2000), Ethiopia (12.6% in 2000), Oman (12.2% in 2001), Qatar (10% in 2000/2001), Israel (8.75% in 2002), Jordan (8.6% in 2001), and Maldives (8.6% in 2001). [1]

Another measure that has been commonly used is the number of military personnel per capita.


  • Huntington, Samuel P.. Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations. Cambridge: Belknap Pressof Harvard University Press, 1981.
  • Shaw, Martin. Post-Military Society: Militarism, Demilitarization and War at the End of the Twentieth Century. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992
  • Vagts, Alfred. A History of Militarism. New York : Meridian Books, 1959.

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04