Which Countries Would Defeat Britain In A War? We Find Out

The UK is seen around the world as a major military power. Throughout history Great Britain has had many military victories, including World War One and Two, and dominated the world through its empire for centuries. However, today there are other countries with significant militaries. So, are there are countries today that could defeat Britain in war?

There are several countries that could defeat Britain in a war. China, Russia, America, North Korea and Vietnam all have larger armies that the UK. If Britain fought alone against any of these nations, it would likely be defeated.

…but that’s just an overview, if we really want to see which countries would win a war against the UK, we need to look at the data.

Is There A Country That Could Defeat Britain?

Britain is a major military power and has one of the strongest armies in Europe. However, its armed forces are much weaker than major military powers such as US, Russia and China. All three of these countries would defeat the UK in a war.

If we are going to ask if one nation, fighting alone, could defeat the British armed forces, then we need to look at the most powerful armies in the world, and compare their military strength to that of the UK. Any army that was smaller than Britain’s, or around the same size, would be unlikely to secure a decisive victory over Britain.

The countries with the largest armies in the world are China, Russia, America, North Korea, India and Vietnam. Let’s compare the size of their militaries to the British.

CountryNumber of Active-Duty SoldiersNumber of ReservistsNumber of Main Battle TanksNumber of Combat AircraftNumber of Warships
Great Britain148,50078,60022722537
United States1,388,100844,0506,2092,628490
North Korea1,280,000600,0003,500537630
All date from Wikipedia

America has one of the largest and most sophisticated militaries in the world. Its army is also massive compared to Great Britain’s. The US has almost ten times the active-duty soldiers than the UK does, ten times the tanks, thousands more combat aircraft and over thirteen times the warships. Any war between Britain and America would be won by the US easily.

China has the biggest army in the world if you combine active-duty personnel with reservists. There are 14 times more active-duty soldiers in the Chinese army than the British. China also has 24 times more tanks. The Chinese navy and air forces are also huge compared to the UK. It is clear that China would easily win a war against Britain.

Russia has a massive army. Although the recent conflict in Ukraine has shown the Russian armed forces have some issues, their sheer size compared to the UK’s army means Russia would almost certainly defeat Britain in a war.

Vietnam has a much smaller number of active-duty solders than many other major military powers. However, the country has an incredibly large number of reservists – almost double any other nation. The sheer number of soldiers Vietnam could deploy in a war against Britain makes it clear that the UK would be defeated.

North Korea has a military much larger than the UK. Although the armed forces of the DPRK may not be as advanced as the British military, the huge number of personnel the country could deploy would mean it would almost certainly win a war against Great Britain.

India is a major military power. The country has close ties to the UK and a war between Britain and India is almost impossible to conceive. However, if they did enter a conflict against each other, India’s far larger army means it would win.

Is There A Country In Europe That Could Defeat The UK In A War?

So, having looked at the military strengths of major global powers, it is clear that all could win a war against Britain. However, a war between the UK and one of the countries – almost all of which are located thousands of miles away, is quite unrealistic. But what about in Europe? Is there a country on the continent that could win a war against Great Britain?

There is no country in Europe that could easily defeat the UK in a war. Other major European military powers, including France, Germany, Spain and Italy, all have armies about the same size as Britain. This means it is not clear that any of them could win a conflict against the UK.

…ok, so now let’s look at the data.

CountryNumber of Active-Duty SoldiersNumber of ReservistsNumber of Main Battle TanksNumber of Combat AircraftNumber of Warships
Great Britain148,50078,60022722537
All date from Wikipedia

As we can see, all the major military powers in Europe have armed forces that are about the same size. This means that it isn’t clear, just looking at military strength, whether any of these nations would win a war against Great Britain. This would mean, if a war did breakout, factors such as alliances, tactics, geography, motivation to fight and supply chain would all be key to determining the outcome of the conflict.

Why Can So Many Countries Defeat Britain?

As we’ve seen, all the major global military powers would win a war against the UK. In Europe, there are several countries that could possibly defeat Britain, or at least the outcome of a conflict would be hard to predict. So why is the UK, a country considered a sizable military power, so easy to win a war against? Actually, there are four reasons:

  • Britain has a relatively small military
  • The UK army is designed to work as part of NATO
  • Britain faces no immediate threats
  • Britain has shrunk its armed forces in recent years

Let’s take a quick look at each of these…

Britain Has A Relatively Small Military

A first reason why the UK could be easily defeated is because it actually has quite a small army. With less than 150,000 active-duty personnel, Britain has one of the lowest number of troops of any major power. The UK simply can’t field the number of soldiers that many other countries with much larger armies can. This means many nations can win a war against Britain.

The UK Army Is Designed To Work As Part Of NATO

A second reason why the UK would lose a war against many other countries, if it fought alone, is because the UK designs its military to operate as part of the NATO alliance. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a defensive alliance made up 30 North American and European countries. NATO’s main goal is to provide collective defense to its member states. The UK was founding member of NATO, and has for decades constructed its military expecting to fight a conflict alongside its NATO allies, not alone. This is why if we are only looking at Britain’s military strength, many countries can defeat it.

Britain Faces No Immediate Threats

Another reason why Britain is easy to win a war against is because the UK has no immediate threats. A result of this is that the UK has a quite a small army. There are no nations close to the UK that are likely to attack or invade it. Therefore the UK has an army that is smaller than many other countries. However, this does mean that if the UK has to fight a war alone, even if that’s a very unlikely prospect, it would likely lose.

Britain Has Shrunk Its Armed Forces In Recent Years

A final reason why the UK can be defeated by many other countries is because, in recent years, the UK has reduced the size of its military. In 1950, the British army had 364,000 active-duty personnel, in 2022, it had only 148,500. Consecutive UK governments have reduced the size of the country’s army, partly because modern technology allows for a smaller fighting force to still be effective; partly also because of a perceived lack of threats, but also because the UK has chosen to reallocate defense spending towards areas like healthcare and education. One result of this, however, it that Britain is now quite an easy nation to defeat in a war.

Global Affairs Explained

Global Affairs Explained is an ongoing project aiming to provide concise guides to world events. Focusing on international relations, history, and geo-politics, Global Affairs Explained uses original research and data to answer questions often not covered by traditional media.

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