The military is considered one of the basic elements of a country. Typically, it is charged with defending the integrity of the state's borders and, occasionally, with carrying out offensive action against other states.

In the past, in some societies, there was no distinct military class. The defence of the country would be undertaken, when necessary, by ordinary citizens. Switzerland and Israel both still have similar citizen armies today. In other cases, a small military class would be supplemented in times of war by citizen levies.

Historically, the existence of the military outside of wartime, known as a standing army, has been controversial. Many 18th century philosophers and writers denounced standing armies as tools of tyranny which allowed unscrupulous rulers to exploit and oppress their people. In the modern world, however, it has come to be generally accepted that the only way for a country to be adequately prepared for war is to have a military in continuous existence. Despite this, there are a few countries, for example Iceland and Panama, which do not maintain a military.

Many countries enforce a period of compulsory military service on young men; others have volunteer-based military service and practise conscription only during times of national emergency such as wars.

Most modern militaries have at least three distinct branches of military service : an army, which focuses on land-based warfare; an air force; and a navy.

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