A standing army, unlike a reserve army, is a permanent, often professional, army. It is composed of full-time soldiers (who may be either career soldiers or conscripts) and is not disbanded during times of peace. It differs from army reserves, who are enrolled for the long term, but activated only during wars or natural disasters, and temporary armies, which are raised from the civilian population only during a war or threat of war and disbanded once the war or threat is over. Standing armies tend to be better equipped, better trained, and better prepared for emergencies, defensive deterrence, and particularly, wars. The term dates from approximately 1600, although the phenomenon it describes is much older.
The first known standing armies in Europe were in ancient Greece. The male citizen body of ancient Sparta functioned as a standing army, unlike all other city-states (Poleis), whose armies were citizen militias. The existence of an enslaved population of Helots liberated the Spartiates from the need to work for a living, enabling them to focus their time and energy on martial training. Philip II of Macedon instituted the first professional army, with soldiers and cavalrymen paid for their service year-round, rather than a militia of men who mostly farmed the land for subsistence and occasionally mustered for campaigns.
In his influential work The Wealth of Nations (1776), economist Adam Smith comments that standing armies are a sign of modernizing society as modern warfare requires the increased skill and discipline of regularly trained standing armies.
In Great Britain, and the British Colonies in America, there was a sentiment of distrust of a standing army not under civilian control. In England, this led to the Bill of Rights 1689, which reserves authority over a standing army to Parliament, not the King, and in the United States, led to the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 8) which reserves by virtue of "power of the purse" similar authority to Congress, instead of to the President. The President, however, retains command of the armed forces when they are raised, as commander-in-chief. In the course of this constitutional debate, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, arguing against a large standing army, compared it, mischievously, to a standing penis: "An excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure."
- Regular army
- List of countries without armed forces
- List of countries by number of military and paramilitary personnel
- Wills, Garry (1999). A Necessary Evil, A History of American Distrust of Government New York, N.Y.; Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-84489-3
- Standing army, Dictionary.com; accessed 2012.03.22.
- Howard, Michael (2002). Transnationalism in Ancient and Medieval Societies: The Role of Cross-Border Trade and Travel. McFarland. p. 36. ISBN 978-0786468034. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
- Schwartzwald, Jack (2014). The Ancient Near East, Greece and Rome: A Brief History. McFarland. p. 24. ISBN 978-0786478064.
- Roy, Kaushik (2015-06-03). Warfare in Pre-British India – 1500BCE to 1740CE. Routledge. ISBN 9781317586913.
- Lord Kinross (1977). Ottoman Centuries: The Rise and Fall of the Turkish Empire. New York: Morrow Quill Paperbacks, 52. ISBN 0-688-08093-6.
- Goodwin, Jason (1998). Lords of the Horizons: A History of the Ottoman Empire. New York: H. Holt, 59,179-181. ISBN 0-8050-4081-1.
- Smith, Adam. (1776) An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the Wealth of Nations Book 5. Chapter 1. Part 1.
- Hamner, Christopher. "American Resistance to a Standing Army". Teachinghistory.org. Accessed 30 June 2011.
- Isaacson, Walter (2003). Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster. p. 456. ISBN 0-684-80761-0.