The word “population” doesn’t come up too often in national security debates, yet, a shift may be coming, as global population reaches the seven billion
mark this year, youth-led unrest rocks the Middle East
, and questions of aging
enter the lexicon of policymakers from Japan and South Korea to Europe and the United States. What does a population of nine billion (the UN medium-variant projection for 2050) mean for global security? How will shrinking populations in Europe affect Western military alliances and operations? Is demography destiny?
The latter question has plagued demographers, policymakers, and academics for centuries, resulting in heated debate and dire warnings. Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba continues this debate in her new book, The Future Faces of War: Population and National Security, but with a decidedly more measured and optimistic tone (full disclosure: Sciubba was one of my professors). The book is targeted at policymakers but is accessible to anyone with an interest in the field of demography and national security. She will launch her book at an event hosted by the Wilson Center on March 14.
Turning Challenge Into Opportunity
The main themes of The Future Faces of War are challenge and opportunity. Yes, national security will be tested by a series of evolving demographic trends in the decades ahead, but with proper insight and preparation, states can turn these challenges into opportunities for growth and betterment. Sciubba writes, “How a state deals with its demographic situation – or any other situation for that matter – is more important than the trends themselves” (p.125).
Part of turning these population challenges into opportunity is understanding long-term trends – a daunting task given the range and number of trends to consider. Drawing on her own experiences in the defense community, Sciubba writes how policymakers were “receptive” to the idea of population influencing national security, but that the “overwhelming number of ways demography seemed to matter” made them hesitant to act (p.3). With the publication of this book, which clearly and concisely outlines the basics of each population trend with demonstrative examples, hopefully that hesitation will be turned into action.
Youth and Conflict
The first population trend Sciubba highlights is perhaps the one of most immediate concern to national security policymakers given recent world events. In the chapter “Youth and Youthful Age Structures,” Sciubba discusses the security implications of those countries (in particular those in Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia) with a majority of their population under the age of 29. She writes, “Most important for national security, countries with youthful age structures are generally the least developed and least democratic in the world, and tend to have the highest risk of civil conflict” (p. 18). In fact, between 1970 and 1999 countries with very young and youthful age structures were two to four times more likely to experience civil conflict than countries with more mature age structures.
The risks of very young and youthful populations are well documented (Sciubba cites the examples of Somali piracy, religious extremism, and child soldiers in Africa), but what has not been as widely discussed are the opportunities. Youthful states have a large pool of potential recruits for their armies, plenty of workers to drive economic development, and even an opportunity to grow democratically through social protest. Sciubba writes, “Youth can also be a force for positive political change as they demand representation and inclusion in the political process… social protest is not always a bad thing, even if it does threaten a country’s stability, because it may lead to more representative governance or other benefits” (p. 23). (For more on youth and the transition to democracy, see “Half a Chance: Youth Bulges and Transition to Democracy,” by Richard Cincotta, and his recent blog post about the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia).
Graying of the Great Powers
At the other end of the demographic transition is population aging. Sciubba points out that the countries with the highest proportions of people aged 60 and older are also “some of the world’s most powerful and economically or politically strategic states” (p. 42). Europe, Japan, and the United States are all getting older (though the United States to a slightly lesser extent), and Sciubba states that the “graying” of these countries has the potential to greatly limit military preparedness, size, and funding. She points out that the number of recruits available will be much smaller and more money will have to be spent on pensions and health care for the growing number of elderly persons.
To counteract these challenges, Sciubba recommends that aging states seek out alliances with each other and countries with younger populations. She writes, “As part of strong alliances, states have strength in numbers, even if they are individually weakened by aging” (p. 47). Another alternative would be to improve military technology and efficiency to compensate for the drop in personnel.
Migration and Security: A “Unique” Relationship
Migration, the third pillar of demographic change after fertility and mortality, has what Sciubba calls a “unique relationship to national security” (p.83). Migration “is the only population driver that can change the composition of a state or a community within months, weeks, or even days” (p. 83). Mass migrations (such as those caused by a natural disaster or violent conflict) are the best examples of this trend. Some of the security challenges Sciubba highlights about migration are refugee militarization, competition for resources, and identity struggles among the native and migrant populations.
However, Sciubba also argues that both migrants and receiving countries can benefit. Origin states release pressure on their crowded labor markets and earn income from remittances, while receiving countries increase their labor market and mitigate population decline (a key component of U.S. growth).
Much of this has been studied before, but two new developments in migration trends that Sciubba calls to our attention are what she calls the “feminization of migration” (the increasing number of women who are likely to move for economic reasons) and migration as a result of climate change. Both are intriguing new areas of inquiry that deserve further study, but only get a passing mention in the book.
Making Her Case
The basic trends outlined above are only a small sampling of the wealth of information to be found in The Future Faces of War. Other noteworthy topics include a discussion on transitional age structures, urbanization, gender imbalances, HIV/AIDS, differential growth among ethnic groups, and many more. The topics are varied and wide-ranging and yet, Sciubba manages to connect them and makes her case convincingly for their inclusion in the broader national security dialogue. Sciubba has briefly written about many of these topics before, but this is the first time she (or anyone else, for that matter) has brought them together in one comprehensive book with such a focus on national security.
Christina Daggett is an intern with ECSP and a former student of Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba’s at Rhodes College.
Sources: Population Action International.
Photo Credits: “Children at IDP Camp Playful During UNAMID Patrol,” courtesy of flickr user United Nations Photo. Book cover image provided by, and used with the permission of, Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba and ABC-CLIO.