›April 7, 2014 // By Richard Cincotta
Just months after popular uprisings toppled Tunisia and Egypt’s authoritarian regimes, a trio of complex-system researchers published a brief article linking these demonstrations with high levels of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s international Food Price Index. Marco Lagi, Karla Bertrand, and Yaneer Bar-Yam’s model, which predicts outbreaks of deadly social conflict when the index tops 210, has since become a popular explanation wielded by many for bouts of popular unrest, including the Arab Spring and overthrow of Ukraine’s government. But were food prices really an underlying “hidden” cause for the start of a wave of instability that is still being felt today?
›May 9, 2013 // By Richard Cincotta
Once considered a model for Sahelian democracy, Mali’s liberal regime (assessed as “free” in Freedom House’s annual survey of democratic governance continuously from 2000 to 2011) virtually disintegrated in March 2012 when a group of junior army officers, frustrated by the central government’s half-hearted response to a rebellion in the state’s vast northern tier, found themselves – somewhat accidently – in control of the state.
›The original version of this article, by Richard Cincotta, appeared on the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 Blog. It is the first post in a series on population aging, featuring Jack Goldstone, Richard Jackson, Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba, Ronald Lee, Andrew Mason, Toshi Yoshihara, Elizabeth H Stephen, David Coleman, and Eric Kaufmann.
This series, Population Aging to 2030, begins with an introductory essay aimed at familiarizing readers with some of the demographic and geographic particulars of this phenomenon, and with several key demographic terms. The term most in need of definition is, of course, “population aging.”
›October 13, 2011 // By Richard CincottaFrom a demographic perspective, the global distribution of intrastate conflicts is not what it used to be. During the latter half of the 20th century, the states with the most youthful populations (median age of 25.0 years or less) were consistently the most at risk of being engaged in civil or ethnoreligious conflict (circumstances where either ethnic or religious factors, or both, come into play). However, this tight relationship has loosened over the past decade, with the propensity of conflict rising significantly for countries with intermediate age structures (median age 25.1 to 35.0 years) and actually dipping for those with youthful age structures (see Figure 1 below).
Why has this relationship changed? At least two underlying trends help explain the shift:
- Over the last two decades, the deployment of peace support operations to countries with youthful populations has surged (described in a previous post on New Security Beat); and
- Ethnoreligious conflicts have gradually, though noticeably, increased among a group of states with a median age greater than 25.0 years (including Thailand, Turkey, and Russia).
Youthful Minorities, Older Majorities
National level comparisons of total fertility rates tend to communicate the false impression of a world with demographically homogeneous states. When available, sub-national data present a very different picture.
minority-majority fertility gaps have become increasingly apparent since the 1960s, as modern contraception has been disseminated through public programs and sold to clients who can afford it through private sources. Most recently, Neil Howe and Richard Jackson have warned that hopes for a “demographic peace” – a world of states with mature age structures, each with a depressed risk of intrastate conflict – are likely to be thwarted by uneven fertility declines among ethnoreligious groups in youthful states, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
In his demographic studies of Lebanon during the late 1970s, Joseph Chamie documented a steady decline in marital fertility among Lebanese Christians (of all types), as well as the emigration of members of this community to the West. Next, Sunnis and Druze entered their fertility transitions, leaving behind Lebanese Shiites – the most rural, the most religious, and the most economically and politically marginalized of Lebanon’s four major ethnoreligious communities. Despite recent fertility declines, the age structure of Lebanese Shiites remains the most youthful and fastest growing of Lebanon’s major ethnoreligious communities. To proponents of the youth-bulge hypothesis this data would suggest that, among Lebanon’s communities, young Shiite men should be the easiest to mobilize and the least risk averse – and for those proponents, it helps explain the rise and durability of Hezbollah.
A similar underlying demographic gap marked Sri Lanka’s civil war (1983 to 2009). As early as the mid-1960s, fertility declines had been noted among the majority Sinhalese population. However, the fertility transition in the rural Tamil community, situated in the northeast corner of the island, lagged behind by nearly two decades. In the early 1980s when Tamil demands for political reforms were rebuffed by Sri Lanka’s government, thousands of young Tamils were mobilized by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, creating an insurgent organization that was able to wage a guerilla war for nearly three decades. According to the UN, the conflict took the lives of more than 80,000 Sri Lankans, nearly 1,200 Indian peacekeepers, and ultimately prompted thousands of Sri Lankan Tamilians to emigrate.
This demographic pattern characterizes other intrastate conflicts. Currently, similar configurations typify strife involving ethnic Kurds in Turkey, the Pattani Muslims in southern Thailand, Palestinians in the full extent of Israeli-controlled territory, and the Baluch in eastern Iran. Like the conflicts in the Indonesian states of Aceh (ending in 2004) and East Nusa Tengarra (from 1999 to 2003), some have terminated in political settlement. Yet in youthful, economically depressed, politically embittered geographic corners of otherwise developed states, conflicts involving a youthful minority can grind on for decades, extracting debilitating political, social, and economic costs – like the Chechen conflict in southern Russia, which continues today, and Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” which dragged on from 1969 to 1998.
The Demographic Security Dilemma
Most social scientists are likely to explain a minority-majority gap in fertility and median age as the product of history and culture, an artifact of income differences, and/or the result of discriminatory policies or inadequate protections on the part of the state. While political demographers recognize these as contributing factors, they also identify the political volatility and rapid population growth of youthful minorities as central features in a dynamic relationship known as the demographic security dilemma.
Christian Leuprecht, arises when a state permits or promotes the political, economic, and social marginalization of an ethnoreligious minority. The recent historical record suggests that under conditions where modern education, economic opportunity, and quality services are denied, poorly developed, or poorly accessed, ethnoreligious minorities are likely to retain traditional gender relationships and local institutions that support high levels of marital fertility. As a result, whereas the more privileged, educated, and generally urbanized majority will ultimately experience the transition to lower fertility, high-fertility minorities confined to neglected rural regions and low-income urban neighborhoods lag, typically retaining their youthful age structure longer and sustaining a higher population growth rate than the majority.
An absence of proactive policies to bring youthful communities into the economic, social, and political mainstream tends to strengthen radical and traditionalist religious political organizations, which often take advantage by filling in gaps in local services and governance. Typically, they restrict girls’ access to education, thwart women’s attempts to gain social and economic autonomy, restrict speech, and campaign against modernization and secularization.
And thus the dilemma: The more states marginalize a dissonant minority, turn a blind eye to a minority’s exclusion from mainstream social and economic participation, or allow minorities to exclude themselves, the more those youthful minorities tend to grow as a proportion of the state’s population. (Notably, minority-state tensions do not naturally emerge out of the opposite circumstance: when the majority is youthful and the ethnoreligious minority is not – see Figure 2.)
Looking Beyond the Demographic Arc of Instability
For political demographers, it may be time for a broader definition of demographically at-risk states, a definition that takes sub-national groups into account. This new description acknowledges that the youthful age structure of a politically organized minority is a significant risk factor for intrastate conflict. Whereas for now and the near future, the vast majority of intrastate conflicts will emerge within the so-called demographic arc of instability – a geographic swath of states having a population with a median age less than or equal to 25 years – the acknowledgment of this emerging trend suggests that analysts should look beyond country-level demographic data for telltale signs of minorities that sustain a youthful age structure.
That’s easier said than done. Because of restrictions associated with ethnic and religious data collection and the political sensitivities surrounding conclusions drawn from these data, relatively few countries currently provide public access to data that are disaggregated by ethnic and religious affiliation. For now, analysts attempting to estimate qualities of a minority’s age structure must approximate from related measures, such as estimates of minority birth and death rates, fertility rates, and school attendance. Rather than being accessible from a central source, these are published in scattered government reports and in the international demographic and public health literature.
In the future, progress in discerning the political implications of minority demographic trends could hinge on the ability of researchers to gain access to ethnoreligious demographic data. For this to happen, many governments will have to overcome deep-seated political inhibitions and overturn laws prohibiting identification by ethnicity or religion, while data collectors will need to promote conditions that encourage survey participants to self-identify their ethnic and religious affiliations anonymously and without fear.
Despite persistent high fertility across sub-Saharan Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, UN demographers foresee a world in the not-too-distant future that will be dominated by states with populations near or below replacement-level fertility. In that future, foreign affairs analysts can expect the ethnoreligious composition of many states to be unstable and extremely sensitive to minority-majority fertility gaps. Yet if political scientists fail to acknowledge these and other demonstrable relationships between demographic trends and political tensions and transformations, analysts could once again be caught by surprise – much like they were during the onset of the Arab Spring.
Richard Cincotta is a consultant on political demography for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and demographer-in-residence at The Stimson Center.
Sources: Chamie (1981), Cincotta, Engelman, and Anastasion (2003), Fernando (1983), Fuller (1984), Jackson and Howe (2011), Leuprecht (2010), Puvanarajan and Indralal De Silva (2001), UN.
Image Credits: “Juventud 22,” courtesy of flickr user antitezo; charts arranged by Richard Cincotta, data from PRIO and the UN Population Division.
›August 22, 2011 // By Richard Cincottathe young and the war-torn.” This simple characterization regarding youth and conflict worked well, until the first decade of the 21st century. The proportion of youthful countries experiencing one or more violent intrastate conflicts declined from 25 percent in 1995 to 15 percent in 2005. What’s behind this encouraging slump in political unrest? One hypothesis is that peace support operations (PSOs) – peacekeepers, police units, and specialized observers that are led, authorized, or endorsed by the United Nations – have made a difference.
From the 1970s through the 1990s, more than 90 percent of all societal conflicts broke out in countries with a youthful age structure – a population with a median age of 25 years or less. And wherever civil and ethnic wars emerged, they tended to persist. The average societal conflict that began between 1970 and 1999 continued without a one-year break in battle-associated fatalities for about six years. Some – including the Angolan civil war, Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” Peru’s war against the Shining Path, and the Afghan civil war – endured for decades. In contrast, inter-state conflicts that began between 1970 and 1999 lasted, on average, less than two years (see the UCDP/PRIO Conflict Database).
Taking on Intra-State Conflicts
Beginning in the early 1990s, however, there was a marked expansion in size and number of PSOs deployed in the aftermath of societal warfare, which appears to have dampened the persistence of some conflicts and prevented the reemergence of others. The annual number of active PSOs deterring the re-emergence of societal conflict jumped from just 2 missions during 1985 to 22 in 2005. In contrast, those led, authorized, or endorsed by the UN to maintain cease-fire agreements between neighboring states during that same period only increased from three active missions to four. By 2009, nearly 100,000 peacekeepers were stationed in countries that had recently experienced a societal conflict. About 70 percent were deployed in countries with a youthful population (see Figures 2A and B). Why the sudden expansion in use of PSOs?
According to William Durch and Tobias Berkman, this upsurge was less a change of heart or modification of a global security strategy and more an outcome of the unraveling web of Cold War international relations. Before the 1990s, the majority of PSOs were United Nations-led operations that were mandated to monitor or help maintain cease-fires along mutual frontiers. Because insurgents were typically aligned with either the Soviets or a Western power, Security Council authorization to mediate a societal conflict was difficult to secure.
This situation changed with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the initiation of PSOs by regional organizations, including operations by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Liberia and Sierra Leone and the NATO-led Kosovo Force in 1998-99.
What do national demographic trends suggest for the demand for PSOs over the next two decades? For societal conflict, political demographers foresee that the demand for PSOs will continue to decline among states in Latin America and the Caribbean – with the exception of sustained risk in Guatemala, Haiti, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Similarly, demand for peacekeeping is expected to continue to ebb across continental East Asia.
Gauged by age structure alone, the risk of societal warfare is projected to remain high over the coming two decades in the western, central, and eastern portions of sub-Saharan Africa; in parts of the Middle East and South Asia; and in several Asian-Pacific island hotspots – Timor-Leste, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Solomon Islands. But even in some countries that are losing their youthful blush, domestic political relations could turn out less rosy than this simple age-structural model forecasts.
In other words, there are roadblocks to a “demographic peace.” Among them is an increasing propensity for a specific demographic configuration of ethnic conflict: warfare between state forces and organizations that recruit from a minority that is more youthful than the majority ethnic group. Examples of these conflicts include the Kurds in Turkey, the Shiites in Lebanon, the Pattani Muslims in southern Thailand, and the Chechens of southern Russia.
However, this twist on the youth bulge model of the risks of societal conflict is a discussion for another installment on New Security Beat. Suffice it to say that when political demographers look over the UN Population Division’s current demographic projections, they see few signs of either the waning of societal warfare, or the withering of the current level of demand for PSOs.
Richard Cincotta is a consultant on political demography for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and demographer-in-residence at The Stimson Center.
Sources: PRIO, The Stimson Center, UN Population Division.
Chart Credit: Data courtesy of the UN Population Division 2011, PRIO, and Durch and Berkman (2006). Arranged by Richard Cincotta.
›February 4, 2011 // By Richard CincottaThis post is a response to the questions and comments that my fellow demographers Elizabeth Leahy Madsen, Jack Goldstone, and Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba put to my recent assessment of Tunisia’s chances for democracy. I’ve divided my response to address the principal questions. (Note: Throughout, “young adults” refers to 15-24 year olds, and “working age population” refers to those between 15-64 years old.)
1. Tunisia’s age structure is still quite young – aren’t the effects associated with youth bulge still at work?
Tunisia’s age structure (median age, 29 years) is in the early stages of transiting between the instability that typically prevails in countries with youthful age structures (median age <25), and the stability that is typical of mature structures (median age between 35 to 45). I classify Tunisia’s age structure as intermediate (between 25 to 35). The Jasmine Revolution has featured a mix of both types of sociopolitical behavior: some violence and property damage, perpetuated by both the state and demonstrators; evidence of a mature, professionally-led institution (the Tunisian army); and demonstrations that are peaceful and in which women and older people participate.
By any legitimate youth bulge measure, Tunisia’s age-structure is similar to that of South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand’s during the mid-1990s. In 2010, Tunisia’s proportion of young adults in the working age population was almost precisely the same as South Korea’s in 1993. South Korea’s median age in 1993 was 28.5, compared to Tunisia’s 29 today.
Consistent with these numerical similarities, Tunisia’s political behavior is not much different than the sociopolitical events observed in South Korea, Taiwan, or Thailand in the early 1990s when these countries experienced an age structure of similar maturity. As these countries matured, political violence and destructive protests occurred less frequently but dissidence lingered in more peaceful, isolated incidents. For example, South Korea experienced several deadly anti-U.S. demonstrations in 1988-89 and only a few minor incidents in the early 1990s. By 1993, the public was demonstrating against extremism, and public protest had turned peaceful and symbolic.
Even today, public protest in Thailand (median age, 33 years) is commonplace. Thai political rights are constrained, and accordingly the country has been dropped in Freedom House’s annual assessment of political freedoms from “free” to “partly free.” However, unlike the student and worker riots that occurred sporadically throughout the 1970s and 80s, Thai demonstrations are typically non-confrontational political rallies attended by T-shirt-clad grandparents and families who bus into town for the event.
2. Why use the population’s median age rather than the youth bulge measures that political demographers (including me) have previously employed with considerable success?
I’m experimenting, and so far, I’ve found that median age replicates prior published results concerning civil conflict and stable liberal democracy. Median age’s ability to span the entire length of the demographic life-cycle of the state is its primary advantage. Youth bulge indicators do not; neither do indicators focused on working-age adults, nor those measuring seniors. In addition, median age integrates many factors that change in parallel with the age-structural transition, including income, education, women’s participation in society, secularization, and technological progress. Still, median age doesn’t track the youth bulge measures perfectly, so why use it?
Currently, foreign affairs policymakers see few linkages between a country’s (1) risk of civil and political violence; (2) its propensity to accumulate savings and human capital; (3) its chances of attaining stable liberal democracy; (4) the challenges that arise to adequately funding pensions and senior healthcare; and (5) rapid ethnic change in low fertility societies. Political demographers understand that these effects on the state are indeed related and that the rising and ebbing probabilities associated with these effects occur sequentially. Understanding this sequence is key to understanding the world’s international relations future. Median age allows political demographers to view that sequence.
As Jennifer Sciubba points out, the disadvantage of median age is its apparent lack of resonance with theories that have historically informed political demography, including theories of cohort crowding, dependent support, and life-cycle savings. I don’t believe that political and economic demographers should (or will) abandon these indicators, which help them observe the inner workings of age-structural phenomena. Nonetheless, I find it useful to make analysts aware of the advantageous and disadvantageous pressures that age structure exerts across the entire demographic life cycle of the state.
3. Can the deposed regime’s multi-faceted problems be captured by the age-structural transition?
No, age-structure cannot account for leadership – clumsy or deft, corrupt or honest. The method is limited to predictions that draw on sociopolitical behaviors that are associated with age structures, or by knowledge gained from deviations from these predictions. Nonetheless, I question the value of many of the after-the-fact observations of the Ben Ali Regime. Tunisia’s fallen regime was indeed oppressive, corrupt, and nepotistic – but so are most authoritarian regimes in Asia and Africa. Lack of job creation and preferential access to employment are valid grievances across much of the developing world, but the lack of informal sector statistics renders country comparisons difficult.
Some analysts have hypothesized that global warming has been a contributor (also applied to Egypt), others point to economic globalization and pressures on Tunisia’s middle class. Whether these assertions are wrong or right, it is difficult for me to see how such post hoc observations add to analysts’ knowledge of regime change or democratization or help them explain why other countries with similar problems have not undergone similar sociopolitical dynamics. In contrast, hypotheses based on quantitative relationships between age structural indicators and sociopolitical behaviors generate testable and repeatable predictions that can be checked and held accountable after an event.
What I find most surprising about the age-structural approach to predicting liberal democracy is how often states ascend to liberal democracy as they approach, or pass, the 0.50 probability mark. If either “triggers” of regime change or key institutions were very important, this observation would be unlikely.
A Concluding Note on Political Demography
If political demographers are serious about advancing policymakers’ ability to understand the present and future of global politics and security, political demography will have to become a scientific discipline – a field of study in which assertions are consistently tied to data and tested whenever possible. In many cases, though not all, we’re lucky – demographers provide us with timely estimates and projections at the national level. Nonetheless, for our field to succeed, political demographers must take full advantage of these data, encourage sub-national data to be collected and published, and make a clean break from the tradition of conjecture that currently pervades international relations.
Richard Cincotta is a consulting political demographer for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Project and demographer-in-residence at the Stimson Center.
Sources: CIA World Factbook, Freedom House, Jadaliyya.
Image Credit: Adapted from “Viva the Tunisian Revolution,” courtesy of flickr user freestylee (Michael Thompson).
›January 25, 2011 // By Richard CincottaWhile events in Tunisia, beginning mid-December and leading ultimately to President Ben Ali’s departure within a month, have rocked the Arab world, they leave an open question: Will Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution” ultimately lead to the Arab world’s first liberal democracy?
If the relationship between demographic change and democratic liberalization remains as robust as it has over the past 40 years, the odds are in Tunisia’s favor. South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, Indonesia, and Brazil were at a similar stage of age-structural maturity when each ascended to liberal democracy. If this political-demographic rule functions similarly in North Africa (see age-structural predictions for North Africa in a prior ECSP publication), then the likelihood of Tunisia achieving a liberal democracy – that is, a state assessed as “free” in Freedom House’s annual assessment – is high, relative to countries in other parts of the Arab world. [Video Below]
According to Freedom House, a free country is one “where there is open political competition, a climate of respect for civil liberties, significant independent civic life, and independent media.” On a scale of one to seven, seven being the most autocratic, Ben Ali’s regime scored a 6.0 (assessed in 2010).
The Demographic Factor
How long could it take Tunisia to move from Freedom House’s “not free” category (7.0 to 5.5) to “free” (2.5 to 1.0)? South Korea ascended in five years (1983-88). For Indonesia, the same journey took eight years (1997-2005), and for Taiwan, it took over 15 years to inch through the partly free category to free (1980 to 1995). Recent European ascents were somewhat quicker: Poland took four years (1987-91); Romania, six (1990-96); Portugal, three (1973-76); and Spain, four (1973-77). Greece jumped from not free to free in only one year (1973-74), following the collapse of a repressive anti-communist military regime.
To understand how age structure can directly influence a state’s chances of attaining and maintaining liberal democracy requires a discussion of two models of sociopolitical behavior: (1) the Hobbesian bargain and (2) the youth bulge thesis.
Assuming, as the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes did in the middle of the 17th century, that citizens are willing to relinquish political liberties when faced with threats to their security and property (the Hobbesian bargain), it is not surprising that support for authoritarian regimes – especially among commercial and military elites – appears high when societies are very youthful and prone to political violence (the youth bulge thesis). When fertility declines, the population’s bulge of young adults ultimately dissipates over time. With much of society’s political volatility depleted, authoritarian executives tend to lose the support of the commercial elite, who find the regime’s grip on communication and commerce economically stifling and the privileges granted to family members and cronies of the political elite financially debilitating.
Good News, Bad News
What does this mean for Tunisia? First, the good news: Despite journalists’ focus on youth in the streets, Tunisia is not a youth-bulge country. Its population’s median age is 29 years – exceedingly more mature than the populations of most states in the Arab Middle East, such as Yemen (median age of 18 years), the Palestinian Territories (18 years), Iraq (19), Syria (23), and Jordan (23). Tunisia’s consistent declines in fertility pushed it into the class of intermediate age structures in 2005.
How did Tunisia get ahead? New York Times correspondent David Kirkpatrick said it so well, that I’ll simply quote his statement about Habib Bourguiba, the country’s first president and the father of its broad middle class:
[Bourguiba] pushed a social agenda of secularization, women’s rights, birth control and family planning that, in contrast to most countries in the region, slowed population growth, keeping the job of public education and social welfare manageable.Bourguiba’s reforms reshaped the country’s pyramidal population age structure into the intermediate structure that Tunisians experience today (see figure above).
Now for the bad news: Tunisia’s ascent to liberal democracy is still uncertain. In the annals of history, nearly all of the youth-led revolts aimed at achieving liberal democracy have fallen far short of their mark. Instead, they tend to descend into infighting and typically produce a partial-democratic or autocratic regime capable of quelling violence and limiting the destruction of property. This tendency lays bare the most serious limitation of an age-structural theory of democratization: ultimately, personalities and political action – non-demographic factors – are needed to consolidate elite and popular support for a liberal democratic regime. To eventually attain liberal democracy, Tunisia’s political elite, or what remains of them after years of expulsion and political exclusion under the Ben Ali regime, must seize the democratic initiative from demonstrators and make it their own.
But wait a minute, you might say: Wasn’t the Jasmine Revolution triggered by Mohamed Bouaziz’s martyrdom and a series of Wikileaks highlighting the Ben Ali regime’s nepotism and corruption? In “real time” these were instrumental – and so were the internet and news media that delivered them into households in all corners of Tunisia and throughout the Arab world. But triggers like these are often unique and nearly always unpredictable. As such, they offer little assistance to serious analysts hoping to predict the timing and success of future democratic transitions. Instead, they are the grist for today’s journalism and tomorrow’s history.
While some democracy pundits are gloomy about the country’s prospects, political demography’s age structure model gives Tunisians a good chance – perhaps even within five years – of achieving the Arab world’s first liberal democracy. Right now, the evolution of Tunisia’s political future depends on how its military, political, and commercial elites handle this opportunity. In the United States, some analysts worry that open political debate, free and fair elections, and rule of law might ultimately end up delivering another government into the hands of Islamists, a group that tends to make gains in the wake of corruption, and one that Ben Ali actively suppressed. This may be a moot point: There are many in U.S. foreign policy circles who are convinced that the Arab world needs a liberal democracy much more than Washington needs another friend.
For now, those outside Tunisia can only watch and wait. But if you’re watching, do some political demography of your own: Demonstrations that feature young women, the middle-aged, and perhaps even entire families, are a sign that democracy is on its way. Crowds entirely dominated by young men and boys – the social remnant of Tunisia’s waning youth bulge – tell a different story.
Richard Cincotta is a consulting political demographer for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Project and demographer-in-residence at the Stimson Center.
Sources: Canadian Press, CIA World Factbook, Freedom House, The New York Times, U.S. Census Bureau, UN Population Division.
Photo Credit: “077,” courtesy of flickr user Nasser Nouri, and maps courtesy of Richard Cincotta and the UN Population Division.
›Leading Through Civilian Power – is essential reading for those who seek a career in government or who otherwise need to understand the nature and purpose of the work that foreign service officers and USAID missions perform overseas.
Besides reviewing the core missions of State (see Chapter 2) and USAID (Chapter 3), the QDDR elevates conflict prevention and the United States’ response to humanitarian crises and post-conflict situations to a priority element of U.S. foreign policy (Chapter 4), and acknowledges that the diplomatic mission has extended beyond the confines of interstate relations and international institutional participations. In addition, the review stresses workforce and workplace reforms (Chapter 5) that could help U.S. embassies and USAID missions to function more effectively within the exceptionally limited resources that Congress provides (around one percent of the U.S. federal government budget).
While the review’s executive summary is a good place to start, it gave me the impression that the document largely dealt with organizational initiatives and streamlining bureaucratic process. Not so; the full QDDR describes a full array of tactical relationships and programs that State and USAID maintain with other U.S. agencies, international institutions, and NGOs. Within its introductory narrative the review makes implicit connections – some of them arguable – between elements of U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance (e.g., conflict prevention and stabilization, cooperative energy research programs, institution building and training, and humanitarian assistance), and American interests in terms of national security, economic growth, and global diplomatic power. Thus, the QDDR narrative could, along with the National Security Strategy, serve as a reference point for debates linking diplomacy and development to national interests.
“Twin Development Battlegrounds”
While the QDDR takes up numerous global issues, I paid particular attention to two that are at the core of my research interests and figure prominently in this timely and exhaustive document (I cannot claim to have read all 213 pages, plus two appendices): (1) improving women’s status and (2) ideologically engaging youth. I believe these twin issues are the diplomatic and development battlegrounds of the 21st century – where civilian power, strategically applied, will be critical to the long-term international political and security environment. Both feature prominently throughout the core narratives for both State and USAID and in the narrative on conflict prevention and post-conflict re-stabilization.
While the QDDR’s emphasis on women and girls is likely to be welcomed by many analysts and academics, it is not novel. Women’s well-being and status have featured as cross-cutting priorities in USAID programs for the past two decades. Nor is it surprising to see women and girls emphasized in a Democratic administration – feminists are a core constituency of the liberal wing of the party. However, this emphasis could be more than business as usual.
The State/USAID commitment to women’s issues may signal that these agencies (and the Department of Defense) have learned from their recent involvement in the Middle East and South Asia. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, women’s social mobility and legal status are hard-fought issues that separate the political forces of religious fundamentalism from progressive political movements. To me, the QDDR’s focus on women anticipates long-term U.S. involvement in some of the world’s most politically volatile regions – parts of the Middle East (particularly the Arabian Peninsula), sub-Saharan Africa (west, central, and east), and South Asia (specifically Afghanistan and Pakistan) – where women’s status remains low, fertility is highest, the growth of young adult cohorts is most rapid, and states are at their weakest.
America’s engagement with youth overseas is nearly as critical. In this case, the QDDR’s portrayal of the State Department’s commitment to communicating American values, history, and culture to young people overseas – described under “public diplomacy” (see Chapter 2, page 60) – seems less structured.
Previous to its incorporation within State, the U.S. Information Agency (USIA, established in 1953) took the lead in opening channels between young people overseas and all aspects of American culture and the American experience. USIA’s system of libraries, located well outside embassy walls and staffed by educators rather than diplomatic staff, and the cultural events that the agency sponsored left an indelible impression on two post-World War II generations. Since the demise of USIA in 1999, its approach seems to have fallen from favor – perhaps rendered passé by global communications or made unaffordable by security concerns. Whatever the case, many diplomats feel that U.S. public diplomacy activities overseas – now sponsored by the State Department – have yet to fill the gap left by the absence of an autonomous USIA.
Critiques and Usage
Besides a more structured approach to youth engagement, there’s not much missing from the QDDR. While the mechanisms for U.S. rapid response to overseas humanitarian disasters and post-conflict conditions have drawn hefty criticisms in the past (e.g., the collapse of the rule of law following the invasion Iraq), readers will find that the QDDR dedicates nearly the entirety of Chapter 4 to extensive plans for major reforms. For some critics – including authors Thomas Barnett, Shannon Beebe, and Mary Kaldor – however, the transformation of State and USAID’s civilian-led response to humanitarian crises and conflict is unlikely to go far enough.
For those whose livelihoods revolve around U.S. diplomacy and development – including foreign-policy-oriented academics and their students – I recommend reading the executive summary and then selecting specific chapters based on your personal interests. Students seeking a career in international development, for example, are likely to see opportunities that arise out of these reforms detailed in Chapter 4.
Be sure to check out the other entries in The New Security Beat’s full series of analyses on the first QDDR.
Richard Cincotta is a demographer-in-residence at the Stimson Center, and a consultant on political demography for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program.
Sources: U.S. Institute of Peace, U.S. State Department.
Image Credit: QDDR word cloud, courtesy of Wordle.
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