The Population Reference Bureau (PRB) held an online discussion this week with demographer Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba of Rhodes College on the topic of “Population and National Security
.” On tap were questions on sex ratios, youth bulge, the definition of “national security
,” whether the United States should be giving population and health-related advice, and other demographic security topics. Click through to PRB for the full transcript
, or check out some select questions from ECSP
ers Richard Cincotta, Geoff Dabelko, and Schuyler Null below:
Richard Cincotta: Jennifer, my concern is with the lack of specificity that seems inherent in the youth bulge model in terms of civil and ethnic conflict. In other words, the highest probability of civil conflict (often protracted) is associated with very young populations – the Afghanistan, Iraq, sub-Saharan African situations. But, there is also a situation that arises among populations that are demographically somewhat older that is associated with democratization (i.e., the North African situation). These seem to have been conflated by the press and political scientists, yet they are demographically and politically very different cases. Any thoughts on how to recognize these and separate them?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Rich, I think that until we have a stronger theoretical foundation for understanding the conditions under which a “youthful” population leads to civil conflict (very young pop) or democracy (slightly older pop) it will be hard to relay the difference in these two structures to non-experts. The democratization connection, in particular, needs to be refined to move firmly away from correlation and into causation. Right now, it seems to me that we give the same theoretical reasoning to both conflict and democratization (motive, cohort crowding). Do you agree? Geoff Dabelko: Is the security community, so accustomed to framing issues as threats, internalize your messages about opportunity? Is there a recognition that low cost interventions such as provision of voluntary family planning services could be part of a holistic sustainable security approach? What are the steps that would need to happen to gain more adherents to this perspective?
(Editor: Read more discussion between Cincotta and Sciubba here and here)
Sciubba: I’m sorry to say, but no, not really. The positive perspective does not resonate much because most in defense and intelligence are tasked with imagining the worst-case scenario. Opportunities and happy stories just do not fit in this paradigm (or even most of their job descriptions). I’ve tried to figure out what needs to happen to get them to pay attention to prevention, and the only place I see some chance of breaking through is in discussing Afghanistan. Many realize the challenges posed by Afghanistan’s young and growing population and there is some recognition that family planning may be relevant there. I think that for a paradigmatic shift to occur, it would have to be top-down – the vision of the President, Secretary of Defense, etc.Dabelko: What would be the benefits of demographers and population experts taking more seriously a dialogue with the security community? Your book shows why security sector actors should pay attention to demography. Why should demographers pay attention to security?
Sciubba: Some in the security community don’t necessarily understand the assumptions behind demographic projections or other aspects of the data, which means they sometimes misuse the info or distrust it and discard it all together. I also think that scholars of any discipline have a responsibility to understand how their work is being used.Dabelko: What will be the subject of your next book?
Sciubba: I’ll be returning to the politics of population aging. I’m particularly interested in comparing how different regime types have dealt with these issues, including not just Western European states, but also states like Singapore and Russia.Schuyler Null: There’s been a lot of talk about how aging populations in Europe will affect defense sectors there, in terms of shifting budget priorities. But there’s also the aspect of how aging might affect European decision-making processes when it comes to foreign intervention (perhaps less willing put boots on the ground, stay for long, etc.).
Can you speak to how aging might affect the decision-making process and behavior of European countries when it comes to conflict in the future? How might aging affect the operation of NATO or the UN?
Sciubba: Isn’t France a puzzle right now given your question? France, a low fertility country with an aging population and HUGE challenges ahead in terms of paying for entitlements to seniors, has recently shown a greater willingness to contribute to military missions. There is no doubt that aging states in Europe will be under strain trying to meet their promises to seniors and also maintain defense. But, European states still feel that there are sufficient threats in the world to warrant maintaining a military. They are trying to reduce redundancies among themselves and increase their efficiency – great cost-saving measures. Technology can compensate a bit as well. I think European states are willing to use their militaries when the threat is sufficient. Aging, however, may raise the threshold for what qualifies as “sufficient” and US-European opinions on what qualifies may increasingly diverge.See the full transcript of questions and Sciubba’s responses at the Population Reference Bureau.