Events

Preventing the Next Wave of Conflict: Understanding Non-Traditional Threats to Global Security - Demographic Shifts

September 19, 2002 // 12:00am
Event Co-sponsors: 
Environmental Change and Security Program

Dr. Brian Nichiporuk, Associate Political Scientist, Arroyo Center, Army Research Division, RAND and Mr. Robert Kaplan Contributing Editor, The Atlantic.

The fourth meeting of the Working Group was an effort to examine how international global demographic trends are affecting the international security environment. The meeting focused on assessing the seriousness of demography as a potential threat to security as well as the resultant foreign and security policy implications.

Dramatic demographic shifts are re-shaping the composition and distribution of population around the world. The overall growth in world population, increasing volume of immigrants and refugees, aging population in developed countries, growing "youth bulge" in developing nations and urbanization are all reshaping countries and regions, affecting local politics, economies and priorities. The changes are obviously destabilizing, but in what ways might they affect U.S. national security? Two guests helped answer this question.

Dr. Brian Nichiporuk, a political scientist at Rand and author of the recent Rand report titled the Security Dynamics of Demographic Factors, offered a preliminary assessment about what demographic trends and factors might pose a threat to American interests. He did so by presenting a framework that would allow better communication between demographers and national security analysts.

Mr. Nichiporuk framed his presentation, saying "When we talk about population composition, the usual issues of size and age distribution are part of the equation." But other factors may be less apparent, like the geographic distribution of a population or the level of education and human capital available. He noted that in addition to composition, which is more of a static variable, one has population dynamic issues, which have to do with population increase or decrease or migration across borders. He stated that population movement can consist of international migration or migration within the country, with that latter causing the urban population in a country to rise whereas the rural population stagnates. He concluded that the challenges to U.S. interests are going to come from rapid population movements that can have regional security effects because of their speed and in some cases, unpredictability.

Speaking from a military viewpoint, Mr. Nichiporuk said that population movement and fertility rates are pushing people into urban environments, a trend that makes urban conflict more prevalent in the future. His concluded "that high and low fertility states are going to cause nations to draw on different sources of military power, which will be important to military analysts," and that militarily, "the absolute size of a population is probably less important than composition, level of growth, location of population, age and ethnic distribution."

With regards to policy implications, Mr. Nichiporuk suggested that the intelligence community should better refine the indicators and warning measures that it uses based on demography. He came to the conclusion that there are a number of short-term warning indicators of long-term issues that could be brought into the national intelligence planning process that employ demography. He also called on decision-makers and policy-makers to more carefully consider the security implications of non-military foreign aid, like infrastructure, agricultural development and female literacy.

Another policy implication concerned preparing the U.S. military for urban campaigns. Lastly, Mr. Nichiporuk said that the issue of multinational force compatibility is becoming quite important as a result of demographics, "as you have European states with very low fertility and increasing demands to fund the needs of the elderly." Therefore, they fund fewer weapons systems and may have smaller youth cohorts to draw from, because they need them in the civilian sector. "This might really create a split in military capabilities between the U.S. and its NATO European partners, Mr. Nichiporuk said.

The next guest to speak was Robert Kaplan, a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, and best selling author of nine books on international affairs, to include Balkan Ghosts, and his latest work, Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos. Mr. Kaplan offered Working Group a challenging thesis, saying, "that poverty does not cause upheavals, terrorism or any of this – development does."

While cautioning that his presentation was not an argument against development or foreign aid, he went on to say that many countries have large populations "of peasants, who are very easy to govern because they have very few demands and they rarely leave their town and village. But development means that they are migrating slowly into bigger cities where they are taking lower wage earning jobs and becoming proletarian." For the first time in their collective histories, "they are full of ambition, and yearning and desire. They form labor associations and self-help groups, which are all together putting more demands on creaky, over-centralized bureaucracies, as in Jakarta, Lagos, and India." As a result, the central government becomes the least dynamic element of the society and begins to fray apart under strains and stress. "The best and most obvious black and white example of this," Mr. Kaplan offered, "was the overheating of the Iranian economy in the 1970s."

Aside from development, Mr. Kaplan commented that the people who migrate into the cities have little in the way of connections, so they form their own groups, attaching themselves to the clergy, who in turn challenged the traditional elite. The result can be revolutionary upheaval.

Migration and population shifts will also challenge leaders in the Middle East. "Think of Jordan as one vast, greater Beirut that now stretches from near the Israeli border in the South to near the Syrian border in the North," Kaplan said. "If you are going to survive as a Middle Eastern leader, you are going to have to grasp messy municipal politics like governing New York City with fifteen boroughs. Do not think of states; think of Venetian city-states."

Migration challenges, however, will not contain themselves to the cities. Mr. Kaplan noted that almost 2/3rds of the Chinese population which produces much of China's industrial wealth lives in environmentally fragile flood zones. Normal climatic and seismic variations, therefore, will effect urban concentrations and challenge government's capacity to respond.

Addressing youth bulges, Mr. Kaplan noted that the one factor that unites unrest in Indonesia, riots in the West Bank, trouble in the Karachi of the 1980s and 1990s is that all of the violence is done by young males between the ages of fifteen and thirty.

Lastly, Mr. Kaplan noted that migration was having an effect on military and political power in a very untraditional way. In an age of intercommunication and internet, Mr. Kaplan claimed that well organized, funded, and determined Diasporas are potentially "a greater strategic element than an oil well."

Anita Sharma, Deputy Director, Conflict Prevention Project, 202-601-4083

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