June 15, 2011

5 Questions with Someone Interesting: Jennifer Sciubba

Christine recently spoke with Jennifer Sciubba, a
professor at Rhodes College and author of The
Future Faces of War: Population and National Security
. Here’s what the
two discussed:

Christine Parthemore
In the book, you point out that countries such as Tunisia and Egypt
had a 50/50 chance of becoming a liberal democracy before 2020, based on
historical demographic and political correlations. If you were a betting
scholar, what country or countries would be next in line?

Jennifer Sciubba
The work by Richard Cincotta establishes a correlation between
proportion of young adults in a population and chance of democracy, pointing
out that once the population of young adults as a proportion of all adults
reaches 40 percent or less, the country has about a 50/50 shot at becoming a
democracy. But, the work still doesn’t tell us enough about the mechanisms
through which these variables are linked. Based purely on age structure, we
would look to the five former Soviet Republics in Central Asia to democratize
next. But a few states across the recent arc of revolution have seen
instability and calls for greater representation even though they are still
years away from this benchmark. For example, Egypt’s age structure is still young—48%
of the adult population is ages 15-29. One explanation that doesn’t undermine
Cincotta’s thesis is that though these states are all experiencing instability,
it is far too soon to term these democratic revolutions. It will be years
before these states have consolidated liberal democracies, and perhaps that
won’t happen until they reach the benchmark. But there is another explanation
that interests me. I’m working on some research with a student here at Rhodes
to look at the emergence of a political generation across the region—the youth
are all experiencing similar exclusion in the political, social, and economic
realms that are unique to their position in life and this may matter more than
the age structure itself. It is notable, however, that the wave of revolution
began in a country on the cusp of the “half-a-chance benchmark.”

CP: There is a lot of concern
about Pakistan's stability as it faces potential reprisals for Osama bin
Laden's killing. What demographic issues should readers consider as they think
about Pakistan?

JS: Pakistan
still has a young and growing population. The total fertility rate there is
still 3.2 children on average per woman. Each generation is much larger than
the one preceding it, so the same issues we’ve seen across North Africa and the
Middle East are relevant in Pakistan, primarily job creation and economic
prosperity. Without meaningful employment, youth are susceptible to alternative
forms of income, including crime and recruitment for armed conflict. Peace and
stability in the region is related to demography, though many other factors,
particularly governance, are important..

CP: You cite Russia's lack of adult
males (due to the confluence of several demographic and social trends, such as
birth rates and alcoholism) as a major challenge. Is the Russian government
addressing this challenge or acknowledging it?

JS: The Russian
government is certainly aware of its demographic challenges and makes some
mention of dealing with health issues in their major documents and speeches.
However, their main strategy to turn the population situation around still
seems to be encouraging more births and encouraging the immigration of ethnic
Russians from abroad. Pronatalist measures often create a temporary spike in
births, but so far seem ineffective as a long-term solution. Once it becomes
culturally ingrained to have fewer children, it seems to be hard to reverse
that sentiment. The issue is not limited to Russia, as states in Eastern Europe
have some of the lowest fertility on the planet. The latter solution,
encouraging immigration of ethnic Russians, is also a short-term strategy, as
Israel figured out with encouraging Jews to migrate. Eventually you run out of
people to invite back.

CP: You recommend
in the end that alliances with countries with complementary demographic
trajectories can help aging countries like Italy and France balance the
challenges they may face such as lower economic growth and lack of
military-aged citizens. Does this concept receive pushback from NATO countries
or advocates of existing alliance structures?

JS: This concept
receives push back from everyone! But I still believe it is a wise course of
action, not only for the United States, but also for aging states in Europe. It
is in the best interest of all NATO members to see a world of peace and
prosperity. As stated in the new National
Strategic Narrative
by Mr. Y, we need to think of power as positive-sum,
rather than zero-sum. To the extent that rising powers like Brazil and India
can have increased ability and willingness to make the world more peaceful and
prosperous, aging NATO states should welcome the help. Washington pays so
little attention to states in Latin America, probably because we tend to think
of global power as shifting among those states victorious after World War II,
but this causes us to miss larger shifts in power and capability among states
outside of the UN Security Council.

CP: Based on your experiences in
Washington and in this field of study, do you think there is increasing or
decreasing interest in analyzing the connections among demographics, natural
resource concerns and national security?

JS: I think there
is increasing recognition among policy makers that demography matters for those
issues that concern them most, namely conflict and development. However, many
of the mechanisms by which demography is connected to these outcomes are
undertheorized, or lack empirical evidence, particularly at the sub-state
level. The burden is now on us as political demographers to come up with more
robust and replicable results for our studies of demographic security so that
policy makers will have faith in our findings and be more willing to act on
them or incorporate them into policy.

For more on The Future Faces of War: Population and National
check out Professor’s Scuibba’s blog here.