March 15, 2011

Events from Around Town: How does Population Affect National Security?

Yesterday, the Wilson Center held a book launch for The
Future Faces of War: Population and National Security
with author Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba.
 Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for
Strategy, Plans, and Forces Kathleen
joined the conversation as a discussant and  Geoff
, director of the Environmental
Change and Security Program
at the Wilson Center, moderated it.  

The overarching theme of the day was that demographics alone
don’t determine the fate of nations, but they do play a role in nearly every
aspect of state policy. As Professor Sciubba put it, “Demography is neither a
force for good or bad; it depends on the government’s ability to handle it.” The
purpose of Sciubba’s book was to introduce a framework to help understand the broad
indeterminate nature of demographics, and how policy issues should consider
demographic trends. Indeed, her presentation yesterday followed this format.

Sciubba laid out three characteristics that demographics may
portend for a state: they can be an indicator of challenges or opportunities; a
multiplier of conflict or progress; or a resource for power and prosperity. She
used a variety of global issues to demonstrate how these worked. One particularly
notable one was the “youth bulge” – that is, where the largest demographic of a
society lies between the ages of 15-29. According to Sciubba, the presence of a
youth bulge in several Middle East and North African states is viewed both as an
indicator and a multiplier of the challenges linked with the recent unrest in
the region. For example, that 43 percent of Tunisia’s adult population is
between the ages of 15-29 was an indication of the challenges the government
needed to address, such as curtailing unemployment. When the government failed
to address these challenges, the large youth population had a multiplying effect
on the instability associated with corrupt governance and economic


Other states facing similar demographic trends have produced
the exact opposite outcome, however. Namely, these states have used a growing
working age population to strengthen the power of the state. The examples
Sciubba used were the many East Asian countries whose growing population helped
facilitate rapid economic growth. In these cases, the relatively young
population multiplied the effects of efficient economic policies and was used
as a resource to increase power.

Keeping with the theme of the day, Deputy Undersecretary
Hicks discussed how the wide ranging and indeterminate nature of demographics
pose challenges and opportunities for policymakers. The more fruitful part of
her discussion focused on the organizational dynamics of U.S. national security
community. The challenge demographics posed from an organizational perspective
was that the issue itself could fall through the cracks given that many
national security practitioners are not likely to focus solely on demographics
(although Scuibba formerly worked with DOD on demographic issues), despite the
fact that many policy decisions would be better served by a better
understanding of demographic trends.   At
the same time though, because demographics is an issue that “might fall through
the cracks” for a number of national security agencies, it may be useful for
facilitating interagency dialogues. In particular, because no single agency has
a strong stake in or hold on the issue, demographics may be insulated from traditional
bureaucratic infighting, as opposed to others issues that cross multiple agency

Hicks paid particular attention to the ways in which
demographic trends engage DOD’s mission. These mostly focused on challenges it
posed for U.S. national security interests, such as the youth bulge in
Pakistan, the decreasing population in Russia and the growing Chinese Diaspora
in Latin America (though she did mention the increase of educated women in
Saudi Arabia as an opportunity there). Hicks’s focus on the challenges seemed
to overlook some of the other areas where demographic trends may offer
strategic opportunities for the United States.

Sciubba pointed these opportunities out.  She argued that between extremely young
countries like Tunisia, and graying populations like those in Europe, there
were “transitional” populations such as India, South Africa and Brazil. These
emerging powers, Scuibba said, were also located in strategic areas across the
globe, and the United States would be served well by their smooth demographic
transitions to more stable societies. 

For more on The Future Faces of War: Population and National
check out Professor’s Scuibba’s blog here or purchase the book online
If you’re in the DC area, you can also buy a copy at Reiter’s books, located at 1900 G street NW.
Professor Scuibba tweets at @profsciubba.