May 04, 2011

Summer Reading List: Future Faces of War

Future Faces of WarA
few months back, we hosted Dr. Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba at CNAS to
discuss her recent book, The
Future Faces of War: Population and National Security
. This should be
one of the serious books on your beach reading list this summer. One reason is
that it’s a rather quick and flowing read despite its density of need-to-know
data. It makes easy work of learning a lot. But the main reason is that we are
all already tardy in needing to understand its contents given recent events in
the Middle East and North Africa.

The book goes far beyond focusing on this rapidly transforming region, but I
couldn't help wishing that I had read it 6 months ago. We’ve
all seen a million mentions of the youth bulges many Middle Eastern/North
African countries are dealing with. But page 33 of The Future Faces of War cites a startling statistic from expert Richard Cincotta that I
hadn’t seen before:

“A country with
a young age structure has half a chance (literally, 50 percent) of being rated
a liberal democracy after its young-adult proportion drops to about 0.40. Some
of the countries projected to pass the half-a-chance benchmark before 2020 are
Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Turkey,
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Colombia, and Venezuela.”

is cool. Unfortunately the demography field hasn’t eked out exact reasons for
this correlation. But it’s still an amazing list and factoid to consider given
the tumultuous politics of 2011.

book is academic in rigor but not at the expense of clear writing. She builds
the readers knowledge in the one analytical area that I find is the weakest in
natural security-focused scholarship: illumination of causal relationships. The
book covers the waterfront from youth bulges to aging populations and
everything in between, but most important is that she explains how these types of demographic
conditions can contribute to stability or instability, conflict or cooperation.
It showcases the connective tissue of how trends may relate to one another, and
highlights the mechanisms by which demographic trends become helpful or harmful
to U.S. interests. The main vehicle the author provides for doing this is
breaking down the effects of demographic shifts in three distinct types of
security: military security, regime security and structural security. This is a
framework that surely all of us working on natural resource issues can adopt as
a way of adding greater explanatory power to our research.

sections stick out as particularly important in their impact on natural
security concerns. The urbanization section (Chapter 6) may lead this pack.
Urban areas are often scenes of the kinds of resource stress and pollution
(think dramatic freshwater shortages and food riots) that can build into
security concerns. Most environmental security lit I’ve ever read speaks the
word urbanization as though it’s an
inherent negative, compounding the most undesirable natural resource trends. But
Sciubba provides much greater nuance. Urbanization can affect regime and
structural security, but urban settings can also facilitate creativity and
innovation and enable greater delivery of social services. Where demographic
trends like urbanization will really connect with natural security concerns is
when natural disasters (pages 123-126) hit highly populated areas, taking out
people, infrastructure and economic capacity at large scales.

other especially must-read part for natural security is Chapter 5, on Migration
and Internally Displaced Persons. One of the primary security concerns
(especially for our NATO allies) stemming from climate change is that
projections indicate that it will drive mass migration, with the potential for
instability in both the sending and receiving locations. The author really
breaks down the primary causes for potential concern that we should focus on
when thinking about the climate migration challenge, and provides historical
examples to back up the causal mechanisms she identifies. Importantly, she
notes that perceptions surrounding
immigrants or IDPs driving economic or political concerns (such as increased
competition for good jobs and rising real estate prices) can be as important
for envisioning security challenges as any tangible
problems migrants create.

will do another post of Q&A with the author next week to expand this into a
bit more detail. In the meantime I endorse buying this book
for your summer reading lists
. You’ll be glad to have this reference
on your bookshelf and in your brain to apply to all of your security and
foreign policy thinking.