PRB Discuss Online: Population and National Security
(April 2011) In her new book, The Future Faces of War: Population and National Security, author Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba argues that the future of warfare will be shaped by demographic trends in fertility, mortality, and migration. She explores both the direct and indirect links between demography and national security through historical examples and contemporary case studies. How do population size, structure, distribution, and composition affect security? How will aging countries and shrinking populations in Europe shape the global future? How will countries in transitional ages (Brazil), and those experiencing “youth bulges” (Middle East and North Africa), provide opportunities for growth? In a PRB Discuss Online, Jennifer Sciubba answered questions from participants about common beliefs and misconceptions about demographic trends and national security, and where opportunities exist for building global partnerships.
April 11, 2011 1 PM (EDT)
Transcript of Questions and Answers
Geoff Dabelko: What will be the subject of your next book?
Jennifer Dabbs 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.
Dr. Satyajeet Nanda: When we use the word ‘security’ is it only defence related aspects that is internal such as crime, deviations etc. or external such as war, smuggling etc. or beyond. I mean employment, density, resources (land) distribution? While India, china, brazil’s growing population was seen earlier as insecurity, did not turn into insecurity rather a dividend towards economic growth thru human resource. So is it difficult to predict the magnitude and nature of security out of population?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: This is the exact angle from which I started the book. Security is multifaceted and not every policymaker or scholar is interested in all aspects. I use Choucri’s typology: military security, regime, and structural. I also agree that the relationship to security is not static, as you point out with India, et al. Part of the reason is the age structural transition.
Robert Prentiss: We have seen cataclysmic events like Katrina, the BP oil spill and the presently unfolding Japanese nuclear event. If global climate change fulfills our worst expectations, can we also expect gigantic population shifts should more such disasters occur? If so, which nations are the most likely to be affected and how?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I think we see the opposite pattern in most cases. People generally return to disaster areas once it is safe to do so, even if that area remains vulnerable. Many disaster prone areas are desirable locations for access to the coast or are big cities with opportunities. People still want to live (or do business) there.
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 nonexperts. 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?
Juanita Tamayo Lott: If we consider world history, past and current warfare were/are also shaped by demographic trends in fertility, mortality, and migration. Might your research indicate any effect by cohort and geography? For example, low fertility rates followed the WWII cohorts of Japan and Germany whereas the reverse occurred for their U.S. counterparts.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Japan and Germany saw postwar baby booms as well, just smaller than that in the U.S. I haven’t seen any research showing that geography is a determinant of fertility.
Geoff 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?
Jennifer Dabbs 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.
Sanjay Mishra: Commuting population especially those who have infiltrated may have serious threat to the national security for the any country as their identity is not unauthenticated in the country which are vulnerable from the terrorism point view. Might be the frequency has been reduced so we can say they are in the slept mode so may be operative in any other modes like money laundering and other illicit activities, now the question is to identify them and deporting them if they are staying for quite some months or years in camps or elsewhere, is there any body which could be responsible for them what percentage of total population are around the world which may become problematic for the peaceful nations and what other remedies?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: It is the responsibility of individual, sovereign states to figure out who is living within their borders. Weak or failing states may have an especially hard time with this, which is when international efforts to help these states strengthen governance and promote rule of law can help. I don’t think there is any way to devise an estimate of how many people could fall into this category because the number will always fluctuate and is dependent upon individual motivations to commit terrorist acts. I’m not convinced scholars have the latter nailed.
J Kishore: Area of discussion is interesting and would be providing conceptual framework for liberal policies for migration, world peace and security. Migrated population should not be considered threat rather agents of growth and development.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I think the bottom line is that no demographic trend is either inherently good or inherently bad. Often, it is what states do with the resources of their demography that matters. Migration can certainly be a resource for increasing state power, but it can also create challenges for security under some circumstances.
Trilochan Pokharel: Thank you Jennifer. The publication looks important to get into. However, I am unable to access it. In one study in which I analyzed the pre-conflict demography of civil conflict affected countries. The conclusion was certain demographic indicators like youth bulge, dependency ratio on the upper bound indicate possibility of outbreak of civil conflict. However, they are not catalytic. Recent studies show that the global demographic structure is changing and its connection with growing neoliberal economy is the primary factor that will define the relation between population, economy and security. How do you address this issue?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: It sounds like the results you describe show that demography is often the underlying fodder for a conflict, even if it is not the spark that ignites the flame. This is certainly what we saw in the rebellions that broke out across the Middle East. As for the second part of your comment, a transitional age structure does correlate with economic growth. You may be referring to the global shift towards higher median age and relatively more workers that has resulted from global fertility reductions. At the state level, these types of changes have led to greater prosperity in many cases and if they continue to do so then global prosperity indicators may show a similar rise. However, it doesn’t seem useful to me to discuss a “global demographic structure” or “global prosperity” since each state has vastly different experiences.
Meskerem Bekele, Ethiopia: Dear Jennifer, it is good to discuss with a person like you. And I want to thank PRB because of this. When we talk about population growth, we most of developing countries believe that you have an headache because of our population growth. I think that we think population is our power and you developed countries might have fear because of that. Is that so…?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: If I may be so bold, I don’t think that the U.S. national security community is intimidated by the large populations of less developed countries because these states are not economically or militarily competitive with the U.S. In fact, I would argue that the U.S. sees population growth in poor countries as a hindrance to their development and something that prevents them from gaining power. However, most developed states fear of outbreak of conflict in poor countries with young and growing populations. The U.S. is certainly “afraid” of instability for a number of reasons.
Cecily Westermann: Hi, Ms. Sciubba. I am from the U.S. Your article in the ECSP Report (Volume 13) addresses four sets of circumstances that contribute to the growth of international terrorism. (1) youth bulge, (2) diseases such as HIV/AIDS that affect native military recruitment and contributes to unavailability of employment, (3) international migration, and (4) urbanization (megacities and the growth of urban slums. My question is, why do the U.S. defense and intelligence think they are qualified to address these problems in other countries when we have similar problems here?(1) while we don’t have a “youth bulge”, our births exceed deaths by 1.86 million per year, (2) while our problems with disease are not on the same level as those in some african and middle eastern nations, we have growing criminality among youths, (3) While we (arguably) don’t have have problems due to international migration, we have continuous cultural conflicts, (4)we are masters in developing megacities, urban slums, decaying cities, and urban sprawl.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Cecily, I won’t argue with you about the problems that plague the U.S. Here in Memphis I see a ton of these, plus high infant mortality and a host of other problems. I think that the U.S. defense and intelligence communities seek a greater understanding of the role demography plays in instability, both here and abroad, which directly relates to their mission. Addressing these problems generally falls outside of their responsibility.
Cletus Tindana: Hi Jennifer, Please how have the activities of other nations especially the North, help stabilise (or destabilize, if you like) other countries’ populations and national security? e.g. U.S.’ involvement in Iraq. How many years have they (Iraqis) gained (or lost) in the context of your discussion?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: War is destabilizing in general, since it interrupts education, commerce, governance, and a host of other important functions. I suppose we could argue that if an area becomes more stable as a result of Northern involvement then the area could end up being better off but…
Seyi Olujimi: In a situation where the most affected segment of developing countries’ population (most at risk, the youth) are the worst hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. What is the implication of this trend for developing countries’ national security?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Let’s define security broadly in terms of both conflict and development. Infection rates of soldiers of many sub-Saharan African countries are three to four times higher than the civilian population. In 1999, HIV/AIDS prevalence in Zimbabwe’s armed forces was estimated to be 55 percent. Disease reduces the ability of these armies to perform their basic functions. AIDS hurts development too. Countries with high infection rates may also have a hard time attracting foreign investment, partly because their labor force is decimated. Skilled laborers who are healthy may emigrate to more developed countries, further reducing the human capital needed to deal with the disease at home.
Hazel Denton: We read much about how the youth bulge is behind the unrest in the Middle East. Are there countries with youth bulges that have not experienced unrest? [Also, please define youth bulge.]
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I think the most useful way to define youth bulge is the proportion of young adults (ages 15-29) of all adults (15-59). In Tunisia, that proportion is 41 percent, in Egypt 48 percent. Certainly, there are many countries with youth bulge that have not experienced unrest. Our challenge as political demographers is to figure out why. In many cases, for rebellion to occur there must be both motive and opportunity. Demography can drive both. As an example, crowded labor markets because of a youth bulge can provide motive to rebel (resentment, poverty, etc.); large numbers of unemployed youth can also provide opportunity for a potential rebel leader to staff his forces since youth have no better prospects.
Gerard E. STEIN: Why we are not moving from the “Titanic Syndrome? the word “national” for the security is over, is the “planet” security. No borders can stop pollution, terrorist organizations, financial tsunami, … the Top/down strategy at a global level is over, …In 2047, we will be more than 9 billions with more than 2/3 living in and around large cities in the north (due to the global warming) in alarming living conditions. The only solution is a bottom-up strategy everywhere at a planet level to give more chances to our children to live in a safer and healthier planet than predicted by the best world experts. This is the solution we have adopted at our global NGO since 2002.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: A lot of our problems are transnational, like the ones you mention. Conflict, too, often spills over borders. However, I think we are a long way from thinking in terms of global security. Our proximity to April 15th—the general deadline for filing income taxes in the U.S.—should give some indicator as to why.
Geoff Dabelko: Do you think your book helps bridge the divide between the too many versus too few perspectives on global population? It is falsely but commonly presented as an either/or vision of the world. Does the population and security set of arguments bring these perspectives together?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I certainly hope so. I try to show, not just say, that any population trend can be a challenge or an opportunity. On the global level this debate may be outdated, but at a state or local level sometimes too many really is a problem and so is too few. Too many of whom? Too few of whom? Too many elderly dependents, or too many youth? Both could be a challenge for different reasons. Too few workers, or too few soldiers? Again, both are challenges.
Alexander Sanger: Please discuss the sex ratio and the problem of excess males as it relates to propensity for expansionist/aggressive foreign policies.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I don’t think it is possible to discuss this as a general problem, we have to give some context. Most of the time when people want to address gender imbalance and expansionism they are concerned about China. Is China going to put these young men in the military and start war to keep them busy? No. China has been trying to shave down its ground forces and for a host of reasons—many economic—is not at all likely to put these young men to use plowing over territory outside of the country. What they are more likely to do is put them to work, which could turn them from a liability to an asset. India also has excess males but has had a hard time filling its officer ranks. Bottom line: the countries with excess males generally have positive economic trends and so they are not likely to risk lost profit to start a war just to keep their young men occupied.
Mike Sage: Does the population need thining out in order to reduce some of the many challenges that will be faced in the future?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Countries in the Global North—advanced industrial democracies—are “thinning” themselves out because of low fertility. China is about to join this group as well, in terms of demography. Many countries in the Global South have dramatically reduced their fertility and so are transitioning to older age structures and eventual population stability as well. However, the world’s poorest countries are the ones that will experience the greatest population growth in the next several decades, and they are least equipped to handle that growth. Afghanistan, for example, will experience growth and a very young age structure for the foreseeable future. These problems that will only compound its current economic and political challenges.
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 decisionmaking 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?
Jennifer Dabbs 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 U.S.-European opinions on what qualifies may increasingly diverge.
Derek Washam: Recent numbers show that populations in the North Caucasus Republics in Russia are increasing. Do you think Moscow will embrace this growth in any way? Or, should we expect a less benevolent response from the government—perhaps exploiting the figures to deny rising violence in the region, or attempting to curb the growth of non-ethnic Russians?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: Russia has a rapidly shrinking population, low fertility, and high mortality. Yet, the country’s leaders still try to promote the immigration of ethnic Russians only and are trying to raise fertility rather than dealing with the serious problems of alcoholism and disease. Given their skewed strategy, no, I do not think that the leadership would welcome the contribution of population growth in the Caucasus. I’m not sure whether they will go so far as to institute anti-natalist strategies to curb natural population growth in that region.
Sanjay Mishra: National security is inextricably associated with migration trends and patterns while, migration has multi-compounded impact on the national growth and over all development of the economy as we have evidences e.g. USA, UK etc. but the nature of migration remains the complicated question. Literacy/education/ skill and purpose of the migration might be reexplored in modern context especially from the security viewpoint. If to check the indicatives and impact of migration is developing parallel to the migration then might be balanced. I perceive for economy it has no negative impact unless the migrants are unskilled/uneducated. But concurrent trend is indicating a different story—like formation of pressure /peer groups, political intervention/ religious intolerance, and other destructive/disorganizational activities. My question remains in global context it is impossible and inhuman to discourage migration but how to cope up with repercussions and safeguards for the natives along with demographic balances different population types and national security?
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I’m not comfortable commenting on the ethics of migration in this forum, but I will say that for as long as states have existed, they have attempted to control migration—today’s efforts and justifications for those efforts are not new. As to the latter part of your question, not all migrants are politicized. Democratic institutions can provide regularized, peaceful mechanisms to redress grievances and so are more likely to provide the “safeguards” you mention.
shree pradhn: Migretion can be more challenge to impact the populetion and national security? how do you manage this problem.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I mention the importance of democracy in my answer to Sanjay and that institution is relevant to issues of identity raised by migration. We have to remember that most multiethnic states are peaceful and most migrants move to improve their position in life. Thus, migration can be a win-win for both the state (in terms of laborers and unique skills) and the migrants themselves (economically also). Not all migration falls into this category, however. A small proportion of refugees worldwide is “militarized,” and spreads conflict over borders.
Dr. Anima Sharma: Dear Dr. Sciubba, we have just completed our census in India. We stand second in the world as per the population count and it is practically very difficult to design National Security programmes for such a vast and heterogeneous population. Our current census results show mixed trends with a preference to the male child and swelling young population. We have formally become conscious of National Security for different vulnerable groups recently but still we are progressing gradually. When we grant economic security to the unemployed young people then they become sort of relaxed and start taking it for granted. In few cases they take it as an essential step. My question is that will providing security to them not make them a bit irresponsible? For old age, handicapped group etc. it is fine but for the normal healthy youths we should focus more on providing them career guidance and giving them career oriented counselling/ education.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: I think you are probably right that giving economic security to youths, rather than equipping them to become employed, is not a long term strategy for improving their lives. Throughout the Middle East, many of the youths who have been rebelling have at one time been the recipients of government aid—money to marry, education, etc. This is very expensive, and when the money runs out the youths perceive themselves as worse off than before. India has an ideal demographic structure to build human capital and encourage its youth to obtain meaningful employment opportunities that will serve them well individually for decades. In the aggregate India, too, will benefit.
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?
Jennifer Dabbs 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.
Dr. Anima Sharma: Dear Dr. Sciubba, I asked one question but I think it was more directed towards Social Security. Now, as regards National Security, I would like to ask, do not you think that it is important that we inculcate the values of Nationalism, awareness towards social duties and developing civic sense will automatically enhance the spirit of National Security? Sometime we use direct methods and sometimes we use indirect methods to induce an idea.
Jennifer Dabbs Sciubba: In India’s case, developing a civic nationalism—around shared democratic values—would likely be a smart strategy to reduce the importance of ethnic nationalisms that could turn into conflict.