Scholars from the Center for Strategic and International Studies‘ (CSIS) have published an article in January’s Current History journal that explores the impact of ageing populations on international security.  Titled “Global Aging and the Crisis of the 2020s,” the article presents an increasingly volatile world where the major powers that have played a role in guaranteeing global security in recent decades loose much of their population and economic prowess, just as the demographics of the developing world are likely to make those regions more unstable.  They also find that, unlike many predictions, the United States is likely to play a larger role in global security over the coming decades.

These conclusions are based on observations of a number of factors.  The authors first foresee a reduced capability of many developed states to play a role in global security.  They note “that population size and economic size together constitute a potent double engine of national power. A larger population allows greater numbers of young adults to serve in war and to occupy and pacify territory. A larger economy allows more spending on the hard power of national defense and the semi-hard power of foreign assistance.”   Observing the high ageing rates in countries such as Japan, Germany, France, Italy and other developed states, they conclude that “global aging will diminish the geopolitical stature of the developed world.”

The authors also conclude that the ageing of the developed powers is unlikely to be met by a peaceful rise of younger, developing states.  They based this conclusion on fact that it is not only developed states that are confronting an ageing population, but that developing countries are also aging as they “shift from high mortality and high fertility to low mortality and low fertility that inevitably accompanies development and modernization.”  They then point towards history showing that demographic transitions have often been violent and point to a number of potential demographic trouble spots around the world.  Among these, they first point to China which by 2030 will “an older country than the United States.” This fact, they argue, may “may weaken the two pillars of the current regime’s legitimacy: rapidly rising GDP and social stability” and risk China falling into social collapse.  The authors also point towards Russia, which is likely become the 16th most populous country in 2050.  By comparison, Russia was the 4th most populous state in 1950.  The authors fear that this may put Russia at risk of becoming a “failing or failed state with nuclear weapons, ” or a “cornered bear [that] may lash out in revanchist fury rather than meekly accept its demographic fate”.  Similar hotspots are also identified in the Middle East, African and Latin America.

Lastly, the authors also note that the only major power that will not be severely affected by ageing is the United States.  They note that “America is also graying, but to a lesser extent. Aside from Israel and Iceland, the United States is the only developed nation where fertility is at or above the replacement rate of 2.1 average lifetime births per woman.  By 2030, its median age, now 37, will rise to only 39. Its working-age population, according to both US Census Bureau and UN projections, will also continue to grow through the 2020s and beyond, both because of its higher fertility rate and because of substantial net immigration, which America assimilates better than most other developed countries”.  They thus conclude that “[d]emography suggests America will play as important a role in shaping the world order in this century as it did in the last” and that its biggest challenge will real challenge will not be “its inability to lead the developed world as the inability of the other developed nations to lend much assistance”.

Take some time to read the full article and share your thoughts with us.  Are the author’s overly concentrating on the most dangerous threats to global security? How do you see global ageing affecting security in your country? What steps should states pursue to guarantee their security in an increasingly aged world?

Read the full article, here.