Global threats exist, but also many demographic opportunities for the U.S.

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Events like the Arab Spring gave birth to a generation of demographic converts in the national security community. Many are now convinced that demography matters because demographers today can clearly show how youthful population profiles in the developing world could lead to conflicts over the next 20 years — a major concern for policy makers.

Too much focus on demography and conflict, though, means policy makers miss opportunities for cooperation.


We are used to thinking of the wealthy and stable “Global North” and the poor and tumultuous “Global South,” but a demographic divide within the developing world is emerging, a third category of states that are growing older, more urban, more prosperous, more peaceful, and active in international affairs. These states — particularly India, Brazil, and South Africa — represent opportunities for building U.S. and world security.

Even as it maintains its longstanding relationships in Europe and elsewhere in the developed world, the U.S. should be more assertive in seeking partnerships with India as both a counterbalance to China and as a global security partner in addressing piracy and terrorism and in distributing international aid.


It’s also a good time, demographically speaking, for the U.S. to partner with Latin American countries, like Brazil, to foster job creation in the formal economy and offset the illegal drug trade.

Likewise, Vietnam and Indonesia are in the demographic “sweet spot” of having the benefit of more workers than dependents that lower fertility brings.


We also should cooperate more with South Africa, which could play a greater role in stabilizing sub-Saharan Africa if the country can secure its position as a regional power.

Though opportunities for building global security exist, economic slowdown in these countries threatens their ability to be good partners to the U.S. For example, India’s youth population faces tumultuous job uncertainty, which as we know was the main cause of the Arab Spring in countries like Tunisia.


Over the next two decades, there is little doubt, given our history and given global demographic trends, that the U.S. will be called upon or see the need to respond to demographic-induced instability in developing countries.


But economic and military strains mean that having reliable partners becomes even more important for the U.S. to maintain its involvement in world affairs. In addition to building relationships, there are two other kinds of policies the U.S. can support to foster global peace in the face of demographic challenges.


The U.S. and the entire global community should even more aggressively support family planning programs to reduce population growth. There is a huge unmet need for family planning in Africa, which is predicted to double its population by 2050.


We should also support institution building as populations grow older, which they are in most areas of the world, with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa. The older a population becomes, the better the chances for developing a democratic government. Democratic governments are the most peaceful and stable in the world system, but transitions to democracy are rocky and need external support.


America’s traditional allies are aging and facing serious financial problems that threaten to further reduce support for their militaries. But the rising stars on the global scene will have plenty of military-age to fight their battles and plenty of working-age to fuel their economies for decades to come.


Now is the time for the U.S. to focus its attention on forming new partnerships to ensure global security in the 21st century.

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