Is Russia’s Older Population Driving Putin’s Aggression?

This summer I was part of an excellent special edition of International Area Studies Review journal focusing on population and politics. My contribution offered a counterintuitive argument: an older population might make a country more aggressive, not more passive.

Here’s the abstract:

In May 2006, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia’s dire demographics were the biggest challenge facing Russia. We know little about how states conduct foreign policy under demographic decline but some expect Russia to become more pacifist or to turn attention inward as its internal situation deteriorates. Power transition theory (PTT), however, which considers population as a key component of power, anticipates riskier international behavior under demographic changes. PTT predicts aggression under two conditions: when a dominant power sees its decline while secondary powers are rising; and when an inferior state sees its power increase while the dominant power declines. This article interprets Russia’s foreign policy actions from May 2006 through 2012 in light of PTT. I find that Russia was physically aggressive in its region when its population decline peaked, as PTT expects. Power transition theory also predicts Russia’s diplomatically aggressive foreign policy at the system level as Russian leaders’ perceptions of a favorable shift in the global balance of power gave them more confidence in Russia’s capabilities to challenge the status quo. This study furthers our understanding of foreign policy-making in times of demographic decline, extends power transition theory, and serves as a model for evaluating demographic trends and foreign policy for other great powers.

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