RAND Co-Sponsors Demography & National Security Workshop

Institutions that shape public policies on health care, insurance, education, and economics have long been producers and consumers of demographic information. Indeed, demography as a science can trace one of its major roots in actuarial calculation by British insurance companies that needed to evaluate the price and cost of annuities, and Swiss financiers who used Genevan maidens with exceptional longevity to purchase said annuities.

By contrast, the wealth of empirical observation, analysis, and prediction generated by demographers has not found its proper place in the thinking of some of its most important potential consumers: the foreign affairs, strategic, and defense communities. These areas, which could usefully integrate demographic consideration into their policy planning, have only sporadically paid attention to it.

Demographic shifts are a cause, an effect, and a forerunner of geopolitical shocks and transformations. An examination of these shifts should be one of the first steps in any form of strategic estimate. It may be that the academic and professional tracks of the demographic community and those of the strategic and defense community do not naturally intersect. Providing venues for such intersections is therefore important. Once both communities are drawn into the same room and are given a chance to hear each other, the complimentary nature and mutual usefulness of their respective work promptly becomes apparent. This is certainly what happened at the "Demography & National Security" workshop held in Paris at the initiative of RAND's Population Matters Program in November, 2000.

Co-sponsored by the Société de Stratégie, France's National Institute for Demographic Studies (Institut national de études démographiques, INED), RAND's Center for Middle East Public Policy, and RAND Europe, the workshop brought together French, American and other European demographers, senior representatives from the French Ministry of Defense, and academics, economists and experts in geopolitics. The different angles of vision provided by these groups created a wider view of the subject at hand: the impact of demographic phenomena on the geostrategic evolution of the world.

Enlightening differences were obvious, both between demographers and national-security experts and also between American and French participants. Different objects of concern and of research appeared, and contrasting views of phenomena emerged. For example, immigration and its social, cultural and political impacts are seen in an altogether different light on the two sides of the Atlantic. Americans tend to consider population-based threat-analysis far more than Europeans do. Americans are more likely to use demography as a forecasting tool for foreign policy, while Europeans focus on domestic affairs.

RAND analyst Brian Nichiporuk presented a methodological toolkit for assessing the security relevance of particular demographic trends:

  • Negligible population growth in the industrial nations implies an increased reliance on technological solutions to defense problems; by contrast, rapid population growth in developing countries suggests that human capital will continue to undergird national power in those countries; 
  • Increased urbanization of the globe makes urban conflict more likely; and 
  • Increasing flows of migrants create potentially destabilizing forces in many regions of the world.

Julie DaVanzo of RAND examined the grim demographic situation in Russia. Low fertility and high mortality from preventable causes have resulted in negative population growth. Though some opponents of post-Communist reform have blamed economic and social change for these conditions, long-term trends suggest that high alcohol consumption and the failing health care system are the main culprits. Economic turmoil has played a part, but the dire trends in Russia have been building for decades.

Prof. Bourcier de Carbon of INED discussed low fertility and negative population growth in the world's industrial nations and showed how these have defied demographic models prevalent in the postwar decades. These trends and the failure to anticipate them will have serious consequences for Western nations.

Prof. Chesnais of INED focused on the historic parallelism of demographic evolution and the geopolitics of power. He argued that population size and composition are still an important consideration in national power and security planning. The potentially disruptive presence of Islamic communities and other diasporas is an issue that Western Europe has yet to fully confront. Stefan deSpiegeleire of RAND-Europe offered a contrarian view of international migration's impact. Looking at case studies of "sending" nations, he argued that international migration can actually have a stabilizing effect by creating a "safety valve" to defuse problems tied to overpopulation in "sending" countries. Such migration can also improve relations between the sending and destination countries.

Noel Bonneuil (INED) discussed theories of the causation of ethnic conflicts. He concluded that policies to contain ethnic conflict should focus more clearly on economic and social mobility. Brian Nichiporuk, in his second presentation, explored the demographic roots of conflict in the Near East, where urbanization and a burgeoning youth population are contributing to resource shortages, unemployment, and unrest.

General de la Maisonneuve of the Société de Stratégie examined the epoch-making shift of warfare from its traditional venue, the countryside, to urban settings, and the properly revolutionary impact this evolution is having on modern ways of war.

The animated debate that followed proved to all participants that they had only begun to scratch the surface: this was virtually a mandate for further such exercises.

The Population Matters Program at RAND is working on a more comprehensive conference proceedings in hopes of spurring further discussion, debate, and above all, cross-pollination of demographic and security issues.