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Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics

Population Decline and the Remaking of Great Power Politics edited by Susan Yoshihara and Douglas A. Sylva. Potomac Books, 2011, 304 pp.

Susan Yoshihara and Douglas A. Sylva, both accomplished scholars, wrote and edited a compilation of works addressing the implications of declining fertility rates, population aging, and the subsequent shrinking of global-power populations. The authors set out to determine the possible effects on global stability—their premise being, great powers with aging and declining populations will generally become geopolitically and militarily less relevant.

The opening chapters provide historical as well as contemporary strategic-level views of the effect demographic shifts have had on great-power states and the events that have influenced them. Subsequent chapters present a detailed perspective on the population dynamics shaping prominent and emerging state powers and the implications going forward. Powers assessed include China, Japan, the United States, India, and Russia, as well as waning European states. These individual examinations also encompass an intraregional relations perspective. The authors give particular consideration to the impact on national defense, the ability to project military power outside of one’s border, and the repercussions these effects have on future domestic and international political policy choices.

An extensive array of significant findings, trends, and influencing activities emerge from this insightful book. I share but a few of them.

  • · Thirty years ago, every developed country produced enough children to sustain or grow its population. Today, only the United States and France come remotely close. Furthermore, the GDP of developed countries is on the decline relative to developing countries, thus reducing their global influence.
  • · By 2050, there will be but 100 working people for every 75 retirees in Europe. The average age will reach 49 years, and the population will drop below 600 million, 130 million less than today. These demographic shifts will cause a socioeconomic strain on Europe that will adversely affect its defense budgets, leading to smaller forces and more multilateral or collective approaches to defense.
  • · Russia is experiencing a rapidly shrinking population, the lowest life expectancy in the developed world, and severe social health issues. As such, the number of military-eligible males has been reduced well below that necessary to sustain its desired military end strength.
  • · Increasing US military operating costs and growing health care costs, coupled with the growing ratio of children and elderly to working-age Americans, will place significant strain on the federal budget—pitting social welfare issues against national defense. Also, the US working-age population growth will come entirely from immigration. Still, the United States is best postured among developed nations to maintain hegemonic power, both military and economic.
  • · The median age of Japan’s population is 44.4 years. The UN forecasts a rise to 52.3 by 2050 and projects the “aged” population to reach 41.5 percent and the general population to shrink from 126.5 million today to 108.5 million. With a shrinking workforce and the oldest population in the world, Japan faces extreme budgetary challenges exacerbated by a stagnated economy and huge government debt. The result will be tightened defense budgets and a smaller cohort of military-age men to fill the defense force.
  • · Because of its one-child policy, there are 100 females for every 118 males in China, leaving what has been dubbed “bare branches”—unwed males with no heirs. The global female-to-male ratio is 103 to 106. The working-age population in China will fall from approximately 996 million today to 789 million in 2050. China will face the same demographic issues as Europe and Japan. This is considered an irreversible decline that in the long run will adversely affect China’s economic and military prowess.
  • · In 2020 there will be one billion military-age men around the world—183 million of them in India. India’s workforce will grow by 11 million a year throughout the next 10 years. As such, India will grow as a regional military and economic power. However, its demographic divide will be a challenge. Sixty percent of its workers are employed in agriculture, and 60 million are considered redundant. Additionally, 70 percent of India’s urban population lives on less than $2 a day. India will look to expand its defense budget while addressing prevailing economic issues.

This book is substantively rich and fills a void in the literature by shedding light on the military and strategic effects of global aging among state powers. The authors cite sources which fairly represent the most credible scholarly professional works available. It is well articulated, appropriately interwoven, and thorough in research depth and analysis. Conclusions are rigorously supported. This book is a must-read for scholars, academics, military and government agents/experts, and anyone interested in understanding the geopolitical impact of changing populations and demographic shifts.

David A. Anderson, PhD

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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