Why I'm optimistic about the waning of conflict in the region.
What if it's not the populations getting older, but the borders? If you look at a map, you can see a strange pattern: young borders are violent borders.
Israel is one of a handful of countries partitioned and made independent only after World War 2. Who else is on that list? South Korea, Ukraine, Kosovo, Pakistan, Eritrea, Taiwan -- all countries with a neighbor on the regular edge of war.
Excluding pure no-border-change decolonizations, it seems every single post-1945 state formation has come with at least one "hot" border that regularly flares close to war.
Maybe half of Israel's tensions are simply that neither its citizens or its neighbors have come to take its existence for granted. And maybe that isn't about religion or race or policies, but just the passage of time.
This doesn't excuse Israel or Hamas or the Arab states when they do awful things. But it might mean it's not mysterious why they do those awful things: they still have the embers of a "revolutionary mindset", where the state's rights and extent must continually be asserted in the most idealistic extremes possible. Yet those revolutionary mindsets do decay: everywhere in the world with older borders, war is much rarer. Filter out the world's young borders, and you'd filter out 90% of the interstate war.
If you think Israel is special for having neighbors who regularly threaten to violently wipe it from the map, think about South Korea, or Taiwan. You don't need a special policy or a special religion to have a violent border. To get violence and danger, all you need is to have borders that are young.
Alright I'm a conflict geographer and this is an accurate take. However, Ukraine and Russia have the worst birthrates and demographics and they still went to war because this is Russia's last chance to defend itself before it doesn't have an army of young men to fight with. The real question is the conflict brewing in the Sahel and the ensuing refugee Crisis that will overwhelm Europe soon. Happy to do some geospatial modeling with you on this topic!
Noah I escaped twitter and went to threads . It would be great to see you there I think you’d find a reasonably quick audience . Best.
“simply having a lot of young men around without much to lose seems like a risk factor in and of itself.”
This is what I thought in a comment to a previous post. Older people have something to lose: family, homes, jobs. If the draft age ceiling was 45 years, people would pile into the streets as protestors. Historically, younger people have been cannon fodder for old men who want power or more power. Demographics as deterrent.
Yup. A more youthful Iran is something I’ve witnessed over the course of my life and it’s been astonishing yet frustrating all the same.
Thanks Noah. Could have included to the analysis:
- (i) the place of women (and their education) which is progressing (more women than men at university in Iran!); but also
- (II) religious belief and practice, which I believe are in sharp decline in many of these countries even if it is not apparent.
It puts paid to the whole "Great Replacement" narrative that's driven a number of mass murder sprees in the Global North. Sadly it won't stop some people who also believe stuff about 5G cell towers, Jewish space lasers, horse dewormer curing everything, etc.
This is my observation too. Thanks for this article.
Nice sentiment; it's been interestingly mild. I'd wait a bit longer before jumping to conclusions though. I hope to God that this is all the escalation we find, but it's really only been three weeks. And (ignorant) mainstream pop opinion is seamlessly shifting support towards Palestine which can give a scary boost to the surrounding countries...
“youth bulges,” make countries more susceptible to political violence…
I was part of the Baby Boom, that brought the upheaval of the 60s to the United States. The SDA was blowing stuff up. The motto was: “Don't trust anyone over 30."
Thanks very much for a really interesting article.
An elegant argument but the logic of steadily aging (a function also of increasing life expectancy and achieving replacement level fertility and lower) equals sedate and peaceful breaks down when applied to a) Israel and Syria and b) countries such as US
"When the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, its fertility was over 7; now, it’s below 4. (By the way, look at that stat and ask yourself if the U.S. occupation might have accomplished more than you thought.)"
No. Just no
Thanks Noah for offering a bit optimism. I have always been fearful of the bad impacts to society and growth due to rapid aging and drop in fertility. Hopefully the good balance out the bad a bit.
Interesting to see this dynamic. On the flip side, the Economist argues youthful population drives innovation: https://www.economist.com/briefing/2023/05/30/its-not-just-a-fiscal-fiasco-greying-economies-also-innovate-less
In addition, I'd like to also point out we have gotten to the point where people would rather fight "wars" with keyboards and computers, using the 'lunatic fringe' as useful idiots and cannon fodder.
Between the aging population and the advance of the internet information age, the combination is definitely ripe for a raising of the threshold for starting a war.