Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Will Birth-Dearth States Not Risk War?

James Kurth raises the interesting possibility that the nations with below-replacement birth rates -- not only the industrialized nations, but also China -- will not want to risk their precious only children as cannon fodder in major land wars. Such a policy would, obviously, have its up side if it reduced the chance of war. On the other hand, there are times when a credible military, and the will to use it, are necessary for defense.

It is certainly true that the total birthrates of Western nations are below replacement, often well below. But these birthrates have not been spread evenly to produce a majority of one-child families. Rather, we have a rising number of women with no children, averaged in with the two or three child families of the middle class, and the three or four child families of the poor and immigrants.

Kurth rightly says that the "liberal professionals and professional liberals" are particularly unlikely to have large families. However, they are also particularly unlikely to send their children to war, no matter how many they have. The war-making class and the war-fighting class are as separated as they ever have been, thanks to the all-volunteer force. Short of a large draft, things will stay that way.

Demographic contraction will have a significant effect on how big a force we could muster in a large war. But I don't think the trend toward few children in the educated classes will translate into any greater reluctance to make war at all. Chelsea Clinton and the Bush twins were the precious result of their parents' only birth, but it did not make their commander-in-chief fathers any less likely to commit the country to war. Those kids weren't going to serve, anyway.


Anonymous said...

Kurth also suggests that the birth-dearth accounts for a change in military strategy emphasizing low-casualty conflicts (like wars against Grenada) and low-casualty technology (like smart weaponry and high altitude bombing). Is this aspect of his argument more convincing, or are other factors (like technological superiority and asymmetric warfare) at work here?

Gruntled said...

I would think that low casualties are so appealing in their own right that we would pursue them anyway.

Anonymous said...

I find this a very interesting concept and I may ask some of the columnists who contribute to my magazine to take it up. Russia certainly has a demographic problem, yet I hardly think it would back down from war because of it. Certainly in the past the country has shown more willingness than most to sacrifice people for the sake of ideology. Additionally, Russia has mandatory military service, which occurs mostly under appalling conditions, resulting in the death of young servicemen every year.

What is more frightening than losing people fighting a war is the prospect of not fighting one (or losing one) and being overrun by an enemy force.

Gruntled said...

I think if just about any country were invaded, it could muster an army. The question Kurth raises is whether the birth dearth affects projective wars, undertaken elsewhere. There are a dozen reasons why Russia would not invade Afghanistan again; is demographic pressure one of them?

Anonymous said...

Russian province gets set for 'Conception Day'.... I saw this story on Breitbart.com. Prizes for births in Russia!