"LOOK AT IT THIS WAY," Gunnar Heinsohn said. "Your family is in a shooting war with a family across the street. Your forces consist of a father, mother and one child, perhaps two. The other family has a father, mother and seven children, perhaps eight or nine. For your family, the loss of one person would be devastating. The larger family can take casualties and continue fighting."
We were in London, having coffee before a Jane's Cityforum conference on "Defense to 2020 and Beyond." As we talked, generals, staffers, and defense contractors maneuvered among the pastry tables. Heinsohn is director of the Raphael-Lemkin Institute at the University of Bremen and author of Sons and World Power: Terror in the Rise and Fall of Nations, an academic best-seller in Germany. Later in the day he would be lecturing professional soldiers on the "demographic dimension" of future warfare.
"My point," Heinsohn continued, "is that the strength of a nation's military is affected by the size of a nation's families. Falling birth rates in Western countries mean that even light casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan bring cries of pain in Europe and America. But Iraq and Afghanistan are growing rapidly. Their populations are swollen by youth bulges. Their average family has five or six children. They are in what I call 'extreme demographic armament.'"
"What about America and Europe?"
"Except for its white population, which is falling, America is in demographic neutrality. Europe, however, is in demographic capitulation. Several European countries have birth rates so low they are committing demographic suicide. Supposedly, the EU was formed because Europeans were tired of fighting. 'Five hundred years of war is enough,' they said. But there is a great lie here. Why wasn't four hundred years of war enough? Or three hundred? The real reason Europeans decided to stop killing each other is that they were no longer having big families. They had no more superfluous sons to burn on the battlefield. I talk about these things in my book. I will talk about them today, as well."
"Your book hasn't been published in English," I said. "A demographic theory of war and terror could be a tough sell to a military audience in London."
Heinsohn smiled. "Generals understand. If you don't have children today, you won't have soldiers tomorrow. Jane's partner, Cityforum, asked me to speak at a similar conference last year. After my presentation, General Brims, a British commander in Iraq, told me that when he arrived in Basra he would go into houses and find large numbers of young people. Everywhere, young people. He wondered if they were refugees, or if maybe it was a trap. Finally he realized the young people belonged to the families that lived in those houses. They were the children of the Iraqi youth bulge."
"And a youth bulge is?"
"A result of rapid population growth. A youth bulge happens when thirty to forty percent of a nation's males are between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine. Even if these young men are well nourished and have good housing and education, their numbers grow much faster than the economy can provide them with career opportunities. Many don't have jobs, and don't have places in society. When so many young men compete for the few places available, they become frustrated, angry, and violent. They are enlisted quite easily into radical groups and terror organizations."
"Is that what you talked about last year?"
"Last year I said that if the U.S. population since 1950 had grown at the same rate as Pakistan, America would now have almost a billion people. If Germany had grown at the same rate as Gaza, Germany would now have six hundred million people and a youth bulge to go with it. Which means today we would not be seeing young men throwing rocks and bombs just in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank, we would also be seeing violence in the streets of Hamburg and Berlin. That got the generals' attention."
"How will you get their attention this year?"
"I will tell them the real cause of the quagmire in Iraq. And in Afghanistan, too."
Heinsohn went off to prepare his lecture and I went upstairs, where a packed house was waiting for the conference to begin. The program looked promising. Jane's had enlisted an all-star lineup--literally. The first two sessions featured a Rear Admiral, a Vice Admiral, four Lt. Generals and a former NATO commander. Unaccustomed to military meetings, I half expected officers this high in the pecking order to stand the audience at attention and hammer their points home like George C. Scott. But the speakers talked quietly about their topics and modestly about the records and accomplishments that make them among the best in the business. They also brought new perspectives to familiar issues. In the world of military intelligence, the inconvenient truth about melting ice caps is not drowning polar bears. It's easier access to the Arctic Ocean for enemy subs.
By the end of the second session there was agreement that hard as it may be to predict where and when future wars will be fought, wars there will be. Lt. General James Mattis, USMC, admitted that he "stay[s] up nights worrying about how to defeat IEDs, which will soon be coming to a town near you." Even cyberspace will be a combat zone. Chinese hackers have already broken through firewalls at U.S. and U.K. defense facilities. More than 20,000 "irregular warriors" are now engaged in various forms of warfare and they're getting better at it, said British Admiral Chris Parry. He noted that the irregular warriors have built "a vibrant criminal economy, and will be taking aim at economic targets. It will be easier for them to bomb us back to the middle ages than it will for us to bomb them back to the middle ages, because in their attitudes they are already there."
But we can't focus exclusively on irregular warfare, Parry added. By 2010 China will have its first aircraft carrier and by 2018 state vs. state warfare "will be back with a vengeance." Which state vs. which state was left unclear.
As the afternoon session began, I wondered how Gunnar Heinsohn and demographic armament would fit into a conference on military armament. Heinsohn was introduced by the chief moderator, General Sir Jack Deverell KCB, former commander of NATO's Armed Forces North. The audience turned to Heinsohn's bio in the program notes. Born in 1943, with doctorates in economics and sociology, he is the author of 37 books. 'Sons and World Power,' now in its eighth printing, "explores the relation between superfluous but adequately brought up sons and violent movements throughout history."
To polite applause, Heinsohn clipped a wireless mike to his lapel and stepped away from the lectern. In a room of crisp uniforms and dark suits, Heinsohn wore a brown tweed jacket, striped wool tie and professorial beard, the classic uniform of academe. Clearly, the pace was about to change and Heinsohn immediately got the audience's attention.
"Most of the men in this room," he said, "belong to the 45 to 60 age bracket." In this bracket, he continued, the U.S. and U.K. have a four-to-one advantage over the male populations of two youth bulge nations, Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af-Pak), 36 million vs. 9 million. However, in the 0-14 bracket--the cohort that will be reaching military age in 2020 and beyond--the 36 million boys in the US-UK are outnumbered by 38 million boys in Afghanistan-Pakistan alone. From a military standpoint, this numerical edge is bigger than it sounds, Heinsohn added. In NATO countries, where families are small, there is no such thing as a disposable male. Statistically, Western boys are likely to be only sons or only children. But in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 25 million of those 38 million boys are second, third or fourth sons.
The real quagmire in Iraq is not military, Heinsohn said. It's demographic. "The Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq stated that 'While the United States has been able to acquire good and sometimes superb tactical intelligence on al Quaeda in Iraq, our government still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role of the militias.' The report never mentions demography. If we fail to understand the implications of Iraq's demographic armament, the real cause of future insurgencies will remain enigmatic."
Heinsohn asked for his first slide, which showed that Iraq has 5.5 million boys younger than 15. The UK--with more than twice the population of Iraq--has only 5.3 million boys in the under-15 age bracket. By 2022, some 360,000 young Iraqi men will be reaching military age every year. If half these men find legitimate jobs, radicals and insurgents will still have an annual recruitment pool of 180,000 second and third brothers--roughly the number of Coalition troops in Iraq today. Islamic youth bulges have given the terror contingent an "asymmetric" advantage, a tactical edge that can't be matched by countries in demographic capitulation. The Islamists can take heavy casualties and replenish their forces quickly because Islam's demographic arsenals are filled to overflowing with irregular warriors who will fight to the death.
In the opening session, Admiral Parry mentioned this asymmetric aspect to the war on terror. "We keep trying to use technology to fight war at a distance, but our adversaries have taken war back to the brutal and the bloody," Parry said. Heinsohn illustrated Parry's point with data on the "demographic armament" of Iraq. For every thousand men aged 45-59, Iraq has 5,500 boys aged 0-14. The UK, however, with a ratio of 1,000 to 885, is in "demographic capitulation." The US has 1,000 men to 1,025 boys, which, in Heinsohn's view, qualifies as "demographic neutrality."
In Germany, the ratio is 1,000 men to only 590 boys. If Germany continues down the path to demographic suicide, by 2050 its population will be 15 million below where it is now. "Not to make you happy about the fate of a former enemy," Heinsohn told the audience, "but Germany's low birth rate has weakened it to the point where it is not much of an ally."
The destabilizing effect of youth bulges have been known to Western intelligence analysts for at least a decade. The original studies of youth bulge violence go back to French sociologist Gaston Bouthoul in the 1970s. Heinsohn, who has broadened youth bulge research and applied it to a wider range of conflicts, cited 1997 testimony before the U.S. Senate Select Committee by General Patrick Hughes, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and 1998 testimony before the same committee by John Gannon, chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Both men mentioned the destabilizing effects of youth bulges and the challenge that demographic intelligence poses to the U.S.
Youth bulge analysis has bad news for some Islamic countries, too. "Khomeini's revolution in Iran came as a surprise," Heinsohn said, "because the Iranian youth bulge that preceded it did not appear on anybody's radar. Now it is Iran's demographic capitulation that evades Western analysts." More data flashed on the screen. "Today, every 1,000 Iranian men of prime fighting age (15-24) will be succeeded by only 565 boys aged 0-9. With such a dramatic plunge in manpower from--in absolute numbers--8.35 million young men to 4.72 million boys, Iran has little time left to launch armies against its opponents, and the Iranian president knows it. Last year Ahmadinejad called on his people to have bigger families, saying "Our country has the capacity for 120 million people. Westerners have got problems. Because their population growth is negative, they are worried and fear that if our population increases, we will triumph over them."
But Iran's birth rate continues to fall. "Demographically," Heinsohn said, "Iran is a paper tiger."
Hurrying to squeeze a 20-page paper into a 20-minue time slot, Heinsohn presented brief glimpses of the world through a youth bulge lens.
* The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will continue because "Western aid has enabled Palestine--where nearly every newborn is considered a refugee and provided with food and medical care by international agencies--to defeat Israel demographically." The population of Gaza jumped from 240,000 in 1950 to almost 1,500,000 in 2007. In 2006 there were 640,000 Jewish boys under 15 in Israel, against 1,120,000 Arab boys under 15 in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel. The last cohort with a Jewish majority is the 30-44 age bracket--540,000 Jews vs. 410,000 Arabs--which is now past prime military age. And yet despite 60 years of fighting and violence, the overall Israeli-Arab death toll is relatively low. It ranks 49th on Heinsohn's list of fatalities in conflicts worldwide since 1948. The Israeli-Palestinian conflicts rank 67th.
* Colombia's return to peace and public safety was not brought about by tough controls imposed by the Uribe government. Peace is a result of the "ageing out" of Colombia's last big youth bulge, combined with falling birth rates, "which have simply dried up the recruitment pool for violent gangs." Similar drops in violence and political extremism have been seen throughout South America as youth bulges disappear into middle age.
* Turkey may become a more reliable partner of the West. Turkey's youth bulges have run their course and total fertility has fallen below the U.S. birth rate. This means Turkey can no longer afford to push its young people abroad to find jobs. It must encourage them to stay, "and feels reluctant to sacrifice them in war."
* Low birth rates in Russia and China place both countries in demographic capitulation.
* Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's top lieutenant, miscalculated when he encouraged Somalia to fight its war with Ethiopia by doing to the Ethiopian army what al Quaeda is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan--inflicting casualties that cause protest and dissension in Coalition countries. In 1993 U.S. forces fled Somalia after suffering 18 killed and 73 wounded. But unlike America and the UK, Heinsohn noted, Ethiopia is in strong demographic armament. It is unlikely we'll see peace marches in the streets of Addis Ababa or that Ethiopia will be deterred by losses on the battlefield.
* To compensate for falling birth rates and "to slow the ageing of its own populations, the Anglo-World--the U.S., Canada, U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand--is trying to attract immigrants from a handful of European countries. But these European providers of manpower, such as Poland, Ukraine, and Austria, are in demographic capitulation and are desperately trying to attract immigrants themselves. By 2050, the total demand for foreign talent in the developed world will reach 150 million. The United States alone will realize growth by pulling in the best and brightest from everywhere else. For this reason, friends and allies may opt out of alliances with the U.S., not out of anti-Americanism but because they don't want to be demographically neutered."
During the afternoon tea break I asked Heinsohn about this last point. Are developed countries really condemned to cannibalize each other's workers, or might there be ways to encourage larger families inside their own borders? Heinsohn wasn't hopeful. More than 100 years ago, he said, there were already indications that family budgets were affecting family size. German economist Julius Wolf found not only that Germany's high birth rates had fallen sharply, but that men with fewer children, or no children at all, earned higher salaries. Less time changing diapers meant more time to learn their jobs. Wolf's research was an early warning of demographic problems to come. For centuries, the Western world had forbidden birth control and abortion. The only sexual act that was both legal and non-sinful was procreative intercourse. The result was youth bulges. Between 1500 and 1914, the population of Europe skyrocketed from 60 to 470 million because, Heinsohn said, "people only had two choices--becoming the parents of lots of children or a celibate life. Today they have many choices. For many wage earners, who often have no land to leave to an heir, remaining childless is a logical decision. And today it's women, too, who worry their careers will be harmed by having children."
"Millions of individual decisions to not have children are adding up to a collective disaster," I said. "But can't things change? Deciding to have children is about more than money."
"If there is an emotional need for children, it can be satisfied with one child. But one-child families mean demographic collapse. I have suggested to the German government that they confront the economic issue directly. A family's first child will come from the emotional wish to have offspring. Therefore offer a one-time payment of 130,000 euros for having a second child, and net reproduction is achieved."
"Obviously, there's a lot at stake here. If I understood your message to the military, a demographic tsunami is headed our way. For years to come, al Qaeda will have no trouble finding soldiers and suicide bombers."
"For Europe, it will be difficult. We may even see Europeans move to the U.S. and Canada for safety. But there are also demographic reasons to be optimistic. The combined population of just three democracies--India, Brazil, and Mexico--is 1.43 billion, compared with 1.33 billion Muslims worldwide, 150 million of whom live in India. Demographically both groups are nearly equal in size, but there are significantly more Muslims under 29 because total fertility in Islam is much higher. In another twenty years most of the Islamic youth bulges will have run their course--as they already have in Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. Therefore, defending against the aggression of the youth bulges that have hijacked Islam is not an insurmountable obstacle. An alliance of India with the Anglo-World may be all we need to safely travel the bumpy road ahead."
When the conference ended, several dozen people thanked Heinsohn for alerting them to the dynamics of demographic armament. The military men with whom I spoke had mixed opinions. They seemed to agree with General Deverell, who, during the conference, summed up his reaction to Heinsohn's theory by calling it "fascinating and slightly weird."
For professional soldiers, demographics do pose slightly weird problems. Military intelligence concentrates on separating the plausible from the probable, as Admiral Parry put it. But demographics is a time machine, a visit to the future. If you know how many people were born in 2006, you know how many people will be turning 15 in 2021. You know which countries will be demographically strong and which will be weak.
To strengthen a weak military, you build tanks and planes. But what do you do if those tanks and planes need gunners and pilots? What do you do if your country needs a larger, younger, more energetic population with the willingness to fight, the endurance to support sustained military operations, and the courage to have larger families? It takes at least two generations of higher birth rates for a nation to demographically arm itself--although you can help things along by leaving your southern border open.
During the speaking program, Heinsohn was followed by a Canadian officer, Brigadier General David Fraser, former Regional Commander South for the allied forces in Afghanistan. Fraser gave a gripping account of what it's like to patrol 220,000 square kilometers of dangerous territory with one mechanized brigade. He spoke about the urgent need to find jobs for every male in Afghanistan, and emphasized that the key to success in field operations is "People, people, people. Our greatest asset is our people."
Fraser was talking about quality--the value of training and effective leadership. Heinsohn had just finished talking about quantity. At one time a coalition of Western countries could have provided General Fraser with ten brigades to secure Regional Command South. Those days are gone. In the opening session Lt. General Sir David Richards, commander of the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, told the audience that "In Afghanistan, only the United States is willing to commit blood and treasure on the scale necessary for success."
Among the Western nations serving on the front lines in Afghanistan, only the United States is not in demographic capitulation.
Clark Whelton, a former chief speechwriter to New York City mayors Ed Koch and Rudy Giuliani, is a writer living in Manhattan.