[Population Aging to 2030, Day 4, Essay 1 of 2]

Unprecedented demographic decline promises to lead Tokyo into uncharted economic, social, environmental, and diplomatic territory in the coming decades.  Owing to low fertility, high life expectancy, and trifling immigration, Japan will be significantly older and smaller in 2030 than it is today.  The population will decline from 128 million in 2010 to 116 million twenty years hence, averaging a loss of over 660,000 Japanese citizens per year.  During this same period, Japan’s working age population (ages 15-64) will shrink by 17 percent from 81 million to 67 million.  The median age of the population will rise from 45 to 50 while about a third of the population will be over 65 years old by 2030.

The diminishing work force will almost certainly limit the prospects for robust economic growth.  A graying society, meanwhile, will impose potentially overwhelming financial burdens on the polity to care for the elderly.  Beyond the socioeconomic challenges, depopulation and aging will also have worrisome implications for Japan’s national security.  As the population ages and shrinks at accelerating rates, Tokyo will be increasingly hard pressed to fulfill basic military obligations ranging from homeland defense to the discharge of international responsibilities.  Indeed, a sharp mismatch between its strategic posture and resources looms.

For the past decade, successive administrations have deployed ground, air, and naval forces far beyond Japan’s own neighborhood to conduct “international peace cooperation operations,” a vague umbrella term that includes humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, and reconstruction activities.  At the same time, pressures closer to home, including China’s rise and North Korea’s unpredictability, continue to consume policy attention.  Yet, Japan’s proliferating security challenges are already bumping up against a manpower ceiling, potentially stifling its quiet ambitions.

The figures are sobering.  The male population eligible to join Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (aged 18 to 26) peaked at nine million in 1994.  In just over fifteen years, this age group recorded an astounding 30 percent drop, plummeting to around six million.  By 2030, eligible males will fall to less than five million.  By contrast, the United States will post a 16 percent increase for the same cohort between 2010 and 2030.

Manpower constraints are already having a telling effect on force structure.  Faced with new missions even as personnel levels remained fixed, Japan’s maritime service was compelled to siphon servicemen from frontline and support units to fulfill additional duties.  Consequently, crews on some ships became shorthanded by as much as 30 percent.  This in turn forced the transfer of sailors from warships decommissioned well ahead of schedule to replenish undermanned vessels in the fleet.

Recent defense policy documents have held out hope that technology will substitute for people, potentially easing personnel shortages.  But most military operations—ranging from high-end conventional wars to post-conflict reconstruction—soak up manpower. Gee-whiz technologies, such as unmanned systems, only go so far.  War fighters in the field and support crews in the rear must still do much of the heavy lifting.

Japan’s response to the March 2011 tsunami disaster was the starkest reminder of this reality: Tokyo called up over 100,000 military personnel—about 40 percent of the active duty force—for relief operations, the largest deployment of troops in Japan’s postwar history.  In short, boots on the ground still count for much in peacetime as in war.

Unless Japan is prepared for a major military buildup, which appears politically doubtful and fiscally unsustainable, the country’s shrinking pool of manpower will weigh heavily on Japanese decision makers.  Tokyo’s bold claim that it will actively promote international peace and security while bolstering its independent capacity to defend itself strains credulity.

Several implications are discernible from the projected population trends.  First, Japan cannot do it all.  Japanese leaders must set clearer priorities—in effect establishing a hierarchy among traditional war-fighting tasks and the nontraditional tasks Tokyo anticipates. They must also consider the strategic, operational, and force-structure trade-offs of any priorities they choose to set.  Do, say, humanitarian missions outweigh sea-lane defense?  Perhaps a starker choice awaits Tokyo.  Japan may have to favor manpower-intensive conventional operations that match China’s growing military prowess in East Asia while foregoing international peacekeeping missions.

Second, Japan will likely rely even more on the United States for its security.  In the worst case scenario, overdependence on Washington could tempt Japanese policymakers to hand off ever more defense responsibilities to the U.S. military, hollowing out the Self-Defense Forces.  The corollary is that the depopulating nation may become less willing and able than it has been for the past six decades to help the United States defend the liberal international order. The larger question for Washington, then, is how it can adjust to an emerging security paradigm in which a key strategic anchor in Asia recedes from the world scene.

Finally, an analytical caveat is warranted.  Strategic axioms that have long guided Japanese security strategy, such as the informal cap on the defense budget, could undergo radical change in times of severe duress.  A violent or peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula that produced a state hostile to Tokyo or a Sino-Japanese naval war over disputed maritime claims could trigger a fundamental reassessment and reorientation.  While population decline will clearly limit the range of Japanese policy options, there is nothing fated about Japan’s self-imposed restraints.  The role of contingency in international politics will thus remain an ever active ingredient to Japanese strategic choices.

Nevertheless, the population crisis for Japan is undoubtedly approaching, and this crunch will be accompanied by unprecedented pressures and demands. The anguishing decisions to mitigate the strategic consequences of aging are already evident today and will only become more difficult to make as the strategy-resource mismatches worsen in the coming years. It thus behooves policymakers to devote their attention to this looming problem sooner rather than later and, more importantly, before it becomes unmanageable.

by Richard Cincotta

[Population Aging to 2030, Day 3, Essay 3 of 3]

How powerful is advanced population aging?—powerful enough to place at risk the liberal content of Europe’s democratic regimes? In this essay I’ll argue that it could; that today’s confident clusters of European and East Asian liberal democracies (states rated as “FREE” in Freedom House’s annual survey) will, as they age beyond the median age of 45 years, incur greater risks of losing elements of the political rights and civil liberties that generations of their citizens and political leaders worked hard to attain.

How sure am I of the impending risks? In fact, I’m not sure. There is yet no historic record of states experiencing advanced aging. Despite the well-documented evidence of increasing democratic stability as country-level populations age (Weber 2012, Cincotta & Doces 2012, Cincotta 2008/09 & 2008), current theory cannot hope to forecast political behaviors for countries well beyond the median age of 45—beyond the current demographic frontier and outside the reach of available data.

While no country has yet evolved a deeply post-mature age structure (Fig 1.), by 2030 some will. According to demographers at the US Census Bureau’s International Program Center and the UN Population Division, by 2030, between 19 and 29 states will possess this novel quality. Three or four will be East Asian states. Nearly all the rest will be located in Europe. According to current US Census Bureau and UN Population Division projections, by 2030 both Germany’s and Japan’s populations will range near the median age of 50 years.

Figure 1. Population age structures indicative of four phases of the age-structural transition.

So far, aging (an increase in the median age) has been “good news” for liberal democracy. Since 1972­—when Freedom House (FH) produced its first state-by-state assessments of political rights and civil liberties—the global demographic pattern of liberal democracy has been extraordinarily consistent. Among states with a youthful population (median age 25.0 years or less) the annual proportion of states assessed as FREE (Freedom House status score from 2.5 to 1.0) has been relatively low—around 18 percent, on average, over the past four decades (Figure 2). Around 60 percent of all intermediate countries (median age 25.1 to 35.0 years) and about 88 percent of mature countries (35.1 to 45.0 years) have received the “Free” assessment.

Figure 2. The mean annual proportion of states in each of three age-structural categories that were assessed as FREE in Freedom House’s annual survey, 1972 to 2011.

More importantly, youthful liberal democracies have shown themselves to be inherently unstable. Over the past four decades, youthful states have ascended to FH’s annual list of FREE regimes on 52 occasions. On 51 occasions, youthful states dropped off of that list, retreating to a less democratic or even autocratic regime in the wake of a coup d’état, after elected or unelected leaders have assumed extraordinary executive powers, or when political violence has led to restrictions on individual freedoms. As a group, states that have ascended to the FREE category as eitherintermediate or mature populations have experienced much greater success at maintaining this rating (Figure 3). In fact, liberal democracies over the median age of 30 years seem the most stable. From this politico-demographic vantage point, Huntington’s third wave of democracy—an empirical wave of Published November 3, 2013 by ObamaCare Facts Wondering why your health travel health insurance reviews policy was canceled going into 2014? Let’s take a look at why many Americans are losing their policy, how ObamaCare played a part, and why it could be a good thing or bad thing for you depending on the situation. successive democratization that began in southern Europe in the early 1970s—owes its accumulation of liberal regimes neither to popular revolution nor to gradual regime-motivated reforms, but to the democratic stability attained as population age structures mature.

But that was then—before any liberal democracies ventured beyond the median age of 45. Only the passage of time will allow an evaluation of the durability of post-mature liberal democracies. For now, political demographers are left to search among the behaviors of aging states for premature indications of democratic setbacks.

Figure 3. The absolute number of states, by age-structural type, that newly attained and lost the status of FREE in Freedom House’s annual survey, from 1973 to 2011.

Do such indications exist? Perhaps. Nearly all of the rapidly aging states along Europe’s southern flank have fallen into some degree of fiscal distress—and the shakiest among them appears to be Greece, now at a median age of 42 years. Under the pressure of civil disorder, Greece’s government has backed away from fiscal reforms and tough austerity measures. Although still assessed as FREE in FH’s most recent annual survey (Jan. 2012), Freedom House downgraded Greece’s political rights score (from 1.5 to 2.0). In Eastern Europe, declines from high levels of liberal democracy have been more obvious and widespread. Ukraine (median age of 40 years) dropped from FH’s FREE rating to PARTLY FREE in 2009. While remaining with FH’s FREE status, both Latvia’s (median age of 41 years) and Hungary’s (40 years) scores have trended toward declining political and individual freedoms over the past two years.

Nonetheless, few political scientists are ready to investigate the possibility that some of this drift away from liberal democracy is related to advanced population aging. Perhaps they should entertain the thought. In the case of Greece, one can easily imagine the rising burden of public pensions and old-age healthcare contributing to public sector deficits and the loss of fiscal flexibility, particularly during a global recession. For Ukraine, Latvia and Hungary, most experts will argue—with justification—that the strength of democratic institutions and liberal traditions in these post-communist states is still weak. That said, some have had difficulty explaining why these particular eastern European states, where the transition from state communism to liberal democracy went relatively smoothly (and enthusiastically), and not others, have experienced significant erosion of press freedoms and weakening of executive-judicial separation.

Could these lapses in “liberalness” be symptoms of the degree of fragility that, in the future, analysts will expect from post-mature liberal democracies? Just as age-structurally youthful democracies bear high statistical risks of a retreat to a less democratic regime type in the wake of intra-state conflict and electoral violence, perhaps post-mature liberal states will find themselves vulnerable to more subtle expansions of executive power and decay of judicial checks.

Significantly, no recent overt signs of illiberalness have emerged from within the world’s oldest aging states: Germany, Japan and Italy. Apparently, these have (so far) taken their rapid pace of aging in stride. Despite its fiscal problems, Italy (the next in line to enter the post-mature category) was recently upgraded by Freedom House—from 1.5 to the highest average rating, 1.0. Still, the history of advanced aging is just beginning, and depths of their future aging challenges have yet to be plumbed. By 2030, roughly 28 percent of all Germans and 26 percent of Italians are expected to be aged 65 and older. For Japan, that figure is should reach 30 percent by the same year.

How well-anchored are liberal political and institutional traditions in the societies of Europe’s and East Asia’s aging liberal democracies? Will these traditions permit prompt and adequate policy responses to aging’s oncoming challenges? So far, we cannot know. After all, we stand at the beginning of a new history.

Richard Cincotta is Demographer-in-residence at the Stimson Center in Washington, DC, and a consultant on political demography for the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program. From 2006-09, he served as a long-range analyst for the National Intelligence Council.

 

References cited

Cincotta, R. P. (2008). “How Democracies Grow Up: Countries with Too Many Young People May Not Have a Fighting Chance for Freedom.” Foreign Policy (165): 80-82.

Cincotta, R. P. (2008/09). “Half a Chance: Youth Bulges and Transitions to Liberal Democracy.”Environmental Change and Security Report(13): 10-18.

Cincotta, R. P. and J. Doces (2012). The Age-structural Maturity Thesis: the Youth Bulge’s Influence on the Advent and Stability of Liberal Democracy. Political Demography: How Population Changes Are Reshaping Security and National Politics. J. A. Goldstone, E. Kaufmann and M. D. Toft. Basingstoke and New York, Palgrave-MacMillanpp.98-116.

Weber, H. (2012). “Demography and Democracy: the Impact of Youth Cohort Size on Democratic Stability in the World.” Democratization, iFirst (1-23).