[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 Janine Davidson

The trends outlined in this blog and in the McKinsey report should not go un-noticed by military leaders and planners.  Given that war is and has always been a fundamentally human endeavor, the fact that the vast majority of humanity will be living in complex mega-cities means that fighting, for better or worse, will be in urban environments, most of which will be located on coastlines.

Urbanization, especially when combined with other emerging trends such as climate change (as Will Rogers points out), resource scarcity (especially water), poverty, and radicalization will pose great challenges to governments.  Thinking of the city as a system, as proposed by David Kilcullen, is useful for city planners, city managers and military planners.  City planners and managers should be focused on promoting resilience, as the ability to withstand shocks, flex, absorb, and regenerate will be the trademarks of successful cities of the future.

Still, cities will face extreme shocks and crises, no matter how resilient they may seem.  And, as the U.S. military’s long forgotten 1996 Joint Operating Concept for Military Support to Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) pointed out, “Once such difficult conditions emerge, the drivers of instability and conflict tend to reinforce one another, creating a degenerating cycle in which conditions continue to deteriorate, and the feelings of insecurity and the grievances of the local population intensify.”  The authors of that JOC conceptualized the stability operations environment as a complex system under stress and recognized that the longer a system was exposed to chronic stresses such as crime, gang violence, or insurgency, or the greater the magnitude of the shock from a natural disaster or war, the more the system risked collapse.  Preventing or reversing this potential spiral was the defining task of SSTR.  The JOC authors struggled with how to approach this phenomenon using a systems approach and left much unanswered, but their “system under stress” model is a useful frame on which to build as we attempt to cope with the inevitable challenges of urbanization and contemplate what military operations in such environments might be like.

Prevention and Resilience

Across the U.S.G. there is an emerging emphasis on prevention and resilience.  On the civilian side, this is reflected in new U.S. development programs such as the Global Climate Change Initiative, the Global Health Initiative and Global Food Security.  In his 2012 “Annual Letter,” USAID Administrator, Rajiv Shah, emphasized the need to shift the focus from “relief to resilience – from responding after emergencies to preparing communities in advance.” Feed the Future, for example, calls for a shift from emergency food relief to helping build local capacity that can promote food security and help prevent famines.  Likewise, the Obama administration built on President Bush’s most successful second-term USAID initiative, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), by developing a plan for the next five years that transitions from an emergency focus, enhances partnerships with other AIDS programs, builds local government capacity and focuses on sustainability, prevention, and resilience.

Similarly, as DoD’s recent Budget Priorities document suggests, the U.S. military seeks to “reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations,” by strengthening the ability of local and regional security forces to respond to their own crises.  In a perfect world, such security enhancement efforts would be integrated with development efforts and those of other countries, non-government aid organizations, and the private sector for a more holistic approach to helping societies prepare for the stresses associated with rapid urbanization, resource scarcity, and climate change.  But of course we do not live in that world; and while outside assistance from the U.S. and others may help, the fact is that many of our global cities will face extreme crises due to natural, man-made, or a combination of these shocks.  And when this happens, inevitably, the U.S. military will be called in to assist.

Lessons for the Future

While military planners must not get stuck in the past continually “fighting the last war,” they must also recognize where lessons can be learned.  To prepare for the complex urban environments of the future, we might start by analyzing and “red teaming” a couple of the more challenging recent cases to consider what lessons future enemies have been gleaning and how such lessons might be applied in the complex urban fights of the future.  The following cases present a cross-sectional array of lessons, for both our enemies and ourselves:

1. The Shock of Mumbai:  In November, 2008, a well-trained and well-armed Pakistani terrorists group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, launched a sophisticated raid on the most populous city in the world, the coastal mega-city of Mumbai, India.  After commandeering fishing vessels in the middle of night, 10 commando-terrorists landed on two separate points in the heart of the city and began to systematically execute civilians in eleven pre-determined highly populated target locations.  They had used Google earth to plan the attacks on each target, and their actions were coordinated via a Pakistan-based command center using cell phones and VOIP.  Their leaders leveraged television news and social media, such as Twitter, to monitor the actions in real time.  The attack continued for three days as the local police struggled to respond through the complex maze of their own city streets and the babble of reports coming in.  Special Indian counter-terrorism and para-military forces, including the National Security Guards, the Rapid Action Force, and Marine Commandos were needed to engage the terrorists as local police forces were simply out-gunned.

The Mumbai attackers leveraged the very complexity of the city as well as its coastal location to launch a highly sophisticated and terrifying attack that was simply beyond the capability and capacity of the local law enforcement to prevent or to respond.  Until the lines were cut, the terrorists were able to track the movements of security forces on television news while barricaded with hostages in one of the hotels.  Foreign forces, had they been called in to assist, might have brought more sophisticated weaponry or communications equipment, but would have had to cope with limited maneuverability among hordes of traffic and people on unfamiliar streets, and may have arrived too late to the game anyway.

2. Mexico Under Stress:  Where the Mumbai raids reflect the shock that can be applied to a complex urban system by a very small group of terrorists, the war against the drug cartels across Mexico demonstrates how the chronic violence of organized crime can stress a system nearly to a breaking point.  For violent criminals in places like Mexico a mixture of urban and rural environments can be leveraged to conduct operations.  But what is perhaps more important to grasp is how such illicit non-state and transnational actors are able to actively exploit the cultural and institutional pre-dispositions of traditional governments that prefer to bifurcate “crime” from “war,” and thus law enforcement tasks from those of the military.

In Mexico, one might conclude that the police have been “defeated” through infiltration of the ranks, corruption, and intimidation.  The answer has been for the Mexican government to call in its military to bring stability, law, and order to the cities most overwhelmed by violence and crime.  Of course, the militaries are not well trained in such para-military or police-like work, are usually unfamiliar with the local environments, and thus have had little success in reversing this degenerative spiral.  Should other governments be invited to intervene, they would face a similar conundrum on whether to send police or military units to assist.

The lesson for the “bad guys” of the future is to find ways to operate in this gap between crime and war.  Similarly, pirates off the coast of Somalia understand clearly that due to the international regimes regarding crime and war, they will neither be targeted like an enemy naval vessel and blown out of the water nor prosecuted in any particular court with authority over their crimes.  War-like criminals, transnational gangs, and traffickers of the future will ride their violent activities to the edge of this perfect gap until governments determine how to close it.

3. Katrina, Haiti, Japan and the Spiral to Chaos:  Hurricane Katrina that hit the U.S. coastal city of New Orleans in August 2005 demonstrated that the developed world is not immune to systemic urban breakdown.  As local police and first responders left their own posts to protect and aid their own families, the most vulnerable citizens were without protection, food, and water.  Once it became clear that the police were no longer present, common criminals began to loot and gangs began to form.

In Haiti, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit in 2010 similarly overwhelmed local authorities.  In addition to rescuing and caring for refugees, the need to prevent or stop the spread of disease in a city of 3.5 million was a challenge.  In future, responding to epidemics will present even greater challenges to weak mega-cities hit by similar natural disasters.  Even military troops may not have the capacity to treat or quarantine the populations that may be required.

Finally, the 2011 combination of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan reflects clearly both the vulnerability of our complex mega cities and the value of resilience.  In Japan, earthquake-proof buildings limited the type of full-scale destruction we might anticipate if such a triple-disaster were to hit a less resilient, highly populated, urban center.  Still, despite a laudable level of resilience, Japan still needed humanitarian disaster relief from others.  Meanwhile, the nuclear part of the disaster has made populations around the world reluctant to adopt nuclear solutions in the future.  This presents challenges to urban planners who must address the need for more and more energy to power mega cities.

Future Military Planning

A couple of themes emerge from these cases for military planners to consider.

The first is that militaries will continue to be called on when civilian agencies are overwhelmed.  In each of the cases above, the challenges were beyond the capacity and capability of local law enforcement or first responders.  As the cases of Japan and Katrina show, this will likely be true even in the more developed and modern cities.

Second, we need to get very serious about “interagency” planning between police and military forces.  The traditional lines between these two may exist for good historical reasons, but they are becoming a liability.  Terrorists, insurgents, pirates, well-armed transnational traffickers and criminals have learned to operate with near impunity in this gap.  When criminals are better armed than police, we need to rethink how we conceptualize these two realms.  In Mumbai, only the special para-military types of units were able to compete with the terrorists.

Third, military planning must consider both the advantages and disadvantages technology provides.  American forces rely heavily on cyber and space-based technologies for communication, navigation, and targeting.   On the low end, the military must train and plan to fight “unplugged” – that is, in environments where such systems are down or compromised.  On the higher end, for environments when the lights stay on, leveraging social media for up to date information or clever crowd-sourced geo-mapping must be part of the military’s repertoire.  Importantly, military planning must account for either scenario in the same plan.

Fourth, if the military is to train the way it will fight, it will need to conduct more of its exercises and training in real cities, and do so side by side with law enforcement.  Small “MOUT” (military operations in urban terrain) sites at military training centers have gotten more sophisticated, but they do not expose troops to the real complexity and “fog” they will face attempting to navigate or control crowded, over-populated streets in mega-cities.

One of the biggest challenges will be scale. While the surges in Afghanistan and Iraq may demonstrate the value of greater numbers of boots on the ground for complex insurgencies and stability operations, the inability of mega-cities under stress to absorb, house, and feed these troops will require military units to be as small and as self-sustaining as possible.  The military should experiment with off-shore staging, building on the hospital-ship model from previous disasters, and also think through how to have greater impact with smaller numbers.

Finally, as Japan and Katrina show, for massive shocks caused by Mother Nature, local-level response, even in some of the more resilient cities, will not be enough. Regional and global relief regimes will need to be leveraged and coordinated with the private sector and relief organizations.  As the jammed airfields in Haiti revealed, coordination of the myriad humanitarian relief groups will become increasingly problematic unless we develop pre-determined rules of the road.

Some national security and military leaders may think that now that we are winding down in Afghanistan and Iraq, we will be able to actively avoid anything resembling those population-centric missions in future.  But it is a simple fact of military planning – especially in a democracy – that the military does not get to chose where it gets sent, what wars it will fight, what enemies it will face and in which environments.  An increasingly urbanized world means the military will find itself in cities, among crowded populations, and fighting savvy enemies who have been paying close attention, learning, and adapting.  The cases presented here are only a sample of the lessons the military must continue to mine in order to prepare itself for this new fight.

Janine Davidson is Assistant Professor at George Mason University’s Graduate School of Pubic Policy. From 2009-2012, she served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans where she oversaw the development of guidance for military campaign and contingency plans and the review and assessment of plans.  She previously served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and with theUnited States Air Force, where she was an aircraft commander and senior pilot for the C-130 and the C-17 cargo aircraft.

Military Operations as Urban Planning

By Michael Evans

There is little question in my mind that the demographic trends creating rapid urbanization will, over time, influence the conduct of joint warfare. By 2030 up to seventy per cent of the world’s population is likely to inhabit an urban area marking a strategic shift from landscape to cityscape. Moreover, many of the new urban centres will be in Asia and Africa. Even if one disagrees with Parag Khanna’s observation that we are approaching a global inflection point in which ‘the age of nations is over. The new urban era has begun’, we are, nonetheless, in the midst of a profound geopolitical shift in which urban areas will figure prominently in future Western joint military planning.

The difficulty the US and its allies will confront is that, while some global megacities may become hubs of stability, many others in the underdeveloped world are likely to become distributed slum ecosystems for a volatile migrant underclass marked by unemployed youth that will be easy recruitment material for revolutionary militias or any number of transnational insurgent groups or hybrid warfare opponents. It does not require a great leap in imagination to realise that the dystopian features of urbanization will favour the forces of transnational disorder. The rise of ‘metropolitical warfare’ is not a Blade Runner fantasy but a looming reality in the decades ahead – General Krulak’s ‘Stepchild of Somalia and Chechnya’ with a vengeance.

As a result, it will be incumbent in full-spectrum military operations to develop a form of urban operational art that exploits robotics and digitisation and appropriate low-tech capabilities. Cities are classic complex adaptive systems, a blend of interactive human and material forces, unpredictable and difficult to control.

Our conceptual problem in Western strategy is that we often equate city warfare with the horrifying battles of Stalingrad and Manila from a World War II paradigm – or else we default to MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain). This is an outmoded approach and must be replaced by a MOUP (Military Operations as Urban Planning) approach in which military professionals leverage knowledge from urban planners, emergency services and policing – in short an inter-agency approach.

After ten years of counterinsurgency, there is, of course, little appetite for urban military operations. Unfortunately, urban development in the ‘global South’ will continue and it will intersect with insurgency, terrorism and hybrid warfare. Most urban development is predicted to be decentralized and may over time become focused on sprawling ‘city webs’, dense enclaves with no clear urban-rural divide and this will favour any number of armed groups who may, in turn develop a rural-urban interface. Cities such as Karachi in Pakistan are a good example of this development and potentially pose a severe challenge to state-order.

An urban lens in strategy and security policy must then be developed in the US and the West – and this must go beyond military professionals and embrace the policy community and defense intellectuals. The city as a battlespace is not a place where we would choose to fight, but it may become necessary in some future contingencies.

It was Lewis Mumford in his book 1961 book The City in History who warned us that evey city contains within it the ‘lethal genes’ of war. Fifty years on Mumford looks more prescient than ever.

Dr. Michael Evans is a Fellow at the Australian Defence College in Canberra, Australia.