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The older we get the less warlike we become

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By Jonathan Power

May 7, 2019

old men have sent young men to fight the wars they have started. Today it may
be somewhat different. Old men may be shying away from war while young men are
still beholden to it.

world, as never before, is becoming demographically lopsided, with older people
concentrated in rich countries and the young in not-so-rich countries. These
older societies are becoming less warlike, as the influence of the experienced
and the wise filters down into the body politic.

are a number of well-regarded studies that show how so-called “youth bulges”
contribute to violence and conflict within states. Countries that have a high
ratio of people aged 15-24 among the adult population have an increased
likelihood of domestic terrorism and civil war.

new study takes this further. In the latest issue of Harvard’s “International
Security”, a group of academics examine whether “youth bulges” alter the
probability of military conflicts between states. They find they do. When a
society contains a high percentage of young people it is more likely to go to

does this come to be? How does it work out?

not just that younger people are more hot headed, more ready to take offence,
more worried and frustrated about realizing their natural urge to be
independent, more likely to be unemployed and more prone to being radicalized
by causes, it is that a youthful society makes recruitment by the military
cheaper, and by rebel groups easier.

surplus of young men significantly lowers the cost of recruiting an army. In
contrast, countries with fewer young adults spend more on personnel and
therefore have less for weapons development and procurement. Older societies
are compelled to pay more for their soldiers.

as the number of truly aged climbs upwards the financial demand on pensions and
social services and welfare increases.

societies have less motive for engaging in conflict for two reasons. First, is
the increased public aversion to losing a child in battle as family size
decreases. Second, is the well-proven fact that older people are more averse to
war. In ageing societies that are democratic the older, because of their
numbers, are more politically influential. Since young people tend to vote less
this bias is even more pronounced.

Pew study in 2006 that analyzed earlier surveys from the 1960s to the mid 2000s
concluded that “nearly four decades of survey show that there is a generation
gap over US military interventions”, with elderly Americans exhibiting, “the
greatest wariness about using military force. This was evident during the war
in Vietnam and remains the case today.”

interesting truth is that while large numbers of older people went out on the
street to protest the war, most young people were for it. Contrariwise, while
older people did not publically demonstrate, in private they were against it.

made in the UK and Germany found similar attitudes when it came to the support
of the more recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

US is moving in this direction more slowly than the other “greying” powers
because its population is so young, thanks to large-scale immigration in the
1980s and 1990s.

military age cohort of 18 to 23 year olds is forecasted to expand by 9% from 2010
to 2050. In China and Russia, in contrast, this cohort is predicted to decline
by 50 and 39%, respectively. One result is that the US is spending less of its
military budget per head in personnel costs than its European allies.

has a severe ageing problem. During the 2000s it spent considerably more on
military retirees for much of the decade than it did on either weapons
procurement or military research and development. It doesn’t have enough
conscripts and has had to increasingly rely on more expensive contract

has been military active in recent years but always its interventions have been
where there is a low risk of significant casualties. War is increasingly
unpopular in Russia.

supposedly a young country, is becoming an old country at an incredible rate.
The one-child policy worked too well. Even though it has been relaxed, the
birth rate remains low. As early as the mid 2000s China was experiencing labour
shortages. China is spending more on less soldiers.

China will become old before it can become a global peer of the US the
likelihood of a dangerous conflict is lower than many talk and write about.

we going to see a demographic peace?

could happen. Russia and China in future will take less risks when it comes to
initiating a major conflict.

the US will follow in their footsteps. It will be a bumpy road but it should
lead to more peace.

Not many of us like the idea of growing older but it might be one of the best things humanity has ever done.

Jonathan Power

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