Population and power

Population and power

Populations across regions and countries reflect divergent trends and challenges. Global population is growing at an annual rate of 0.91% . Population parameters are becoming very significant from the perspective of geopolitics and national security.

Follow Us :

Last Updated : 10 July 2024, 20:55 IST

Demography is a major source of power and progress. On the occasion of World Population Day, we need to take stock of the impact of important demographic shifts and transitions for the global geopolitical landscape. Countries need to address these demographic challenges more seriously. The world has come a long way since the days of Thomas Malthus who was concerned about the geometric/exponential growth of the population vis-à-vis the arithmetic growth of resources, leading to the phenomenon of the ‘Malthusian Cycle’.

The world’s population has grown from 1 billion in 1800 to 8.1 billion today, and many of his forebodings have not come true, though some challenges remain. Today, population has become a spatial and security challenge on the agenda of states and international organisations. Geopolitical perspectives also have an impact on demographic debates, along with the biopolitical dimensions. These include the geopolitical imperatives of food security, resources, technology and even land ownership. 

Populations across regions and countries reflect divergent trends and challenges. Global population is growing at an annual rate of 0.91 per cent. Population parameters are becoming very significant from the perspective of geopolitics and national security. Some writers have termed this ‘strategic demography’ since population is a critical factor in military-strategic power. History has shown that demography — both in terms of numbers and quality — has been a vital factor in state consolidation. Roman Emperor Julius Caesar used economic measures/incentives to stimulate birth rates, even offering various privileges for families with more children. 

Demography impacts the geopolitical balance of power. History shows that demography was a critical factor that led to France losing out to Germany. While France’s population increased from 30 million to 40 million between 1800 and 1900, Germany’s increased from 15 million to 40 million during the same time frame. This had major geopolitical consequences for Europe’s balance of power. 

German geopolitical strategist Friedrich Ratzel perceived the State as a living organism characterised by birth, development, and death that takes place in the lebensraum (living space). Demographics came to be linked to military prowess, territorial acquisition and military victories. Even a great military theorist like Carl von Clausewitz contended that war was not just the continuation of politics by other means.

It also had to do with issues like depletion of human resources, fertility rate, birth rate, demographic diversity and gender composition, ageing population, death rate, and fall in the morale of the population. Kautilya in his Arthashastra also adumbrated on the importance of human resources in war and peace. In other words, demography impacts the geopolitical space as well as preparedness of a State. Ageing populations can adversely impact military capacities, preparedness, and economic potential.

According to UN estimates, between 2000 and 2050, the world population will continue to grow but only by about 50 per cent, thereby halving the growth rate. This works out to an average population increase of 57 million people a year.  One can compare this to the 71 million that was added to the world’s population between 1950 and 2000. Europe’s population is expected to drop to anywhere between 550 and 650 million by 2050, from 742 million.

In the 21st century, most countries are experiencing demographic stagnation and declining fertility rates. The US and China are experiencing slow population growth rates in decades. Japan, Germany, South Korea and Russia are witnessing a population decline as well. This has resulted in scenarios like labour shortages, decreased productivity, and smaller militaries. Hence most countries are facing a population conundrum. To maintain a stable world population, demographers suggest that the critical number for fertility should be 2.1 births per woman.

However, in developed countries the average is only 1.6 babies per woman. In the middle level countries, it is 2.9 births per woman and in least developed countries it is down from 6.6 to five births per woman, and is expected to decrease to three by 2050. 

Decline in population growth is bound to impact politics, society, economy, military, among others. It impacts not just the future workforce but also the number and quality of troops, and by extension, war. Demographic challenges are partially tackled through immigration. However, this has raised cultural questions about integration in countries like the US, Japan, and Germany.

The territorial and spatial dimensions of population have to address geopolitics, territory, war, conflict, land, settlement, frontiers, and boundaries. Demography is a useful tool to understand geopolitics and national security, as it is impacted by three components of population change: mortality, fertility and migrations. Debates on the population conundrum have to incorporate both its geopolitical and biopolitical dimensions.

(The writer is professor, Department of International Studies, Political Science and History, Christ deemed to be University, Bengaluru)


Follow us on :

Follow Us