Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Round Tables
The African Century? Demography and the Prospect of Development
Of all the world’s regions, Africa most resembles the world Malthus described.  Infant mortality is high; life expectancy is low; and disease and resource scarcity endanger the population.  And yet in many African nations these gloomy data seem increasingly like the shadow of the past rather than the shape of the future.  Infant mortality continues a steady decline; life expectancy, once stagnant, has begun to increase again.  As a result, Africa’s population is young and growing.  The United Nations projects that Africa’s population in 2045 will be twice what it is today.
The expansion and urbanization of Africa’s population represents an opportunity – if policymakers can capture Africa’s demographic dividend.  They might look already to a number of positive cases.  Nigeria, for instance, has enjoyed robust economic growth over the past decade, due in part to its vast oil exports but even more so to domestic development.  During the same time, however, Nigerian poverty has increased, particularly in its predominantly Muslim northern states, where the terrorist group Boko Haram has gained influence.  Fertility is considerably higher in Nigeria’s Muslim north than in its Christian south.  Nigeria exhibits in microcosm the challenges likely to play out in the continent as a whole over the coming decades: a demographic impetus for modernization alongside a demographic threat to stability.
Africa’s growth creates a host of challenges alongside its opportunities.  How, for instance, can Africa’s already-sprawling megacities cope with the 850 million men and women expected to join them by 2050?  How can another billion be fed when food and water resources are already strained?  To what degree can U.S. policy increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes?  With a U.S. drone base in Djibouti, U.S. troops in Mali liaising with French and African troops, and U.S. Special Forces in central Africa hunting the warlord Joseph Kony, has the United States adopted a strategy of small foot-print operations to counter terrorism and promote regional stability?  Will Africa’s economic development, driven perhaps by its demographic dividend, make such operations more or less likely going forward? 
The answers to all of these questions depend on the fundamental question of African politics: Can African polities nurture effective and legitimate political and economic institutions?  Since the mid-century decline of the European empires, new political pathologies have emerged throughout the region to buttress authoritarian “strong men.”  Webs of tribal and ethnic loyalty have weakened national identity and reduced politics to a zero-sum competition.  If there are today encouraging signs that these trends have taken a positive turn, the larger questions of African politics remain unanswered.
A popular series of state-run ads in Ethiopia shows confident Africans saying, “I am Africa, this is my century!”  As a matter of demographic growth, this is likely to be the case; for the foreseeable future none of the world’s regions will grow in population quite as rapidly as Africa.  But whether this is so with respect to economic, political, and cultural development is still uncertain.  How can U.S. policies harness African demographics to promote development and stability?  What might U.S. policymakers learn from the distinct strategies, often focused on resource extraction rather than humanitarian assistance, that emerging rivals such as China have pursued in the region?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: COL Jim Hentz & Dr. Oye Carr
Table Mentor: MAJ Riley Post
Back to the top
Coming of Age: Sources of Middle Eastern Instability
If African leaders fail to take advantage of their nations’ soon-to-be favorable demographic flows, their populations might urbanize without modernizing.  They would then resemble the populations of today’s Middle East.  In the past fifty years high fertility rates have nearly quadrupled the population of the Middle East, with over two thirds of that population now living in cities.  The region has accordingly been home to large numbers of young people, many of whom, given the region’s stagnant economies (apart from the energy sector), have gone unemployed.  Conventional wisdom links the Middle East’s contagious instability to its demographics and economics.  The trouble is the Middle East’s “youth bulge.”
Recently, however, this conventional story about the Middle East has come into question – not only because the correlation between unemployment and political radicalism is tenuous, but because a number of Middle Eastern nations have undergone dramatic declines in fertility.  In the region as a whole, fertility rates have been cut nearly in half.  If these trends persist, the population of the Middle East will age significantly.  By 2060 the number of Middle Easterners over sixty-five is projected to surpass the number under fourteen.  The suddenness of this change portends a dramatic “demographic dividend” in the coming years, followed by an equally dramatic “demographic deficit.”  And unless Middle Eastern nations exploit the dividend, the deficit will be steep indeed. 
What happens when a demographic transition precedes economic development?  In the case of Africa, this question is perhaps of greater humanitarian than strategic concern to U.S. policymakers.  But a number of Middle Eastern nations are of vital importance to U.S. foreign policy, and their looming demographic challenges should be viewed in this light.  How might Iran’s facing the prospect of population decline as soon as 2060 influence its appetite for strategic risk?  How might the fact that Turkey’s Kurds have nearly twice as many children as its ethnic Turks influence Turkey’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Syria, Iraq, and other areas of interest to the United States?
The Arab Spring has destabilized not only the region’s political institutions, but its demographics.  Early data suggest that in the wake of its revolution Egypt may have reversed a fifty-year trend of falling birth rates.  In Egypt and elsewhere, ethnic and religious groups long excluded from politics are gaining access to the power of the state.  While this trend increases the state’s democratic legitimacy, it does not always increase the state’s commitment to human rights, religious toleration, and ethnic diversity.  How, then, might the United States promote peaceful democratization and political stability in the wake of the Arab Spring?  Has austerity limited the reach of U.S. policy to the point where it is incapable of exerting a strong influence on the region’s political and economic development?  What tools will allow the region’s leaders to cope with current and impending demographic challenges?
Recommended Readings
​Co-Chairs: Mr. Steven Brooke & Mr. Gregory Aftandilian
Table Mentor: MAJ Robert Chamberlain
Back to the top
Forever Young: Demography and Strategy in India
Of the four BRICs, India’s demographic profile most resembles those of the poor countries of Africa and the Middle East.  India is by far the most fertile of the BRICs, yet not nearly as fertile now as it once was. Since 1950 India’s birthrate has fallen from six to just under three children per woman.  Relative to its BRIC peers this decline has been gradual; as a result, India has enjoyed a long-standing demographic dividend with no severe shift on the horizon. While India’s rate of economic growth has not been as impressive as China’s, it enjoys more favorable demographics and considerably more untapped potential.  Only thirty-one percent of India’s population lives in cities, for instance, as compared to China’s fifty-one percent, and only 29% of India’s women are in the labor force, compare to 68% of China’s.  The UN predicts that India will overtake China as the world’s most populous country in 2028, and on some accounts it could surpass the United States in GDP by 2050.
These considerations make India of increasing strategic relevance to U.S. policymakers as they “pivot” to Asia.  The logic for U.S.-Indian cooperation is strong: both are democracies stamped by a shared British heritage; both enjoy quasi-insular geographic positions.  Indeed, the only significant breach in India’s insularity, its low-lying northwestern border with Pakistan, ensures that India senses the threats of terrorism and nuclear proliferation at least as viscerally as the United States does.  India’s proximity to and persistent conflicts with China also help to align its foreign policy priorities with those of U.S. policymakers.
What can the United States do to facilitate increased strategic cooperation with India?  To what degree can U.S. policymakers assist Indian leaders as they confront their nations’ demographic challenges: rapid urbanization, gross socio-economic inequality, fertility imbalances between India’s Islamic north and its Hindu south, and the need to accommodate to a gradually aging population?  Will India’s political elite strengthen and expand the pro-market economic reforms of the early 1990s, or will the aftershocks of the global recession bring a return to the less market-oriented economic policies India adopted in the decades following independence?  Will India’s middle class continue to grow and to support economic and political liberalization?  How should the United States’ desire for stability in Pakistan and a graceful exit from Afghanistan figure in its India policy?  Can the United States and India address the security concerns that have led Pakistan, an increasingly ungoverned multi-ethnic state, to support the Afghan Taliban?  What role should India play in the United States’ efforts to balance against a rising China?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Dr. Jon Dorschner & Mr. Dhruva Jaishankar
Table Mentor: MAJ Jim Golby
Back to the top
Rich and Poor, Young and Old: Demographic Challenges to China's Rise
China’s rise to global prominence since Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 economic reforms has been dramatic and seemingly inexorable.  In the past thirty-five years the Chinese economy has grown at just under ten percent each year, with the result that national GDP is more than fifty times larger now what it was then.  Once projected to surpass U.S. GDP by mid-century, China now seems likely to do so before 2020.  Accompanying Deng’s economic reforms were a set of severe demographic policies.  China’s infamous “one child policy” accelerated a decline in fertility that had been underway since the early 1960s, when Chinese women had an average of six children.  Today, China’s fertility rate stands at 1.63.  China’s dramatic economic growth has therefore been aided by one of the strongest demographic tailwinds the world has seen.
But this is about to change.  Starting in 1970, the median age of China’s population has risen steadily from nineteen to thirty-six (at present), and it is projected to reach the mid-forties by the middle of the century.  In 1970, four percent of China’s population was over sixty-five; in 2010, 8.4% are; in 2050, it is projected that twenty-four percent will be.  In short, China is entering a demographic headwind as strong as the tailwind that supported its recent growth.
How well equipped is China to solve its mid-term and long-term demographic problems?  While it would seem that Chinese leaders could address most of their nation’s looming demographic challenges simply by eliminating the one child policy, this is not necessarily the panacea it appears to be.  The generation currently reaching childbearing age have grown up in small families and expecting someday to have small families; it is not yet clear to what degree the one-child policy has in fact become a one-child norm, which would presumably be more difficult for the Chinese state to alter.  Also, in many of China’s urban areas, fertility has fallen below one-child per woman, suggesting that much of China may already have undergone the demographic transition other modernizing countries have experienced.
Changes in fertility have accompanied rapid urbanization.  Over the past thirty-five years, some five hundred million Chinese have left the countryside for the city, and the United Nations projects that China’s cities will add another 320 million individuals by 2100.  The scale of this migration has strained Chinese municipal and national governments’ ability to provide adequate social services; it has also taxed China’s environment, raising concerns over air, water, and food safety.  And it has proven socially disruptive, as the experiences of younger generations living in cities differ radically from the experiences of their parents and grandparents remaining in rural areas.  In the face of these difficulties, is the Chinese one-party system sufficiently resilient and innovative to craft policies that sustain economic growth while preserving political stability?  Will the vast Chinese diaspora, as well as the Republic of China on Taiwan, help or harm Beijing’s efforts?
What are the consequences of China’s demographic challenges for U.S. policy?  Will slowing economic growth make China any less of a threat to U.S. interests in the region?  Is it possible to interpret recent increases in Chinese defense spending and international provocations as signs of future weakness rather than rising strength?  How should these demographic factors influence U.S. strategists as they pivot to Asia?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Dr. Al Willner & Dr. Angel Hsu
Table Mentor: CPT Aaron Miller
Back to the top
Lula’s Legacy: Brazil’s Rise and South America’s Future
Latin America has undergone a demographic transition comparable to China’s, but without the steep drop off in population growth that looms on China’s horizon.  In the early 1950s, Latin America’s population was expanding by 2.7% annually, more rapidly than any other region in the world, but today its growth has slowed to 1.2%, comparable to Asia and North America’s and considerably less than Africa’s.  In that same period, Latin American fertility has fallen dramatically – from six children per woman in the 1950s to just over two today – and urbanization has progressed rapidly, to the point where North America is the only region in which a greater percentage of the population lives in cities.  Until recently the demographic challenges facing Latin American nations had to do with the size and growth of their populations.  Now, these same nations face the challenge of caring for populations weighted increasingly towards the old rather than the young.
Given Brazil’s outsized power relative to neighboring countries, the demographic challenges its aging population represents are of particular interest to U.S. policymakers.  Brazil accounts for a third of Latin America’s population, 42% of its GDP, and some 50% of its military spending.  Brazil has started to translate its growing power into regional and global influence by promoting South American economic integration, deploying a large peacekeeping force to Haiti, and advocating greater inclusion of developing countries in international organizations.  Like many nations in Latin America, however, Brazil’s demographic tailwind will eventually transform into a headwind.  The ratio of Brazilians over sixty-five to working-age Brazilians, for instance, is projected to grow significantly by 2050.  And this represents a serious obstacle to Brazil’s ongoing development.
For the most part, the United States has supported Brazil’s emergence on the global stage.  But a number of recent challenges – ranging from Honduras’s 2009 constitutional crisis to negotiations with Iran – have strained this relationship.  It is also unclear how durable Brazil’s (and much of Latin America’s) economic liberalization will prove, given that the region has struggled to overcome corruption, political instability, and vast inequalities among ethnic groups and between rural and urban populations.  Poverty is endemic and perceptions of injustice are widespread among Brazil’s poor.  These disparities shape gender and race relations, and they assume increasing political relevance in light of Brazil’s highly uneven governance at the national and regional levels.
How, then, should U.S. leaders engage Brazil as it continues to grow in power?  At what point, if any, might Brazil’s rise threaten U.S. security, which since the nineteenth century has relied on hegemony in the Americas?  To what extent should Brazil’s looming demographic challenges influence U.S. policy?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: MAJ Nick Franklin & Mr. Thomas Walsh
​Table Mentor: MAJ John Kendall
Back to the top
The Dying Bear Reborn? Autocracy, Energy, and Population Growth in Russia
Russia has played the most dramatic part in the world’s recent demographic history.  Nowhere has demographic decline been as catastrophic; nowhere have demographics figured more prominently in national debates.  As the Russian economy contracted by nearly two thirds in the 1990s, life expectancy fell from 69 to 65, while fertility collapsed from 2.1 (the “replacement rate”) to 1.3 births per woman.  As a result, in the late 1990s the Russian population began to shrink.  According to UN projections, it will continue to shrink for the remainder of the twenty-first century – even if Russian fertility revives.
The potential implications of such projections have not been lost on Russian policymakers.  Both in his first (2000-2008) and most recent (2012-present) terms as President, Vladimir Putin has linked Russia’s demographic collapse to its national security.  In his 2012 Presidential Address to the National Assembly, for instance, Putin claimed that unless Russia expanded its working age population “in just a few decades, Russia will become a poor, hopelessly aged (in the literal sense of the word) country, unable to preserve its independence and even its territory.”  The territory most under threat lies in Russia’s east, where depopulation has been particularly rapid, reserves of national resources are particularly robust, and a 2,600-mile border with a rising China worries Russia’s leaders.  Since the early 2000s the Russian state has developed a number of policy initiatives to address this problem, providing significant subsidies (known as “maternal capital”) to mothers with two or more children, and promoting the “repatriation” of ethnic and cultural Russians in the former Soviet states.  Putin has credited these policies with stemming Russia’s demographic decline, but whether he is right to do so is still a matter of considerable dispute.
Russian demography also demonstrates deep divides among ethnic groups and generations.  The Kremlin watches warily over Russia’s Muslim population, particularly in the unstable arc of republics to Russia’s south: Chechnya, Daghestan, and Ingushetia.  Political radicalism and separatist sentiments in the region remain strong, in part because Moscow’s harsh policies promote the very pathologies they are intended to eliminate. But the greatest immediate challenge may be the changing demographics of Russia’s major cities. Young, better educated, and more affluent Russians, the products of economic modernization, are increasingly disenchanted with the authoritarian state capitalism that has taken shape under Putin since 2001.  Although still relatively small in scope, the mass demonstrations against the regime that have occurred since 2011 may be harbingers of more destabilizing political unrest, particularly if the energy-fueled economy begins to decline.
How should Russia’s looming demographic problems influence U.S. foreign policy?  What role should Russia play in the U.S. “pivot” to Asia?  Despite the past decade of economic growth (driven largely by natural resources), Russia’s long land borders with China and a number of other nations might well heighten Russia’s insecurity rather than its confidence.  Might the “dying bear” (in demographer Nicholas Eberstadt’s words) be one of the United States’ greatest assets in its attempt to contain a rising dragon?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: COL Michael Simone & Mr. Mark Adomanis
Table Mentor: MAJ Meghan Cumpston
Back to the top
Old Europe: Muslim Migration and the Rebirth of the European Union
With a median age of forty and more individuals over sixty than under fifteen, Europe is the world’s oldest region.  And it is getting older fast.  European fertility has not reached replacement since 1975, and the UN does not expect it to do so for the remainder of the century.  As a result, the population of Europe is expected to shrink starting in 2020.  In a number of European countries depopulation has already begun and is expected to accelerate.
European governments have attempted to repair this yawning demographic deficit in a number of ways.  Like Russia, European states have subsidized childbirth and promoted immigration.  In a number of cases these policies seem to have succeeded.  In France, for instance, generous state support of mothers through direct payments, mandatory maternity leaves, and public childcare, have generated what some call le baby boom: France’s highest fertility rates since the early 1970s.  Meanwhile, immigration has reduced European population loss considerably, while providing opportunities to workers from Eastern Europe and North Africa.
But these policies have also fallen short in important respects.  French fertility has increased, for instance, but not (so far) above the replacement rate; in 2005-2010 the average Frenchwoman had 1.97 children.  And the benefits of immigration have been questioned.  Critics point out that immigration of workers from Eastern Europe, eased considerably by these countries’ entry into the EU, has impeded these nations’ development.  As young workers went west, fertility across Eastern Europe reached a shocking 1.3 children per woman from 1995 to 2005, and it has hardly risen since that time.  Immigration from North Africa and the Middle East, meanwhile, has generated a contentious debate over the cultural foundations of European states and whether Muslim immigrants in particular can (or should) become “European.”  Floating above all of these concerns is the still-uncertain fate of the European Union.  The most recent European fiscal crisis arose from excess government debt, which stemmed in part from member nations’ support for their aging populations.  These populations are not getting any younger.
U.S. policymakers have long recognized the benefits of a united and peaceful Europe.  What policy tools does the United States have to secure this outcome?  How are security considerations – European contributions to NATO, for instance – likely to be influenced by Europe’s demographic future?  Would a proposed free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union significantly alleviate the economic crisis in Europe, allowing governments some breathing space to address long-term demographic problems?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Mr. Michael Ritchie & Mr. Sarwar Kashmeri
Table Mentor: MAJ Seth Johnston
Back to the top
Pensions and Palliative Care: Austerity, the Welfare State, and Population Flows in North America
The United States has long been a demographic outlier among industrialized nations, largely because of immigration.  The Pew Center projects that immigrants to the United States between 2005 and 2011 will account for 82 percent of U.S. population growth by 2050; by that time, the United States will have become a “majority minority” nation.  European depopulation, by contrast, is so firmly entrenched that even a radical increase in immigration is not likely to reverse it.
If the long-term demographic prospects of the United States look favorable relative to Europe, however, the aging of the U.S. population nevertheless presents a serious challenge to U.S. policymakers.  In 1950 only eight percent of the U.S. population was older than 65; in 2010, thirteen percent were; in 2050, twenty-one percent are projected to be.  This increase in the number of elderly dependents will place considerable strain on Medicare and Social Security, as they are currently designed.  U.S. policymakers could mitigate this increase (as Russia and European governments have attempted) by supporting childbirth or by increasing immigration.  There is room for policy innovation in both areas.  Compared to its industrialized peers, the United States has been remarkably unconcerned with promoting childbirth; aside from a modest tax credit U.S. parents receive little direct state subsidization.  Illegal immigration to the United States has flagged as Mexico’s fertility rate has fallen and its economy has grown; as the character of U.S. immigration changes, efforts to expand legal immigration are likely to grow less politically challenging.  Apart from fertility and immigration policy, there is also an opportunity to redesign the United States’ systems of support for the elderly by raising the retirement age, means testing, or lowering benefits (among other options).  Maintaining both relatively low government spending and constant entitlements, however, will be difficult.
How should U.S. policymakers respond to the aging of American society?  What is the right balance between state support for childbirth, immigration, and other social policy reforms?  How does the United States’ democratic regime foster or hinder policy innovation in this area?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Dr. Michelle Silver & Dr. Jason Fichtner
Table Mentor: Dr. Susan Carter
Back to the top
Where Have All the Dollars Gone? Currency Flows, Sovereign Wealth Funds, and the Global Economy
Individuals normally borrow when they are young, save as they work, then live off of their savings after retirement.  Nations, if they are fiscally responsible, do something similar, using foreign investment and aid to increase the productivity of their economies, then saving as their economies grow so that when economic growth stalls (as it does when populations age) they are able to cushion the blow. Rates of national savings are particularly high when the number of elderly dependents is low relative to the working age population.  Global savings have remained fairly constant for the past thirty years between 20 and 24%.  Deploying these savings profitably in the face of declining population growth, however, will require considerable ingenuity.   In part, the as-yet undeveloped stretches of the world – particularly those on the favorable front-end of demographic transition – will be able to put capital to good use.  The nations of Africa (e.g., Nigeria) are for this reason an attractive medium-term target for foreign investment.  But even Nigeria will age in the not too distant future.  As a result, returns on investment will flow to those who spot opportunities for rapid gains in productivity, as distinct from opportunities for population-driven economic growth.  But such gains are considerably more difficult to anticipate than demographic trends.
It is partly for this reason that developing nations have started to act the part of investment houses and to deploy their foreign reserves (the foreign currency collected by running trade surpluses) via sovereign wealth funds.  The returns on these funds have occasionally been quite strong; nevertheless, in many cases sovereign wealth funds allowed national wealth (i.e., citizens’ savings) to assume a speculative character.  Thus sovereign wealth funds give rise to a number of questions, most of which have to do with their ambivalent identity. 
How should developing nations cope with global ageing?  Are sovereign wealth funds tools of national policy or merely investment mechanisms?  Should U.S. policymakers worry when potential American adversaries use their sovereign wealth funds to purchase large stakes in U.S. corporations?  Or should policymakers welcome such ventures as means for foreign nations to grow invested in the success of the U.S. economy?  Does foreign investment tie authoritarian nations into a global capitalist system which may, over time, generate greater economic transparency and accountability?  How should U.S. policy reflect the influence of demography on the international economy?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: LTC Lou Bono & Mr. Steve Mannell
Table Mentor: MAJ Liesl Himmelberger
Back to the top
Women and Wealth: The Role of Gender in Global Development
The entry of women into the workforce has been perhaps the most significant economic and demographic event of the past half-century.  The percentage of women in the U.S. workforce has increased from thirty percent in 1930 to near sixty percent in 2010; globally, more than half of women work.  No advanced economy has maintained substantial gender inequality.  Indeed, gender equality increasingly seems synonymous with development itself.
Women’s entry into the work force has coincided with more intensive human capital investments, in women themselves and in their children.  Girls’ access to education, for instance, has improved markedly across the globe – with considerable positive externalities.  A study in Pakistan found that children’s time studying and test scores correlated to maternal education; women’s education has also been linked to higher immunization rates and improved childhood nutrition.  Because women’s labor force participation still trails men’s by about 25%, it is possible that greater involvement of women in the work force will be of particular value in regions facing depopulation.  Inclusion of women allows nations to expand their working population without increasing the number of dependents.
However, greater inclusion of women also raises a number of policy challenges.  As women enter the classroom and the workplace, they have fewer children, which has the long-term effect of generating demographic deficits.  It is as yet unclear whether government policies can sustain replacement or above-replacement fertility while maintaining women’s economic gains.  As of 2009 forty-three nations have made the attempt, enacting policies intended to raise fertility levels mainly by reconciling childbirth and work.  More vexing even than these policy difficulties are the philosophical challenges that arise when advanced democracies promote women’s rights as an element of development aid.  On the one hand, commitments to human rights, equality, and economic liberalization lead states and non-governmental organizations to promote drastic reforms in developing nations which afford inferior opportunities to women; on the other hand, commitments to cultural pluralism – that is, to the principle of toleration and even respect for cultural difference when deeply held beliefs and traditions contradict one another – mitigate against these very same reforms.  There is a tension, in short, between liberalism and multiculturalism on the plane of theory, and thus an impasse in the practical matter of designing effective development aid that reflects respect for its recipients’ culture.
The harshly limited economic prospects of peasant women, forced to bear a disproportionate burden in staving off destitution, deepen this tension.  How, then, should U.S. policy towards the developing world reflect women’s central role in economic development?  How can industrialized nations facing demographic deficits ease the burdens of combining work and family?  Can public policy remedy low fertility?  How should advanced democracies balance the principles of liberalism and multiculturalism?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Ms. Carolyn Florey & Ms. Sujatha Sebastian
Table Mentor: MAJ Jessica Grassetti
Back to the top
The Omnivore’s Security Dilemma: The International Politics of Food and Water
In predicting that increases in human population would always outpace the rate of innovation, Thomas Malthus famously failed to anticipate a dramatic surge in food productivity.  There is, however, no guarantee that food productivity will keep up with the 57% increase in global population that the UN predicts by 2100.  In fact, the price of grain more than doubled between 2003 and 2009 and has remained at a high level as demand has continued to exceed supply.  For individuals in advanced countries such price increases are hardly catastrophic, since food takes up a tiny portion of household budget.  In developing countries, however, households are considerably more vulnerable.  The average Kenyan household, for instance, spends forty-five percent of its budget on food, whereas the average American household devotes 11% of its budget (7% excluding restaurants) to food and has not spent forty percent for over a century.  Volatility in food prices strains budgets in the developing world in a manner that is hard for those in the developed world to comprehend.
Food insecurity can have profound strategic implications.  Scholars argue that spikes in food prices contributed to the Arab Spring.  Across the developing world, climate change is likely to make food and water supplies increasingly difficult to predict, while increasing the power of those who produce or control these resources.  Turkey’s control of the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, for instance, will give it leverage over Middle Eastern affairs in proportion to the scarcity of water.  In the developing world, states and non-state actors that can effectively supply food and water during crises will enjoy considerable power.
The world’s food supply is also an important global health issue, one which is likely to grow in salience as the global population ages and health costs increase.  The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported in 2013 that 868 million people were undernourished, while 1.5 billion were overweight.  Undernourishment has declined significantly in recent history, from 18.6% of the world’s population in 1990 to the present 12.5%; however, the percentage of obese individuals has doubled since 1980.  States that succeed in reducing this “double burden of malnutrition” – undernourishment and excessive weight – will enjoy significant and strategically relevant gains in economic productivity.
What can U.S. policymakers do to ease food and water insecurity in the developing world?  How will climate change alter the global balance of food power – which nations will produce more and which less?  How might the markets for food and water interact with markets for other scarce, strategic resources like oil?  Is there good reason to think that climate change, by making food and water more scarce, might finally prove Malthus right?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Mr. David Bargueno & Dr. Amy Krakowa
Table Mentor: MAJ Joseph Da Silva
Back to the top
The Future of Force and Faith: World Religions and Global Power
The shift from agricultural to industrial society has brought about not only a demographic but a spiritual transition.  The most advanced nations in the world are increasingly secular.  In Europe, rates of church attendance have plummeted to the point where fewer than ten percent of French or Germans attend weekly services; when asked if they believe in God, only 52% of Europeans answer in the affirmative.  Across the Atlantic, over 40% of Americans attend church weekly and 92% profess belief in God.  Even in the United States, however, there are signs of secularization.  The number of “religiously unaffiliated” has climbed from 15% in 2007 to just under 20% in 2012.  And since the unaffiliated are disproportionately young, this trend may well continue.
Secularization has profound demographic consequences, because believers across a range of faiths have more children than non-believers.  Americans who attend church more than once a week average 2.34 children, while Europeans have 2.74.  By contrast, Americans who never attend Church have 1.7 children, Europeans 1.79.  The same pattern holds within religions as well.  Among American Jews, the ultra-orthodox average 6.72 children, whereas Reform Jews have 1.36 and secular Jews 1.29.  With a view to these and similar statistics, the sociologist Eric Kaufman writes, “In all parts of the world, fundamentalist fertility exceeds moderate religious fertility, which in turn outpaces secular fertility.”  As a result, Kaufmann claims, “the religious shall inherit the earth.”
The fertility of religious populations may have profound consequences for global politics.  In Israel, for instance, the ultra-Orthodox enjoy increasing power in Israel’s democratic elections; what’s more, their demographic expansion has coincided with declines in Palestinian fertility.  The immigration of conservative Russian Jews to Israel over the past two decades has reinforced these changes in Israel’s political complexion.  In Europe, the high fertility of Muslim immigrants combined with the low fertility of natives is likely to increase the prominence of European Islam and may strengthen the backlash against immigration; Kaufmann suggests Muslims will make up a fifth of Europe’s population by the end of the century.  Demographic shifts within the overarching Christian community can also spark important political change as younger generations are increasingly drawn to evangelical faiths, forsaking the traditional loyalties of their parents. In Russia, such shifts have fueled a backlash on the part of the established Orthodox Church in concert with the Kremlin. In Latin America, however, the growth of the evangelical movement has led the Catholic Church to advocate economic, political, and social reform as a means to retain “market share.”  These developments, combined with the link between demographic growth and religious faith, prevent Western leaders from trusting blithely in the irreversible spread of secularism.
Should U.S. foreign policy reflect these developments in global religion?  Much of the “foreign policy” carried out by American society, as distinct from the American state, already reflects these changes.  In 2010 alone, the United States sent an estimated 127,000 missionaries abroad.  To what extent does American religion reflect a compelling form of soft power?  Does it pose challenges to U.S. policymakers that other forms of soft power do not?  If Kaufmann is right that “the religious shall inherit the earth,” how might this influence American foreign policy?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Dr. Robert Tully & LTC(P) Joanne Moore
Table Mentor: MAJ Bonnie Kovatch
Back to the top
The Revolution Will Be Tweeted? Accountability, Social Media, and State Power
Technology spreads by means as amorphous and unintended as religion, and its effect is often every bit as disruptive.  In revolutions and protest movements across the Greater Middle East – Iran in 2010, Tunisia and Egypt in 2011, Syria from 2011 to the present – the use of social media to coordinate and publicize collective action has been ubiquitous.  In June of 2013, tweeting Turkish protestors led Turkey’s Prime Minister to label social media “the worst menace to society.” 
For authoritarian states, this seems to be true.  Technology scholar Phillip Howard notes that “there are still no good examples of countries with rapidly growing internet populations and increasingly authoritarian governments.”  Partly with a view to this fact, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared the “freedom to connect” a fundamental human right.  The liberalizing tendencies of Internet access might be an ephemeral phenomenon, however, since with every “Twitter revolution” the incentives for authoritarian governments to control access to Internet increases.  Some nations, such as China, have proven quite adept at erecting firewalls and aggressively prosecuting those who manage to sap them.  Also, terrorist networks live on-line alongside human rights groups, making the illiberal and the liberal virtual neighbors.
How can U.S. policymakers promote the Internet as a potential force for democratization and liberalization?  What degree of government regulation of the Internet is consistent with civil liberties, and to what degree does the Internet pose civil liberties problems different than those related to print media?  Does the proliferation of Internet access in the developing world serve U.S. foreign policy interests?  If so, should the United States actively promote ownership of inexpensive personal computers and cheap access to the internet?  Or might the tentative, ephemeral relationships the Internet fosters ultimately undermine the strong bonds of civil society and thus weaken democracy?  How can U.S. foreign policymakers maintain social media, mobile phones, and other technologies as “on-ramps to modernity” while protecting sensitive and proprietary information?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Ms. Yael Bar-Tur & Mr. Matthew Carroll
Table Mentor: MAJ Charlie Lewis
Back to the top
TMI? Privacy and the Promise of "Big Data"
The sheer volume of the globe’s digital information – everything, whether pictures on Facebook or bank transactions, that resides somewhere as ones and zeroes – has grown exponentially over the past several decades.  The International Data Corporation estimates that the amount of digital information generated annually has increased nine fold in the last five years alone.  In 2007, the volume of digital data generated surpassed the world’s digital storing capacity, and the gap between the two is projected to expand for the foreseeable future.  In short, the world now has more digital information than it can store and far more than it can easily comprehend.  This overabundance of information has come to be known as “big data.”
For businessmen, government administrators, and scholars, the prospect of near-limitless information is alluring.  Businesses see in “big data” the potential to increase productivity by managing personnel more effectively and targeting consumers more directly.  Government administrators see an opportunity to make programs more efficient and thus “do more with less” – a particularly inviting prospect as budgets decrease.  Scholars, for their part, welcome an unprecedented expansion of our knowledge about human behavior, one which can reshape a number of academic disciplines – including demography.  Never before have scholars been able to measure populations in the same breadth and depth as they can now.
Information is not identical to intelligence, however, and what we learn from expansive data sets is determined as much by the questions we ask and the answers we accept as the data themselves.  Simply learning how to learn from “big data” is a significant challenge.  Limiting who can learn what is challenging as well.  Leaks of secret information – from the first major Wikileaks releases in 2010 to the 2013 exposure of National Security Agency surveillance activities in the United States and abroad – have represented triumphs of transparency to their promoters and threats to national security to their detractors.
Increasing military attention to cyberspace, which was placed alongside land, water, and air as an “operational domain” in 2011, has reflected growing national vulnerability to on-line attacks.  Cyberspace has now become essential to the functioning of modern societies as a place where essential services are delivered, wealth is made and stored, and important national security functions occur.  In all of these ways, the accelerating movement of information into the digital realm and the increasing exposure of digital information via shared networks have given rise to unprecedented risks.
How can U.S. policymakers manage these risks?  What can government policy do to facilitate the exploitation of “big data’s” seemingly vast potential?  How should this potential be balanced against concerns over privacy and collection of personal information?  How can government gather and analyze data to increase its own efficiency?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: LTC David Raymond & Dr. Michael Warner
Table Mentor: MAJ Jake Johnston
Back to the top
From Mil to Civ: The Downsizing of the U.S. Military and the Fate of Civil-Military Relations
The appeal of “soft power” as a tool of democratization has risen as the appeal of “hard power” has waned. After a decade of war, America’s military operations in Iraq have come to an end and operations in Afghanistan are winding down. As both nations’ regimes are only tenuously democratic and the extent of future U.S. influence in both seems uncertain at best, many policymakers have drawn a simple lesson from the past decade of war: “never again.” Americans seem to agree. In March of 2013 53% of American said the Iraq war was a mistake, while 44% said Afghanistan was a mistake, the highest rate recorded.
The legacy of these wars is not simply a matter of strategic “lessons learned,” however.  As the U.S. military downsizes, it faces the challenge of reintegrating veterans into civilian life – a challenge that is, in many ways, more vexing now than ever before.  The wars fought over the last decade were the first extended engagements since Vietnam and the first to be fought with an All-Volunteer Force.  As a result, 99% of the American population did not serve.  When soldiers came home from Vietnam, many returned to curses and worse, but they nevertheless re-entered a society with first-hand experience of military service.  A soldier leaving the military in 1969 entered a population of whom thirteen percent were veterans, including more than one in four males, while a soldier leaving military service in 2011 returned to a nation in which seven percent of the population served.  Also, as soldiers returned from Iraq and Afghanistan American society had largely lost interest in the wars they fought.  In 2010, according to one study, four percent of news coverage was devoted to Afghanistan and one percent to Iraq.  As a result of all of these factors, reintegrating veterans into American society has proven difficult.  Unemployment rates have been higher among veterans than among non-veterans, and suicides among veterans have drawn national attention. A decade of war had widened the civil-military gap to the point where few civilians were aware that there was such a gap.
Is this divergence between civilian and soldier a problem, or merely a symptom of the U.S. military’s (admirable?) professionalization as an All-Volunteer Force?  What steps, if any, should be taken to reduce the significant physical and psychological separation of the armed forces from American society?  Many have argued that without “skin in the game” – through military service or through taxes – it is too easy for the American electorate to remain unengaged in the country’s use-of-force decisions and their consequences.  Has the advent of the All-Volunteer Force reduced the accountability of American foreign policy?  Social scientists have noted the erosion in the United States of a coherent national identity over the past few decades.  Is the symbolic power of the armed forces fading, particularly among America’s youth, and if so, is this phenomenon accelerating the decay of a sense of American unity and purpose?  As the All-Volunteer Force, instituted in 1973, turns forty this year, what aspects of it are in need of reform?  How can U.S. policymakers facilitate the reintegration of veterans into civilian life?  To what degree should veterans affairs and the legacy costs of war be factored into force structure and future use of force decisions?  Will the waning wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with the Great Recession, shift U.S. strategy towards a greater reliance on inter-state alliances and instruments of “soft power,” with an attendant increase in the influence of U.S. diplomats and NGOs?
Recommended Readings
Co-Chairs: Dr. Lindsay Cohn & MAJ James Golby
Table Mentor: LTC Dan Gade
Back to the top