When assigning homework exercises for a survey course that I teach on American foreign policy, I tell my students that no matter how strong the arguments they use to defend their positions, if they neglect to examine how demographic trends will affect their proposals, they will get an F.
What is true for my students is true for global policymakers: Demographic trends will shape our future in a much more profound sense than most of the developments we see on the front page of the New York Times. Four major demographic trends in particular will shape the global security landscape this century: differential fertility rates across nations, differential fertility rates within nations, differential sex ratios across nations and differential mortality rates across nations.
It is no secret that the wealthiest nations in the world have subreplacement birth rates, and the implications of that trend bear examination. Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Canada, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Australia and, most recently, the United States all have birth rates below 2.1, which is considered the replacement rate. These nations are either in NATO or are important non-NATO allies of the United States. In other words, the nations that were supposed to serve as the foundation of a “new world order” after the end of the Cold War are declining in population size. More frustrating to policymakers is that, of the governments that have realized the problem and thrown considerable monetary incentives at it, none have seen their birth rates regain the 2.1 threshold.