Youthful Clusters of States: The Future of Revolutionary Conflict

Youthful Clusters

Have you ever noticed that shifts in the world political order are clustered in time and geographical location? For example, the late-1980s and 1990s, economists and political scientists were caught off guard by the economic rise and a series of political reforms among the East Asian Tigers (South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia), quickly setting them apart from the rest of the developing world. The Tigers’ successes were followed in the early 2000s by an unheralded burst of liberal democracy among Caribbean and Latin American states (including Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago).  Then, beginning in 2010, came the Arab Spring, during which Tunisia’s attainment of liberal democracy caught regional political experts completely off guard.

However,  demographers were less surprised (see 2008/09 article predicting the rise of a democracy in North Africa). The states of these regions were entering the demographic window–a period during the age-structural transition when states typically progress economically and often undergo political changes.

Similar temporal and geographical clustering arises where progress in the age-structural transition has not occurred; i.e., among youthful clusters of states that are “stuck in age-structural time.” Today, the vast majority of revolutionary conflicts (insurgencies that are focused on overthrowing the political system or altering the central government, as indicated in the latest (2017) version of the UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Data Set) occur in youthful states—those with a median age at or below 25.5 years.  Youthful states typically appear in clusters, and these conflicts tend to spread across their borders, typically stopping at the borders of non-youthful states.

In the following 6 regional tables (South Asia & the Pacific Rim; West & Central Africa; East & Southern Africa; the Middle East, North Africa & Central Asia; the Americas; and Europe), I’ve divided the world into 21 clusters of states. In 1975, 18 of those clusters were dominated by youthful states–countries with a median age of 25.5 years or less.

A lot has transpired since then. I track the cluster to 1990, and 2020 (a very short-term projection), and finally a projection to 2035 (using the UN Population Division’s medium fertility variant). As the years progress, states experiencing fertility decline advance to the next phase of the age-structural transition (the intermediate phase, between a median age of 25.6 and 35.5 years). These drop out of the cluster until, as in 3 cases, the youthful cluster disappears (see Table 1, below).

Table 1

However, 16 clusters still remain.  Four situated along the midriff of Africa (West Africa Coastal Cluster, the Sahelian Cluster, Central African Cluster, and South Central African Cluster), within the tropics, persist just as they did over 40 years ago. These are Western and Central African clusters likely to be significant sources of revolutionary conflict and other forms of political instability throughout the rest of the century.  Another 7 clusters (in the Middle East, other parts of Asia, and Africa) have gone through minor and major changes also generate ongoing as well as future risks. However, according to the UN Population Division’s demographic projections, these may gradually fade over the coming three decades.

The final 5 clusters of states are “in transition.” The states in these groups are experiencing fertility decline and shifting to the intermediate phase of that age-structural transition. These youthful clusters may disappear over the coming two decades.

Separatist Conflicts Persist, While Revolutions Just “Age Away”

Since the seminal research of Herbert Möller in the late 1960s and Jack Goldstone in the early 1990s, numerous political researchers have called attention to the tendency of countries with youthful populations—often called a “youth bulge”—to be more vulnerable to civil conflict than nearby states with a more mature population. Then a 2016 article upset political demography’s apple cart. When investigating countries with at least three consecutive years without an intra-state conflict, Omar Yair and Dan Miodownik found a fundamental difference between ethnic and non-ethnic warfare. The risk of a non-ethnic conflict was, indeed, higher under youth-bulge conditions. However, they found that youth bulges (measured at the country level, rather than at the ethnic level) were unrelated to the risk of an onset of an ethnic conflict.

La Différence Vit?

In research for a soon-to-be-published article, I set out to investigate a bit beyond Yair and Miodownik’s conclusions, asking two new questions:

  • Do the differences that Yair and Miodownik observed extend to countries with a history of recent of conflict?
  • How do these effects play out over the course of the age-structural transition—as populations age, shifting from a youthful population with a low median age, to a more mature population with a high median age?

For the rest of the article on New Security Beat … CLICK HERE.     Or download briefing: “Revolutions Just Age Away” in .pdf.

 

Fig. 1.  The patterns of 5-year risk of (a.) revolutionary conflict and (b.) separatist conflict  over the length of the age-structural transition. While the three types of conflict-history cases of revolutionary conflict (absent, intermittent, persistent) all respond to aging, the same classes of separatist conflict appear much less responsive.

Conflict history classes: Absent: without conflict during the prior four years; Intermittent: 1 or 2 years of conflict during the prior 4 years; Persistent: 3 or 4 conflict years during the prior 4 years.

 

Age-structure and Intra-state Conflict: More or Less Than We Imagined?

Are younger countries at higher risk of civil conflict? The International Crisis Group’s 2018 list of 10 conflicts to watch suggests they might be: Like last year, intra-state conflicts (civil and ethnic conflicts within states, rather than wars between states) dominate the list, and among those, about 70 percent are within youthful countries, or states with a median age of 25.5 years or
younger. The only multi-state cluster mentioned in both 2017 and 2018 lists is the Sahel, the world’s most youthful region.

However, recent studies indicate that population youthfulness can be a less reliable and more unruly predictor than its proponents (including me) initially perceived. Three key factors complicate the relationship between age structure and intra-state conflict: conflict type (civil or territorial); conflict history; and conflict spillover (the cross-border spread of insurgencies among contiguous clusters of youthful countries).

Figure. The proportions of three age-structural groups (youthful, intermediate, mature) in intra-state conflict, 1972 to 2016.

 

 

To read the entire article, go to the New Security Beat version, or download from this site

Attachments

Putting Mali Back Together Again: An Age-Structural Perspective

Read “Putting Mali Back Together Again: An Age Structural Perspective” by Richard Cincotta, posted on the New Security Beat, May 9, 2013.

Once considered a model for Sahelian democracy, Mali’s liberal regime (assessed as “free” in Freedom House’s annual survey of democratic governance continuously from 2000 to 2011) virtually disintegrated in March 2012 when a group of junior army officers, frustrated by the central government’s half-hearted response to a rebellion in the state’s vast northern tier, found themselves – somewhat accidently – in control of the state. With renewed elections in Mali slated for July and French troops containing Tuareg and Islamist insurgents, the Sahelian state appears to be on track to start again where it left off just over a year ago. However, several African and Western political commentators contend that putting Mali’s laudably democratic, yet habitually fragile and chronically ineffectual regime, back together again is simply a bad idea.

Download Putting Mali Back Together Again 

Whither the Demographic Arc of Instability

Read “Whither the Demographic Arc of Instability?“, an essay by Richard Cincotta featured on the Stimson Center Spotlight, November 2011.

One map that quickly garnered the attention of strategists outlined the world’s weak and politically fractious states – a pattern that came to be known as the “arc of instability” (Map 1, for 2000). Inside the arc, authoritarian governments ruled with little regard for law, insurgencies undermined economic hopes, and militant organizations capable of international terror, some linked to Al Qaida, were equipped and trained. Outside the arc existed a world of modern industrial and service economies, globalized communications, and trade.

Download “Whither the Demographic Arc of Instability? ” here …