What is most likely to defeat
NATO? A lack of raw recruits …
NRC Handelsblad, The Netherlands
Demographics of NATO's Afghan Challenge
"Every year, over 500,000
Afghan youngsters reach 'fighting age.' At most, only 150,000 of them will
manage to find lawful employment opportunities, i.e., in opium-free farming or
with the army and police units in Kabul."
By Gunnar Heinsohn*
Translated By Meta Mertens
April 23, 2008
Netherlands - NRC Handelsblad - Original Article (Dutch)
Afghanistan has many young
men without any prospects. That gives the Taliban a major tactical advantage
over their adversaries, says Gunnar Heinsohn.
Most Dutch politicians who
decide on war and peace are between 45 and 65 years of age. Within this age
bracket, Dutch men are in the majority compared to their Afghan counterparts.
For every 100 Afghan men there 130 Dutch - in absolute numbers 1.4 million
versus 1.8 million. But in the 0-14 year age group that the soldiers of
tomorrow will be drawn from - the ratio is five to one: 7.5 Million Afghan boys
to 1.5 million Dutch. The Afghan population is roughly twice the size as the
Dutch, but Afghanistan has five times as many potential soldiers.
In 2008, there are 4.5
million male Afghans within the traditional warrior age of 15 to 29 years. Out
of that group come the insurgents that the approximately 35,000 NATO soldiers
are now dug in to confront - among which are 1,800 Dutch - awaiting a chance to
defeat them. But the chances for this happening seem unlikely to improve.
Because behind the current 4.5 million Afghans, there are 7.5 million Afghan
boys under the age of 15.
From a military perspective,
this numerical superiority is even greater than it sounds. In The Netherlands
and other NATO countries where families have one or two children, there is no
such thing as an expendable man. It is statistically far more likely that a boy
from the West is an only son or child. But in Afghanistan, five million of the
7.5 million in the youngest age group are the second, third, and forth boys in
Between 1916 and 1940, the
Afghan population grew just a little from 6.4 million to 7.5 million
inhabitants. Between 1950 and 2008, a population explosion occurred and the
number of residents rose from 8 million to 33 million. It would even have been
40 million if a thirty-year war hadn't taken such a huge toll in terms of
victims and refugees. After 1980, the average number of children per woman has
hovered around 7, versus 1.6 in The Netherlands.
This explosive population
growth puts Afghanistan in a small group of countries that I always refer to
as, "extreme demographic arsenals": For every 1,000 men in the 40-44
age category, there are 2,500 little boys between 0 and 4. The Netherlands are
in the group of countries categorized as "demographic capitulation":
For the same group of 1,000 men between 40 and 44, there are only 650 to 840
boys between 0 and 4 years old. From a demographic perspective, The Netherlands
has the same problems as its allies in the battle against the Taliban, such as
the United Kingdom and Canada (677 and 680 little boys in that age category,
The fact that
there are so many more young people in Afghanistan gives the Taliban a tactical
advantage in this struggle. They can suffer heavy losses and still quickly
supplement their ranks. Every year, over 500,000 Afghan youngsters reach
"fighting age." At most, only 150,000 of them will manage to find
lawful employment opportunities, i.e., in opium-free farming or with the army
and police units in Kabul, which are being financed with money from the West.
The remaining 350,000 will join the large pool of potential recruits for
radical groups and terrorist organizations. The Taliban offer angry young men
the spoils of victory and a chance to distinguish themselves within the famed
warrior culture of their homeland. Even the honor of a hero's death brings new
NATO isn't the cause of this
demographic quagmire and doesn't have an answer to it - and neither does The Netherlands.
How often can a mother from Amsterdam or Nijmegen put her only son or even her
only child in such lethal danger? There are many Afghan mothers who stand to
lose their third or fourth sons.
Between 1500 and 1935 when
the European population rose from 60 to 500 million, uprisings in the colonies
could easily be suppressed by third and fourth sons from large European
families. The families in the colonies weren't much bigger. The twentiers
[families of twenty?] who were born in 1915 were sent to the battlefield for
the last time in 1935, when European families, with the exception of France,
counted just as many children as Afghan families today. From 1920 on, the
European fertility rate dropped to 3. After 1980, it dropped to 1.5.
When Europe went to war in
the third world, its demographic superiority was supported by superior
weaponry. Non-Europeans in the colonies suffered from three weaknesses: A lack
of conviction, a lack of reserves and a lack of good weaponry. That's the
reason European states in foreign countries only had each other to fear.
Between 1700 and 1945, 90 percent of all slain European or North American
soldiers died at the hands of another European or "White" opponent.
Today, Western nations suffer
at least two weaknesses: a lack of conviction and a lack of reserves.
Now during a conflict,
Western nations are the weaker party. If the West confronts armies of states
with a birth surplus on the open battlefield, its demographic
disadvantage counts less when it maintains superiority in weapons, mines,
anti-tank weapons, tanks and reconnaissance technology. But in urban guerrilla
conflicts where flexibility is often the deciding issue or when the heroic
activity of a small number of individuals is a factor - the technical advantages
of a better arsenal count for much less.
Let's hope that recent
revision of NATO's strategy in Afghanistan also takes into account the huge
birth surplus in Afghanistan. The Alliance shouldn't make the same mistake as
described in the Baker-Hamilton report (2006 )
that stated: "While the United States has been able to acquire good and
sometimes superb tactical intelligence on al-Qaeda in Iraq, our government
still does not understand very well either the insurgency in Iraq or the role
of the militias."
Posted by WORLDMEETS.US
Demographic considerations don't
appear in this report on Iraq. Will NATO make the same mistakes in Afghanistan
by throwing more troops and money into the fight in a country where the
baby-boom is even more dynamic than in Iraq?
Heinsohn has been a researcher at the Raphael Lemkin-Institut (University of
Bremen), which specializes in comparative genocide studies. This article is an
adaptation of a lecture Heinsohn delivered on April 2, in LUX Nijmegen.
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[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US April 30, 6:04pm]