What is most likely to defeat NATO? A lack of raw recruits



NRC Handelsblad, The Netherlands

The Daunting 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


The 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 a family.


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, respectively).


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 adherents.


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."



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?


*Gunnar 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.










































[Posted by WORLDMEETS.US April 30, 6:04pm]