Demography, not democracy, will be the most critical factor for security and growth in the 21st century. Booming populations are a drag on developing countries, and low fertility rates are sapping growth in developed societies. The poor are making themselves poorer through rising birth rates, and the rich will have less dynamic societies because they are not replacing themselves fast enough. Population growth is outstripping the capacity of governments to deliver basic services in the Middle East and Africa, producing breeding grounds for extremist and terrorist movements. Rich societies will, in turn, see migration from these places as a threat -- and they will resist.
Sex, marriage, and procreation may not be beyond the reach of government influence for much longer. Governments facing population explosions and implosions will soon have no choice but to grapple with matters generally considered private.
Efforts to cajole and educate populations into more positive procreation trends have had only limited success. European states, for example, have made Herculean efforts to reverse declining fertility rates, with disappointing results. Singapore's fertility rate is a dangerously low 1.25 percent. Pro-natal policies have increased fertility only slightly. Without immigration that often exceeds the natural yearly growth, Singapore's economic growth rate would be as sluggish as Japan's.
When public campaigns have partially succeeded, as in some Scandinavian countries and in France, they have forced society to reconceptualize the roles of marriage and the family, with the father taking on more of the mother's role, a transformation Asian families find difficult to accomplish. Even then, these countries are unlikely to get fertility rates to exceed replacement levels. Barring a dramatic change of course, they will need immigrants to keep their economies vibrant.
Countries that most welcome migrants have an economic advantage, but open immigration policies also carry risks. New waves of migrants will be ethnically different, less educated, and sometimes unskilled. They will often be among the very religious in otherwise secular societies. Many will move illegally. The greater ethnic diversity they create can cause social tensions and have profound effects on cultural identity and social cohesion.
Japan is perhaps the best example of a state that both fears and needs immigration. It has a reproduction rate of less than 1.3 percent and a rapidly aging population, yet it has shown a limited willingness to welcome immigrants. The United States, on the other hand, has traditionally been the most welcoming of immigrants. Although it has near replacement fertility levels, 80 percent of its projected population growth of 120 million in the next 50 years will come from immigration. Will it remain as open politically and culturally as Hispanics change the country's character and culture? This dilemma is even starker for Europe, where most migrants are Muslims from North Africa and the Middle East. They are not likely to be assimilated into a largely Christian secular society, and their social isolation could impede the struggle against Islamic terror.
It will gradually dawn on governments that immigration alone cannot solve their demographic troubles and that much more active government involvement in encouraging or discouraging procreation may be necessary. Those governments most able to think imaginatively about these problems will save their societies and their neighbors much pain and suffering.