Old Money

Global aging isn't the problem, says Jack Goldstone -- it's lack of opportunity.

Phillip Longman points out some vitally important trends in the demography of rich countries ("Think Again: Global Aging," November 2010). But he overstates the case in the developing world, thus obscuring possible solutions to the problems of rich-world aging. While some developing countries will soon be aging too, notably China, others retain vast reservoirs of youth eager for education and jobs.

In many countries -- the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda -- almost half the population is under age 15. In other fast-growing countries -- Bangladesh, Bolivia, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, South Africa -- nearly one-third is 14 or younger. Indeed, while the more developed countries have about 159 million people between ages 15 and 24, the less developed regions have more than 1 billion such youths, and another 1.7 billion below age 14. The world as a whole has no shortage of young people. The real problem the world faces today isn't aging -- it's that almost 90 percent of the world's youth is growing up in countries that can't offer education, access to capital, physical security, or good governance.

It is one thing to note the inevitable graying of rich countries. It is another thing to overlook the opportunities and risks surrounding the world's vast youth population. The only way to avoid the worst of both worlds is for aging rich countries to share their skills and capital with young developing ones.

Jack A. Goldstone
Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University
Arlington, Va.

Phillip Longman replies:

Jack Goldstone is correct in saying that less developed countries have most of the world's remaining supply of youth. But they also face very high infant- and child-mortality rates. For example, the average woman in Sierra Leone needs to have more than three children to ensure that just two will survive to adulthood. This, combined with rapidly falling birth rates and somewhat better survival rates for older citizens, is causing less developed countries to experience the most rapid pace of population aging ever seen, as well as the largest increases in the absolute and proportionate numbers of old people.

According to U.N. projections, the median age in less developed countries (excluding rapidly aging China) will increase by nearly 11 years by 2050. In contrast, developed countries saw their median age increase a mere 5.5 years between 1950 and 1990 and are expected by the United Nations to see a rise of only about six years by midcentury.

Similarly, the coming population explosion among seniors will be far bigger in poor countries than rich ones. Again excluding China, less developed countries will see the number of people age 60 or over increase by 826 million by the middle of this century. This is more than five times the projected increase for developed countries, where the ranks of the 60-plus population will grow by only 147 million. Thus, those countries with the least wealth and the weakest social-welfare nets face the overwhelming burden of global aging. Needless to say, I agree that we should do all in our power to help these young people.


The Iran X-Files

George Kennan wanted to invade Iran, not contain it, Martin Kramer argues.

Karim Sadjadpour wishes to present U.S. diplomat George Kennan as a prophet "anticipating today's Iran" who would instruct America to "remain 'at all times cool and collected' -- and allow the march of history to run its course" ("The Sources of Soviet Iranian Conduct," November 2010).

Perhaps it is only fair, then, to ask what Kennan did say about Iran during his lifetime. In 1952, when Iran's nationalist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh challenged the West's control of Iranian oil, Kennan wrote to Secretary of State Dean Acheson urging that the West show Iran "the cold gleam of adequate and determined force.… Had the British occupied Abadan [Iran's oil fields and refinery], I would personally have no great worry about what happened to the rest of the country."

During the Iranian hostage crisis in 1980, Kennan told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the United States should declare war on Iran and "hold in readiness means of unilateral pressure on the Iranian regime, not excluding the military one." William F. Buckley praised Kennan's uncharacteristic tough talk, adding, "I can imagine that the senators stared at [Kennan] as if he had just been entered by an incubus."

In sum, when Kennan did offer his wisdom on Iran, he expressed views opposed to those Sadjadpour would attribute to him. Why? Iran was no Soviet Union, and Kennan held its pretensions in contempt. It's not far-fetched to imagine a resurrected Kennan suggesting that the United States bomb Natanz. That Sadjadpour turns him into a posthumous supporter of "containing" Iran is amusing -- or would be, if it weren't so misleading.

Martin Kramer
Wexler-Fromer Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy
Washington, D.C.

Karim Sadjadpour replies:

I thank Martin Kramer for his sober response. My intent was not to endorse George Kennan as a foreign-policy prophet but to note the striking parallels between Kennan's characterization of the Soviet regime and that of the current Iranian regime. Furthermore, while I found Kennan's views toward Iran in 1952 and 1980 interesting, given how dramatically the political context has changed they don't tell us much about how he would have approached Iran in 2010. Recall that Donald Rumsfeld warmly embraced Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 1983; 20 years later he organized a massive "shock and awe" military campaign against him.

Today's Iran is central to at least a half dozen major U.S. foreign-policy challenges: Afghanistan, Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict, terrorism, energy security, and nuclear proliferation. Bombing Iran would likely severely exacerbate, not ameliorate, these challenges.

Also in contrast to 1952 and 1980 is that today's Iran has the most vibrant and promising democracy movement in the Islamic Middle East. There exists a near-universal consensus among Iranian democracy activists that military action could render their movement stillborn and entrench the Iranian regime's most radical elements for many years to come.

Finally, Kennan appreciated that military adventures were not to be entered into lightly. A few years before his death in 2005 at age 101, Kennan was asked what advice he would give then-President George W. Bush and his national security team in dealing with Iraq. "Whenever you have a possibility of going in two ways," Kennan said, "either for peace or for war, for peaceful methods or for military methods, in the present age there is a strong prejudice for the peaceful ones. War seldom ever leads to good results."