World Power Theory

BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Own report) - New theories to legitimize counterinsurgency and war are being discussed in leading foreign and military policy circles in the German capital. Explanatory models are being used, deducing rebellions against poverty and insurrections against foreign occupation from demographic factors. Thus tensions and unrest in the Islamic world and in Africa are attributed to these populations' age structures having a relatively high percentage of young men between the ages of 15 and 25. Conflicts are seen as inevitable in those countries and can best be regionally confined through military interventions. Theoretical models such as "youth bulge" are being discussed in conferences organized by the Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS), the most influential institution for German foreign and military policy decision making, and are increasingly appearing in analyses of other political institutions. These models, first introduced into the debate in Washington in 1995, can, in their most explicit form, lead to conclude that wars are both useful and necessary.

"Virtually inevitable"

Demographic theories are being increasingly echoed within the German foreign and military policy establishment. The concept of "youth bulge," an element of these theories, describes the bulge in the age pyramid, due to an overproportion of the percentage of youth between the ages of 15 and 25. According to the "youth bulge" theory, there is a direct relation between the high percentage of young men in a nation's population and the escalation of violence. "High birth rates in connection with a structural shortage of resources and a lack of advancement prospects virtually inevitably leads to large-scale social crises, because of the largely predominant tradition of primogeniture - offering the chance to acquire a somewhat satisfactory social position only to the first born male" - is the theoretical conclusion drawn by BAKS. The institute, using the "youth bulge" model to analyze the society and current tensions in Kosovo, writes: "The other 'surplus' siblings, on the other hand, find no adequate social standing and therefore lean toward violence and ruthlessness in reaction to the large discrepancy between the level of their personal aspirations and their social reality."[1]

Six Options

According to the leading German representative of this theory, Gunnar Heinsohn, a genocide researcher in Bremen, crises arise whenever the percentage of young men between the ages of 15 and 25 surpasses a certain level in the general population. Heinsohn sets the quota at more than two sons for each adult male. Faced with limited resources, the male descendents' competition for power and prestige does not leave many options. "There are essentially only six options for surplus sons," writes Heinsohn, "1. violent crime, 2. civil war, 3. revolution, 4. emigration, 5. genocide and 6. war of conquest or colonization."[2]

Massive Wave of Sons

To explain his theory, Heinssohn uses the example of Iraq: "Since 1950, Iraqi fathers of all ethnic and religious groups have sired, on the average, three to four sons. They produced a youth bulge." Saddam Hussein canalized this "youth bulge" in the options 4 to 6 (genocide, war of conquest, numerous Iraqis went into exile). Following Saddam's removal from power the "competition for positions of power" was transformed into a "civil war", that is being "driven by a massive wave of sons".[3] It is "not so easy" to recognize the current violence as a civil war, "because the Americans and their allies are fighting on one of the sides." But "the fact that this is a civil war" Heinsohn exlains, "will become clear through its continuation once the allies withdraw."

Locally Limited

Heinsohn's critics characterize his theoretical inventions as being at the level of barroom palaver, that have long since been negated by science. In one analysis one reads that in Asia, for example, - "long before the so called threatening youth bulges" - there was a significant increase in conflicts during the 1960s. Then "when the youth bulge did occur in 1975, the war threat sank significantly."[4] But the "youth bulge" theory can, of course, perfectly serve to legitimize counterinsurgency and war. Officially the "youth bulge was not the reason given" for the US aggression against Iraq, writes Heinsohn.[5] But when one of the six options are inevitable because of the high birth rate in this Middle Eastern country, then the US aggression at least could prevent "options 5, genocide" and "6, war of conquest". "Therefore" concludes Heinsohn, "the invasion transformed a potential international threat into a locally limited bloodletting."


According to Heinsohn, the same phenomenon can be seen in Afghanistan. "The enormous surplus of sons cannot be absorbed," in spite of the recruitment of large numbers of police and military personnel. The war will "inevitably" continue "in one way or another" even after the withdrawal of western troops from Afghanistan.[6] Heinsohn explains why he believes, in spite of this, that the deployment in Afghanistan is necessary. Already long before 9/11, Washington had tried "to arm the anti-Taliban forces of the Northern Alliance against the Taliban," to concentrate the violence of the surplus Afghan sons "on the internal Afghan fronts". Considering the measures taken after 9/11 Heinsohn explains: "They had to avoid repeating that mistake."

Advancement Prospects

According to Heinsohn, it was the "youth bulge" that was responsible for the German aggressions in the 1930s and '40s. In this period, the genocide researcher claims, "the sons born between 1900 - 1914 went on a rampage, [this was] the last period in which German women - with six children - bore as many offspring as women in Uganda or the Gaza Strip." "These boys" explains Heinsohn, "were too young to have taken part in World War I." Whereas in Paris - because of a long since reduced birthrate - there was no tendency toward aggression, in Berlin - with its multitude of German sons - the contrary was true. "Between 1920 - 1934 (...) they had turned 20 and sought advancement prospects with violence."[7]


It was not Heinsohn, who had created the "youth bulge" theory. It was the US Central Intelligence Agency, CIA, that first introduced it as a topic of debate in October 1995. "The Demographic Backdrop to Ethnic Conflict: A Geographic Overview" is the title of the essay that was published by the CIA at the time. "The American strategy understands the youth-bulge problem" says Heinsohn and refers to John Helgerson, former Director of the National Intelligence Council, who declared in April 2002: "large youth populations will have the most destructive effect on US interests in Afghanistan, Columbia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Gaza."[8]

Federal College for Security Studies

The "youth bulge" theory is, to a growing extent, being adopted by Berlin's foreign and military policy institutions and think tanks. It is appearing not only in studies of the Institute for European Policy (IEP), but appears also in analyses published by the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA) and foundations linked to political parties. Most recently this theory was the theme of a 2-day conference held by the Federal College for Security Studies (BAKS). The BAKS is a central institution for the formulation of German foreign and military policy and symbolizes, like no other, Berlin's systematic reversion to an imperial, great power policy. Among the participants at that conference were scientists, government advisors and the Minister of the Interior, Wolfgang Schaeuble. The discussion focused on "selected aspects of the demographic modification" in Germany and abroad, placing them "in the context of global and national fields of security."[9] Besides considering future recruitment of military and police personnel, in light of a stagnating birthrate, the conference focused particularly on the debate of the war-legitimizing world power theory, the so-called "youth bulge," that provides Berlin an excuse for each more expansive military policy being contemplated.

[1] Operationalisierung von Security Sector Reform (SSR) auf dem Westlichen Balkan; Institut für Europäische Politik 09.01.2007
[2], [3] Wütende junge Männer; Welt Online 24.10.2004
[4] Machen junge Männer Krieg?; Die Zeit 26.02.2004
[5], [6] Wütende junge Männer; Welt Online 24.10.2004
[7] Jung, aggressiv und engagiert. Die Macht der Söhne und der Terrorismus; SWR 2 06.01.2007
[8] Wütende junge Männer; Welt Online 24.10.2004
[9] Demografie und Sicherheit Teil II; 20.12.2007. See also Hintergrundbericht: Bundesakademie für Sicherheitspolitik, Strategic Community, To Corner and Ansprechstellen