Demography and Warfare

Radha Kumar

in The Oxford Handbook of War

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199562930
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Politics & International Relations

Demography and Warfare

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For the early theorists of warfare, its relation to demography was a simple one. Do not seek to conquer larger or more populous states, counselled the fourth-century bc strategic analyst to the Mauryan Empire, Kautilya, for it will beggar the exchequer and they will defeat you. Going by numbers alone, the North was more likely to win the US Civil War than the South, because they had a 21 million population against the South's 9 million; of course, this would imply similar levels of skill and technology. While it is a truism to say numbers count, the question is how much? Does demography have as strong a causal relation to warfare as it does, say, to health or voting? Conversely, does warfare have as strong a link to demography as it does to regime type or major political transition? Can population data help predict the probability and triggers of conflict? And is there a stronger link between demography and warfare when it comes to certain types of conflict — such as ethnic and/or resource wars? This article argues that the relationship between demography and warfare is a complex one, and causal connections cannot be easily drawn. Having said this, causality is easier shown in certain types of conflict (such as ethnic wars) than in others (such as resource wars).

Keywords: demography; warfare; causal relation; regime type; political transition; ethnic war

Article.  6593 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; International Relations

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