As the war on ISIS wanes in the Middle East, military commanders seeking to prevent the spread of violent extremism face a potential threat they can’t fight or kill away: the youth population boom.
They also have a powerful weapon in the fight against extremism: once again, youth.
As national security experts are consumed by immediate threats like the ISIS war and North Korea, we risk missing one of the biggest strategic disruptions the United States and its allies have faced in decades: More people between the ages of 15 and 24 live in the world today than ever before in human history, and that age cohort is likely to grow steadily for the next generation or more.
These young people are concentrated in the world’s most volatile and conflict-prone regions, which are also among the most fertile recruiting grounds for transnational terrorist groups. How these young people transition into adulthood could transform not only their own societies but also the global security landscape, for good or for ill. The question is whether we will try to influence the outcome and seize the opportunity to transcend costly whack-a-mole approaches to fighting terrorism and instability, or sit back, wait and see.
For most countries, youth booms present a welcome but all-too-rare opportunity. If governments can harness their potential, large populations of young people offer a demographic dividend of creative energy, productivity, and economic prosperity. They offer a once-in-a-generation chance for large-scale, positive change.
But for too many developing countries, the youth boom represents an overwhelming and seemingly insoluble problem. It drives dangerously high youth unemployment, stresses overstretched or insufficient public services, feeds global migration and social instability, and boosts the ranks of violent extremists.