Demographic Transitions and Imbalances in the GCC:
Security Risks, Constraints and Policy Challenges

Andy Spiess
NDRD & University of Hamburg, Department of Economics and Policy, Germany


While traditional Gulf security formulations only consider the external environment, recent discourse on Gulf security dynamics include both internal and external threats, and even regard the proliferating ‘internal threats’ as significantly more serious. Above all escalating population growth rates, social change, foreign labor, unemployment and underemployment are considered major threats to long-term stability and security in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states. One of the greatest internal challenges, the Arab Gulf economies face today is the “youth bulge”, which affects primarily, but not exclusively, the demographics of these countries.

This transition, pushing an ever increasing number of graduates into the local economies, reflects itself in the inability of the Gulf authorities to secure jobs for the new graduates out of the government sector. The issue has proven almost impervious to substantial improvement, while intended policies to “nationalize” various sectors of the workforce should be considered, at best, incomplete successes and at worst absolute failures. As a result, the dependence and existence of large numbers of foreign nationals in most of the GCC states is not only a serious stress factor for the already volatile ecosystems with limited access to natural and strategic resources such as water and food, but in itself present a traditional security risk reinforced by alienation, resentment and occasionally even xenophobia. Rising wealth disparities, inflation and probably declining individual living standards will certainly enhance the simmering discontent and will eventually release a potential challenge to the question of legitimacy. The widening gap in the demographic composition in some of the Gulf countries shows that    governments are either unable or unwilling to confront profound social challenges and place their people at the center of development. In pessimistic scenarios, rulers will miscalculate the tradeoffs, will fail to prepare their exploding populations in accordance with the capability approach to participate productively in the global economy and will become even more repressive to maintain their power.

The paper will elucidate particular aspects of the linkages between population dynamics in the GCC and emerging security threats, by both assessing the current situation and taking forward a set of ideas for future policy priorities as well as necessary actions at the regional and country levels. Conclusions aim at highlighting that these strategies are directly subject to a variety of socioeconomic constraints, which vary in significance by the characteristics of the individual Gulf economies and certainly on the capabilities as well as responsiveness of each country’s leadership and elites to these emerging challenges.

Download Full Paper here: imagesCA4V9RXU





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