Living on Borrowed Time &#0151 Iran’s Demographic Crisis

In February, representatives from the UN Security Council and Germany met to discuss possible economic sanctions against Iran. This came after reports that Iran has expanded its uranium-enrichment program in defiance of a Security Council resolution.

This and other provocative behavior makes Iran the most dangerous nation on Earth. It also makes it important to understand what is driving the provocations.

The standard explanation — Iran's desire to dominate the region — is only part of a larger problem: Iran is living on borrowed time.

In 1985, the average Iranian woman gave birth to 5.6 children, one of the highest birthrates in the world, consistent with the Ayatollah Khomeni's call to create "soldiers for Islam."

But after the war with Iraq, which killed between 500,000 and one million Iranian men, Iran's high birthrate was viewed as a liability. In 1993, the government enacted a "family-planning" law that not only encouraged the use of birth control but also eliminated maternity leave after three children.

The results were unprecedented: In seven years, Iran's birthrate had dropped to less than replacement level, two births per woman. Iran's population, which doubled between 1968 and 1988, was now growing at less than 1 percent per year.

Not surprisingly, family-planning groups and other anti-natalists hailed the results as a triumph. But, as the Asia Times columnist who writes under the pen name "Spengler" has pointed out, a better term would be pyrrhic victory.

Like China, Iran's plunging birthrate has produced a rapidly aging society. By the middle of this century, a third of all Iranians will be "elderly dependents," nearly the same ratio as in the West.

This means fewer and fewer working-age Iranians to support its elderly pensioners. To make matters worse, there are signs that Iran's oil reserves are dwindling. By some estimates, Iran will no longer be exporting oil by 2020.

According to Spengler, it's against this background of a looming crisis that we must understand Iran's belligerence. In the West, an unfavorable ratio of workers-to-retirees can place "uncomfortable burdens on taxpayers." But in places like Iran, it can destabilize the society and threaten the regime itself. This is especially so when you consider another demographic fact: Ethnic Iranians are a bare majority within Iran.

Thus, Iran's "aggressive foreign policy [is]… a response to the coming crisis." Iran either makes a bid for regional dominance now or risks disintegration.

That's why it is folly to think that half-hearted Security Council resolutions or cajoling will deter Iran from its nuclear ambitions. The West, which denies the consequences of its own anti-natalist policies and worldviews, does not understand the consequences of these policies in Iran.

We have convinced ourselves that children must fit within our lifestyle; now we have trouble understanding that the lack of children can drastically change our way of life.

Having declared war on our future — that is, our children — the West, like Iran, is living on borrowed time, as well.

This commentary first aired on March 8, 2007, and is part two in a three-part series.

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