Educate boys, or they'll go to war

A World Bank research paper posted today finds that countries with a high proportion of young males with low levels of secondary education are significantly more conflict-prone. The combination of these "youth bulges" and low rates of secondary education is especially likely to lead to conflict in low- and middle-income countries, the authors also report. The findings focus particularly on Sub-Saharan Africa, as "the continent with the largest youth cohorts and the lowest levels of male secondary education, scoring on average nearly 30 percentage points lower than the world average."

Countries outside of the region also call for concern. In Syria, for example, males 14 years old and younger make up nearly 20 percent of the population. Only 39.1 percent of secondary school-aged students are enrolled in school, making it the 101st lowest-ranking country of 135 surveyed. In the long run, Syria is facing declining oil production and rapid population growth - a recipe for violent unrest.

The policy implications are clear. Programs that focus on primary education, like the U.N.'s Education for All and Millennium Development Goals programs are important (after all, students have to read and write before they can pursue secondary schooling), but there must be more support for programs like the World Bank's own Secondary Education in Africa initiative.

The total cost of a secondary education in Kenya is estimated at $6,865. A 2007 Oxfam report found that on average a "war, civil war, or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 percent," and conflict causes the continent to lose about $18 billion a year. You do the math.

Photo: SONIA ROLLEY/AFP/Getty Images


The Andes arms race

The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago, and the Cold War itself ended soon after, but if you're feeling nostalgic, tune into the Cold War of the Andes: somewhat more farcical and definitely less likely to end in nuclear annihilation, but riveting nonetheless.

With Venezuelan troops lining up on the Colombian border, Peruvian officials' urging fellow South American countries to reduce military spending arms purchasing, in addition to creating a regional security force, is making a lot more sense. Peruvian officials indicated that Brazilian President Lula was receptive to the proposal in a recent meeting, and will be meeting with Colombian and Paraguayan presidents in the next week.

Although the campaign should be seen in light of Peruvian suspicion of neighboring Chile, military spending in many South American countries has increased in recent years. Some estimates place 2008 spending at $60 billion, which would be well over double the amounts spent in 2003. According to American calculations, Brazil, Venezuela, Chile and Colombia account for 80 percent of arms purchases. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also urged caution in purchases, warning against entering a race.

Of course, experts have pointed out in past years that the main concern is probably not war between countries, no matter what Venezuela says, but rather resource related violence. Even Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oscar Arias of Costa Rica warned against buying more arms, while noting that the region has never been so peaceful.