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Working Paper “COVID 19 and Labor Demand, Migration, and Military Force Structure Implications in East Asia” presented to “The 75th Anniversary Nagasaki Nuclear-Pandemic Nexus Scenario Project” published

It is published simultaneously by RECNA-Nagasaki University, Asia Pacific Leadership Network for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament (APLN), and Nautilus Institute and is published under a 4.0 International Creative Commons License the terms of which are found here.

COVID 19 and Labor Demand, Migration, and Military Force Structure Implications in East Asia
Brian Nichiporuk
A Working Paper presented to
The 75th Anniversary Nagasaki Nuclear-Pandemic Nexus Scenario Project

About the Author

Brian Nichiporuk is a senior political scientist at The RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, California. He has worked on research projects for the U.S. Army, the Air Force, the Navy, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense during his RAND career. His current research focuses on the following areas: Russian military capabilities and vulnerabilities, the effects of demographic trends in the Middle East and East Asia upon regional security, and the assessment of anti-access threats to the U.S. military around the world. Dr. Nichiporuk has authored or co-authored many RAND reports, including “The Security Dynamics of Demographic Factors” (2000) (sole author) and “Trends in Russia’s Armed Forces: An Overview of Budgets and Capabilities” (2019) (co-author). He has worked in the Pentagon as an IPA Fellow in the Programs and Evaluation Directorate of Headquarters U.S. Air Force. Brian has a Ph.D. in Political Science from MIT and a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Chicago.


The Covid 19 pandemic has thus far not had the same direct health impact in East Asia as it has had in Europe and the US as death and infection rates have been lower in the major East Asian states. Nevertheless, the pandemic has the potential to have major second order effects in East Asia, especially if it continues for a long time.
One of the defining features of the large East Asian states today is their demography. All of them (China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea) have aging populations, low fertility rates, and low, or even negative, population growth. All of these states currently allow only low levels of immigration, which do not substantially increase their working age populations. East Asia’s demographic characteristics will have an impact upon the nature of any long-term regional implications of the Covid 19 crisis.
This paper takes a high level look at the potential long-term implications of the Covid 19 crisis in East Asia by using the demographic lens to examine three areas: impacts on labor markets, possible mass migration scenarios, and the effect on regional militaries. In the area of labor markets, the paper argues that Covid will compel most East Asian states to find new ways of utilizing their older workers and to increase the flexibility of their labor markets. In the area of mass migration, the paper examines possible scenarios having to do with North Korean state collapse and urban-rural migration trends in China. Finally, in the military sphere, the paper argues that the Covid crisis could significantly affect nuclear weapons security protocols in the region, the manpower and personnel policies of certain militaries, and the frequency, scope, and size of major exercises.

East Asian demography, Population aging in East Asia, East Asian security, East Asian militaries, Japan, China, South Korea, North Korea, East Asian labor markets, international migration, Chinese internal migration, Covid 19, Covid 19 in East Asia, Covid 19 and international security, nuclear weapons security, pandemics and international security, military personnel policies, military exercises, Covid 19 and defense budgets, Chinese nuclear forces, North Korean nuclear forces, North Korean state collapse scenarios, East Asian fertility rates, Unemployment rates in East Asia

Full text (PDF) is here.

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