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  • Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population
  • J. Roberts, Ph.D.
Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population Authors: Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer Publisher: The MIT Press, 2004 ISBN: 0-262-08325-6

Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population, by Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer, is a controversial book. The book starts from the premise that "scarcity of resources and unequal access to those resources are the most important sources of conflict at any level of analysis" (p.3). Hudson and den Boer apply this premise to human female scarcity and argue that scarcity of females, as revealed by high sex ratios, can lead to domestic and international violence, perpetuated mainly by low-status, unmarried young males, called "bare branches" by the Chinese. That scarcity can lead to conflict is not a new concept. The philosophers of ancient Greece talked about it in relationship to wealth scarcity. It was Aristotle who said "poverty is the parent of revolution and crime." In the 19th century Charles Darwin put competition and associated conflict over scarce resources at the center of his theory of natural selection. In the 1970s, E.O. Wilson made competition over scarce resources one of the cornerstones of sociobiology. More recently Homer-Dixon has shed light on the relationship between environmental scarcity and conflict.

The notion that scarcity of females can lead to aggressive behavior among males is also not new. Darwin discussed it as an important component of non-human male violence. Many biologists since Darwin have documented, among non-humans, examples of male-male aggression over scarce females. Turning to humans, anthropologists have documented instances of male-male aggression among tribal units resulting from scarcity of females (see, for example, the study of the Yanamamo by William Divale and Marvin Harris). Prior to the work of Hudson and den Boer, in the early 1990s, Amartya Sen talked about "missing females" in Asia. So what have Hudson and den Boer done that is new and controversial? In short, they are the first scholars to assert that, under certain conditions resulting from a complex set of colliding variables, female scarcity can lead to international conflict. They are, therefore, the first scholars to elevate this issue to the level of international security. This is new. And it is controversial.

In order to buttress their argument, the authors take a hard look at China and India, two countries with abnormally high sex ratios. The reason for focusing on China and India is made clear by the following statement by the authors: "If violence against females within a society bears any relationship to violence within and between societies, then it should be possible to observe this relationship at work in societies where violence against women is exaggerated—that is, in countries where offspring sex selection is prevalent, such as China and India" (p.4).

Since the mid-1980s widespread sexual selection has produced abnormally high sex ratios [End Page 83] in both China and India. This has led to large populations of low status young males (large in relationship to their female cohorts). And both countries are set for large population increases in the near future, leading to an increase in the number of young surplus males. According to Hudson and den Boer, if governments fail to provide these surplus males with positive alternatives to violence, the entire region could suffer from instability. Governments threatened by surplus males often attempt to solve the surplus male problem by employing them in large scale construction projects (something that has proven effective in China) or promoting migration to frontier areas. But, in some cases, governments address the problem by becoming more authoritarian and militaristic. In the worst case scenario, governments begin to see inter-state warfare as a viable solution to the male surplus problem. If this tactic is taken by the governments of China and India, the negative consequences will be global in scope.

The 333 page book is organized into seven chapters. Chapter 1 focuses on methodology and theory underpinning their main argument. A brief overview of security studies is presented. The...


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