Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

A Sickening State

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

A Sickening State

Article excerpt

THE SOURCE: "The Health Crisis in Russia's Ranks" by Murray Feshbach, in Current History, Oct. 2008.

RUSSIA'S ARMY AND NAVY, bristling with nuclear weapons, rocketry, and 1.2 million conscripts and volunteers, is a ripe-looking fruit with a diseased core. Its military capabilities are under- mined by the nation's low birthrate and poor health.

Murray Feshbach, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, writes that Russia's armed forces lack the skilled and healthy workers to back up its saber rattling and international ambitions. As the military deploys ever more technologically sophisticated weaponry, it relies on ever less educated troops to operate it. Military records show that only 43 percent of new naval conscripts in 2004 had finished high school. Some had less than four years of schooling, and the percentage of draftees who had completed higher education fell from 17 to 13 percent in a six-month period.

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The cause of much of Russia's problem is demographics. Births fell by 50 percent between 1987 and 1999, and Feshbach predicts that this decline will produce an "echo" in a depressed birthrate starting in 2012 and continuing for decades to come. The most optimistic national estimates show Russia's population falling to 136 million in 2020, down from 141 million today. Life expectancy in Russia is among the lowest in the developed world: for men, officially 61 years; for women, between 72 and 73 years. …

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