270. Memorandum From the Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (Cleveland) to Secretary of State Rusk 1


  • Your Luncheon with Mr. John D. Rockefeller, III, Thursday, November 5, 1964

Mr. Rockefeller is expected to request your support for a Presidential Commission on Population.2 Mr. Rockefeller obviously hopes that such a Commission would enlarge the area of public consensus on governmental measures for dealing with the population problem. At bottom, the issue is whether a Presidential Commission would advance—or delay and deter—operating decisions which will have real impact.

The following considerations are among those you may wish to bear in mind in responding to Mr. Rockefeller’s proposal:

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The United States offered in Deputy Assistant Secretary Gardner’s statement before the U.N. General Assembly in December 1962, to “help other countries, upon request, to find potential sources of information and assistance on ways and means of dealing with population problems.”
Since then the U.S. has become publicly committed in a series of statements by the late President Kennedy, Ambassador Stevenson, Deputy Assistant Secretary Gardner, and by votes cast in the U.N. Asian Population Conference and in ECAFE, to supporting provision through governmental bilateral and multilateral channels of all forms of assistance for dealing with population problems, with the clear exception of the shipping of manufactured contraceptive devices.
In actual practice, both the U.S. Government through its AID program and the U.N. agencies have so far limited themselves to technical assistance in the traditional fields of demography, statistics and census taking, together with verbal encouragement of attention by less developed countries to their population problems. Neither AID nor the U.N. agencies have so far specifically earmarked funds in direct support of family planning programs. From a political point of view there may be advantages in avoiding such earmarking and in supporting family planning only indirectly through general budgetary support or support for health and social welfare services. But direct support may well be necessary to accelerate progress in countries such as India, Pakistan and Turkey which are having difficulty in finding funds to implement what are specifically described as national family planning programs.
The question of U.N. technical assistance to national family planning programs, debated earlier in subordinate bodies, is likely to be a major issue at the forthcoming General Assembly. Two years ago—before the public statements referred to above—the U.S. voted in the Second Committee for a resolution calling for technical assistance, but abstained in Plenary in the separate vote on this issue, which we will now probably have to face once again.
An increasingly vocal body of Congressional opinion led by Senators Clark and Gruening and by Congressman Udall, has been demanding evidence of effective action by AID to cope with the population problem. They may well introduce legislation in the forthcoming Congressional session earmaking AID funds for this purpose.
On balance, we believe that a Presidential Commission would not succeed in extending the area of consensus to the necessary operating decisions, and might by its deliberations render such decisions more difficult and controversial than if they are dealt with in the normal [Page 480] way.3 You may wish to communicate to the other Department participants in advance of the luncheon your own views on the Commission and on the other points raised in this memorandum.4
  1. Source: National Archives and Records Administration, RG 59, Records of the Department of State, Central Files, 1964–66, SOC 13. No classification marking. Drafted by R. Gardner (IO) and L. Van Nort (OES) on November 3 and cleared by Lee and William D. Rogers (AID) and Robert Barnett (FE).
  2. In a November 6 letter to Secretary Rusk, Rockefeller confirmed that he had discussed a Presidential Commission with Rusk at the meeting. (Ibid.) Rockefeller wrote in a second letter on November 11: “We can quickly agree, I think, that the problems of population are among the most critical now facing mankind. Hardest hit are the two-thirds of the world’s people who live in the developing countries, but all of us are vitally affected. Here at home our growing population presents us with problems of urban congestion and sprawl, of relocation of industry and political reapportionment, of mass higher education, of leisure and outdoor recreation, of voluntary fertility regulation, of immigration policy, of economic growth—all basic to the realization of the Great Society. Abroad in our efforts to aid the developing countries, we are confronted with population growth at a rate unprecedented in human history—a rate that threatens to defeat the struggle for social and economic development in which such countries are so deeply involved.” (Ibid.)
  3. On December 22, Rusk wrote Rockefeller: “I have been giving thought to the considerations which you advanced in your helpful letters. While we may not see eye to eye on your tactical suggestion of a Presidential Commission, we in the Department will continue to seek ways of encouraging wider recognition of the implications of this problem and explore opportunities for further progress.” (Ibid.)
  4. No Presidential Commission was established, but the President did include a message on population in his January 5, 1965, State of the Union message: “We seek not to extend the power of America but the progress of humanity. We seek not to dominate others but to strengthen the freedom of all people. I will seek new ways to use our knowledge to help deal with the explosion in world population and the growing scarcity in world resources.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, Book I, p. 4)