268. Memorandum From the Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science, and Technology (Buckley) to Secretary of State Haig1


  • Population, Policy and Foreign Assistance


As requested some months ago by then Deputy Secretary Clark,2 I have reviewed the basis for our present policy toward international population issues; assessed the policy itself; evaluated the nature and forms of foreign assistance devoted to such matters; and developed the recommendations below. These address policy, structure, and resources.

In brief, I conclude:

—that economic growth is a far more important factor in bringing about a decline in fertility than are specifically targeted population control programs of negative restraint;

—that foreign governments must, if population measures are to be effective, adopt and execute them of their own free will, and that one measure of the real priority they attach to such programs is their willingness to devote resources (including those derived from international donors) to them;

—that we should engage in no international programs in the population field which would be unacceptable here at home;

—that our policy should thus be directed at encouraging economic development broadly, with appropriate attention to the role of family planning in meeting maternal and child health goals, with the receiving government deciding on the emphasis, if any, to be given population control programs within that framework; and

—that the department’s organizational structure should be changed to reflect this redirection of policy.

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Over the past fifteen years, the United States Government has expended over $1.5 billion for advocacy and financing of population control programs overseas. This sum represents more than fifty percent of all population control expenditures from all sources. In fiscal year 1982 alone, $211 million are budgeted for this purpose. This mammoth effort has helped to produce the present, widespread global consciousness of population issues. Insofar as that was our original objective, this effort has been enormously successful, to the point where AID states that the demand for this form of assistance exceeds the Agency’s ability to provide it.

In recent years, however, the Government’s direct financing of population control activities has become increasingly controversial. It has been challenged on ethical grounds by certain groups, and on far broader policy grounds by academicians and scholars who question the fundamental assumptions underlying those activities, and hence their effectiveness in achieving their stated goals. Whether the subject is the propriety or the effectiveness of our expenditures for population control, however, passions run high on both sides. On purely intellectual grounds, conclusive proof seems to be lacking either way.

At the very least, we should be more aware now than we were fifteen years ago that population control programs address what are, in essence, the symptoms of economic dysfunction. In the shorter run, they are not curative of economic ills, but palliative at best, although some critics would deny even that benefit. Some contend that larger family size is an incentive to the industry and investment which help a society achieve the economic breakthrough that, experience suggests, will be the most certain cause of a decline in fertility. Others argue that large numbers of children divert resources away from the kinds of investment which foster economic growth. Whatever else may be said about these controversies, U.S. Government policy cannot settle them.

Despite such profound disagreements, there is a broad consensus, including the less doctrinaire exponents of population control, concerning the following propositions:

—Development assistance provided by the U.S. Government is only part of the financial resources expended for economic and social advancement within a particular country. Therefore, a decision by the United States to limit or terminate a specific kind of assistance does not preclude the host country, or other aid providers, from expending funds for that purpose, if they really want to do so.

—As AID acknowledges, population control expenditures are wasted where the host country is not seriously committed to the reduction of fertility as a national priority.

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—U.S. population control programs should not be forced on anyone, and should not directly or indirectly finance or support abortion or research or lobbying concerning abortion. In the past, U.S. aggressiveness in promoting population control has created a hostile backlash in certain societies. AID asserts this situation has been corrected. This is certainly the intention of the present AID administration, but the risk is pointless if the same objectives can be gained without it.

—Certain population control strategies supported by U.S. funds would be unacceptable in the United States. It is doubtful whether the public or their elected leaders would approve, on a case by case basis, U.S. financing of the Indonesian village system (using peer pressure to force couples to avoid births in order to protect bonuses awarded to cooperating villages) or indirect U.S. financing (through the United Nations Fund for Population Activities) of coerced abortion in China.

—U.S. development assistance must be justified either as advancing the economy of the host country or as advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives.

—There is general agreement that fundamental economic policy is the principal determinant of the rate at which a particular economy will grow; and that economic growth, rather than negative restraints, is the major cause of declines in fertility. Representative of this consensus are World Bank studies concluding that sixty percent of fertility reduction is attributable to economic expansion (and the greater sophistication, higher standard of living, and aspirations for one’s children that accompany growth), while only fifteen percent can be traced to population control programs.3


These areas of consensus do not, of course, define the limits of debate. They nevertheless form a useful basis for public policy, especially as it pertains to foreign assistance. In the declaration of the Ottawa Economic Summit last July, President Reagan and the leaders of the other six major industrialized nations stated:4

“We are deeply concerned about the implications of world population growth. Many developing countries are taking action to deal with that problem, in ways sensitive to human values and dignity; and to develop human resources including technical and managerial capabilities. We recognize the importance of these issues, and will place greater emphasis on international efforts in these areas.”

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The concerns expressed at Ottawa have centered on the perceived impact of population growth on human welfare. In the words of the U.S. Coordinator of Population Affairs, Richard E. Benedick, “The fundamental objective of U.S. population policy is betterment of the human condition and economic and social progress, which will promote international peace and stability.”

No consensus exists as to the totality of the means that should be applied globally in order to achieve these objectives. It is easier to define, however, how the United States can best deploy its own resources in helping developing nations achieve a “betterment of the human condition”, and thus implement the purposes of the Ottawa statement.

Specifically, I have concluded that the United States should adopt the following approach to international population issues:

—U.S. development assistance should concentrate on helping recipient countries to cross the threshold to sustainable economic growth. Our expenditures can have the largest impact, dollar for dollar, if they are focused on what we should do best. And that is encouraging market-oriented policies and helping to build the infrastructure of skills and technology that can foster individual initiative and enterprise.

—The economic growth which is made possible by sound market policies is without question the most powerful factor in controlling population growth. In the long run, it is certainly the most effective means, short of an abhorrent coercion, to effect fertility decline.

—Because the population control movement is closely associated with no-growth attitudes at variance with the economic policies of the Administration, and, more important, because the fundamental assumptions of that effort are being challenged by a growing body of critical scholarship, the U.S. government should not appear to endorse assumptions about population growth which, like many other policy assumptions of the 1960’s and 1970’s, may prove to have been erroneous.

—U.S. involvement in family planning services within a particular country should be within the context of our broader programs to improve the health of its people. One purpose should be maternal and child health. Any population control objective in those same activities should be left to the host government. It may choose to stress fertility reduction, but U.S. participation should emphasize the goal of healthy families.

—A host government can be given the option of allocating, for family planning services in support of its population control programs, up to ten percent of the U.S. development assistance funds earmarked for that country, which is a ratio consistent with current allocation of [Page 749]U.S. assistance. This will ensure that U.S. funding of such activities is based on the host country’s voluntary assessment of its own priorities. It will also avoid the wasteful use of funds for population programs in those countries whose governments are not truly committed to them.

—U.S. Government expenditures, whether directly or through contractors and grantees, designed to convince public officials of developing countries to undertake population control efforts, should be terminated.

—As the U.S. Government more precisely focuses its development assistance funds and encourages their use according to sound principles of economic growth, the office of Coordinator of Population Affairs becomes an anachronism. At a time when respected authorities in the field of demographics disagree as to the relationship between fertility and development, that office represents an outdated Departmental public relations commitment to one set of controversial views in an uncertain debate. The State Department should abolish that office, and assign responsibility for the U.S. role in international population programs and agencies to the Bureau for International Organizations.

—To ensure that no U.S. funds are expended for abortions, contributions to private voluntary organizations or United Nations organizations in the field of family planning should be limited to those which do not finance or encourage abortion. Otherwise, the restriction legislatively imposed by the Helms Amendment will be evaded as U.S. funds simply supplant other moneys that are then used for abortion.

—As a matter of policy, no U.S. funds should be expended to support any population control program, or family planning campaign, that would be unacceptable or offensive in the United States. This especially applies to coercive measures.

—Finally, since the State Department’s and AID’s principal activities in the field of population control have been undertaken pursuant to directives issued from time to time by the NSC, any fundamental redirection of U.S. international population control policy, such as recommended above, should issue from that body.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Guhin, Michael A.: Files, Population/Studies (2). Confidential. Printed from an unsigned copy. Copies were sent to Clark, McPherson, and Malone. In an undated draft memorandum to Malone, Buckley noted that the memorandum was submitted to Haig on April 21. (Reagan Library, Guhin, Michael A.: Files, 05/07/1982–05/12/1982)
  2. Reference is presumably to Document 264.
  3. Not further identified.
  4. See Document 267.