282. Action Memorandum From the Administrator of the Agency for International Development (McPherson) and the Director of the Policy Planning Staff, Deparment of State (Rodman) to Secretary of State Shultz1

SUBJECT

  • White House Position Paper on the International Conference on Population

ISSUE FOR DECISION

Whether to call Bud McFarlane and Jim Baker concerning a White House proposed position paper on international population programs, which would sharply shift our policy in this area.

ESSENTIAL FACTORS

The White House Office of Policy Development has prepared the attached draft position paper (Tab C)2 for the International Conference on Population (August 6–13, Mexico City). This White House paper represents an abrupt change in the Reagan Administration’s posture and policies on international family planning programs.

The paper’s principal thrust is to criticize sharply the undue emphasis (of previous administrations) on “population control” programs to [Page 787]the neglect of the underlying causes—unsound economic and social policies. The paper would also announce a new USG policy on abortion which would deny all population assistance to a number of LDCs and international organizations.

Peter McPherson is very concerned about the proposed position and has sent an interim response to John Svahn at the White House raising AID’s concern that the paper is not in accord with this Administration’s policies.3 You have received letters from the Senate (Percy, Hatfield and Inouye) and the House (O’Neill, Broomfield, Fascell and Long)4 raising Congressional concerns over possible shifts in our current policy and asking to be consulted on the preparations for the conference, including the composition of the U.S. delegation. Jim Buckley, who has agreed to lead the U.S. delegation reportedly favors the paper as currently written. We have prepared a formal response to the NSC (Tab B). We believe your personal intervention is warranted by the significant potential for adverse foreign policy consequences.

BACKGROUND

The White House paper reflects the reaction of some development theorists, most prominently Julian Simon, to what they consider the oversimplications implied in past strategies that population programs by themselves would cause rapid declines in birth rates. They also argue against the doomsday scenarios which laced much of the rhetoric of earlier years. Simon and others contend that population growth does not necessarily inhibit economic development, pointing out that many of today’s developed industrial countries experienced their most rapid population growth at precisely the time that their economies were most rapidly expanding. From this finding, they deduce that it is not population growth but something else—in the case of the White House draft, inappropriate economic policies—that has inhibited the economic development of Third World countries.

The critics of Simon’s approach contend that his analytical model, which uses population and resource trends of the U.S. and other industrialized countries, is not relevant to today’s LDCs. They argue that the unprecedented rates and absolute levels of population growth in many LDCs divert resources from investment to consumption, complicate other problems (such as malnutrition, illiteracy and unemployment), and impede the kind of economic development which over the long run could lead to fertility decline.

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The prevailing academic view is that while economic development may lead to lower fertility, rapid population growth generally retards the development process. There has emerged a broad consensus that, everything else being equal, economic growth will proceed faster when population growth is held in check; it is argued that the cases of Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Colombia and Costa Rica, among others, show that family planning programs and economic development are mutually reinforcing. Neither is a substitute for the other.

As you know, the Reagan Administration has moderated the more strident calls for population control, acknowledging that it is not a development panacea. Even more importantly, we have also have placed greater emphasis on a free market approach in delivery of family planning services and have taken strong steps to dissociate ourselves from abortion practices.

Conclusions

Technical arguments aside, we believe that such a marked change in our policies would have adverse political consequences, immediately and in the longer term. A shift in signals would attract criticism from our allies and important Third World governments which, at our urging, have placed a high priority on family planning. This criticism would be especially severe at a time of mounting U.S. interest rates and LDC debt. Finally, we run the risk of unraveling twenty years of U.S. efforts to convince the LDCs that family planning programs are in their own national interests.

For the longer term, we agree with CIA analyses5 which predict that, if unchecked, population growth will contribute to volatile economic and political conditions inimical to U.S. national security interests. Countries whose labor forces are increasing at a pace which, in the medium term, cannot be absorbed: Mexico, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Central America and the Caribbean, may well face serious obstacles to political stability, as well as add to our immigration problems.

Of course, this cannot be prevented by declines in population growth rates alone. The real danger to our interests is that population pressures can only exacerbate the problems.

RECOMMENDATIONS:

1. That you discuss with Bud McFarlane and Jim Baker the foreign policy concerns with the draft White House position paper. (Talking Points at Tab A).6

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2. That you approve the Department response to the White House on this matter. (Hill-McFarlane at Tab B).7

Tab B

Memorandum From the Executive Secretary of the Department of State (Hill) to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)8

SUBJECT

  • International Conference on Population, Mexico City, August 5–13, 1984

REF

  • Kimmitt-Hill Memorandum of May 30, 19849

The draft position paper prepared by the Office of Policy Development has important foreign policy and national security implications. The State Department strongly believes that the U.S. position for this Conference should be carefully reviewed by the relevant agencies, including State, AID, Defense, and CIA, before any proposal is presented to the President.

The Reagan Administration has made some important adjustments in our international population policy by placing greater emphasis on a free market approach to the delivery of family planning services. We have also taken strong steps to dissociate ourselves from abortion practices. In addition we have moderated the more strident calls for population control.

Moreover, the White House draft paper’s contention that population programs are not panaceas is well founded. However, economic development and population programs are mutually reinforcing. Neither is a substitute for the other.

Technical arguments aside, we believe that the change in U.S. policies proposed in the draft paper would have adverse political consequences, immediately and in the longer term. Indeed, the paper appears substantially to alter this Administration’s foreign policy in the population field, as expressed by the President in his May 30 message to the [Page 790]Mexico City Conference, that “population programs . . . can make an important contribution to economic and social development, to the health of mothers and children, and to the stability of the family and of society”.10

It is also at variance with numerous public statements by George Shultz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Peter McPherson and others,11 which have stressed that rapid population growth creates problems for developing countries and that international population assistance is of high priority for U.S. foreign policy and development assistance strategy.

The marked shift in signals would attract criticism from our allies and important Third World governments which, at our urging, have placed a high priority on family planning. This criticism would be especially severe at a time of mounting U.S. interest rates and LDC debt. Finally, we run the risk of unraveling twenty years of U.S. efforts to convince the LDCs that family planning programs are in their own national interests.

For the longer term, we agree with CIA analyses which predict that, if unchecked, population growth will contribute to volatile economic and political conditions inimical to U.S. national security interests. Countries whose labor forces are increasing at a pace which, in the medium term, cannot be absorbed (Mexico, Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Central America and the Caribbean) will face serious obstacles to political stability as well as add to our immigration problems.

Of course, this cannot be prevented by declines in population growth rates alone. The real danger to our interests is that population pressures can only exacerbate the problems.

We are preparing an alternative paper for NSC review which, we believe, is more consistent with U.S. foreign policy objectives and is more in accord with the international family planning policies of this Administration.

Charles Hill12
  1. Source: Department of State, Files of the Deputy Secretary of State—Deputy Secretary Kenneth Dam Official Files, 1982–1985, Lot 85D308, Memos to/FRM S—Jan/June 84. Confidential; Sensitive. Drafted by Cohen on June 11 and cleared in S/P and OES/CP. Sent through Dam.
  2. Tab C, undated, is attached and printed as an attachment to Document 278.
  3. Not found.
  4. None of these letters has been found.
  5. Not further identified.
  6. Shultz checked the disapprove option. Tab A is not attached.
  7. Shultz checked the approve option.
  8. Confidential. A typed note in the top margin reads “Sent advance LDX 6/15 1530 CDJ S/S. Also by 4 pm courier CDJ.”
  9. Document 278.
  10. See Document 279.
  11. See footnote 4, Document 280, and footnote 5, Document 274.
  12. McKinley signed for Hill.