[Page 791]283. Memorandum From Richard Levine of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (McFarlane)1


  • Population Conference Issue Paper

We are in a real box on the population issue paper question. I feel, however, that there is a course of action which will limit our losses and perhaps even make the Administration come out positively on this issue in the eyes of most people, whatever their perspective. The issue paper of course, is in wide circulation and the NSC’s name is on it. The paper contains serious basic flaws. First it states that population growth in and of itself is never really a problem, rather lack of improving economic conditions and opportunities are the concerns we must address. This logic is equivalent to saying an American family living in a slum with ten kids is not suffering because of the size of the family but rather because the family doesn’t earn $80,000 a year and own two Buicks. Clearly the size of family wouldn’t matter at all if they were well off economically, but it is ridiculous to think that free market based development alone can solve the problems of the Indias and Pakistans of the world.

Rapid population growth limits governmental options, retards economic growth, heightens youth and minority dissatisfaction, and leads to international disorder and the imposition of more repressive forms of government in the Third World. The Svahn paper2 also states (I understand from Svahn that Jim Buckley wrote this) that the USG will not contribute “directly or indirectly to family planning programs funded by governments . . . that advocate abortion as an instrument of population control”. In fact the USG has never condoned or supported the use of abortion for birth control. But to cut off our family planning funding to countries that do use abortion at times would serve the opposite purpose of removing birth control alternatives to abortion. Abortion is cheap and quick and will be used by states in the absence of available birth control alternatives.

I have discussed my concerns confidentially with Jim Malone who is drafting the State paper. Jim has stated that he will use my suggested [Page 792]language which he and his staff fully support. I have not yet seen his draft.

Since the Svahn paper is public,3 the worst thing we could do is to float another White House draft based on the State or AID rewrite,4 for it too would leak and the Svahn paper and the amended draft would be compared and various groups would criticize us for any and all changes.

Since the Svahn draft has leaked, we should state that it is in fact the “White House” first draft (this will of course earn us credit with fundamentalist groups). At the same time we should now secretly transfer the lead on this population conference and the issue paper to State. This way State would prepare the proper position papers and the FSO’s, who are seen by many conservatives as outside White House control, would take the flak for the creation of a more moderate population policy.

Under this scenario, the White House would still receive credit from some fundamentalist groups for a fight well fought, while State would in fact present the proper position at Mexico City.

The Mexico City conference is not until August 7th so we should not rush our moves on this matter. Svahn told me today (Friday, June 15) that he is expected by Meese and Baker to prepare another population policy draft based on the State and AID papers. As I stated, the leak of another White House policy statement would be disastrous. I also am certain that the State and AID papers which are unclassified will also leak. Thus, Svahn’s rewrite should be slowed down.

The question of Buckley chairing our delegation must also be decided. As stated, I believe we should make it seem as if the careerists at State have seized control of this issue after this matter has cooled down in the next few weeks.

Clearly, this strategy can only be adopted if Baker and Meese concur. I feel I could confidentially work with State to develop a balanced, hard hitting population paper, but if the White House is still viewed as having the lead on this issue, any new paper we author will only be unfavorably compared with the Svahn draft by the very groups we are attempting to please.


That you raise my plan with Meese and Baker for approval.5

NOTE: I will be in Indianapolis and New York until June 20.

  1. Source: Reagan Library, Executive Secretariat, NSC: Subject File, [Population—too late to file] (2) (18 June 84). Secret. Sent for action.
  2. See Document 278.
  3. See Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, “The Population Policy Battle,” Washington Post, June 13, 1984, p. A23.
  4. See the attachment to Document 284.
  5. McFarlane checked the approve option.